'Island of Lost Souls' - the Film (Duplicate)

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The Island of Doctor Moreau
'Island of Lost Souls' |
The 1977 Film |
The 1996 Film

This time I'll burn out all the animal in her!

- Doctor Moreau, discussing Lota

Island of Lost Souls is the first film adaptation of HG Wells' classic novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau. This 1932 film is in many ways quite different from the book, it upped the level of sex and violence and reduced the level of satire to create a chilling, haunting story of arrogance, deception, love, lust and bestial, animal desires. Banned in 12 countries and not seen in the UK until 26 years after it was made, it too carries a haunting message of the arrogance of colonialism.


The SS Covena, sailing through the fog, spots a lifeboat. Onboard is Edward Parker, a survivor from the wreck of the Lady Vain. Montgomery, a former doctor, nurses Parker back to health and sends a telegram on Parker's behalf to Ruth Thomas, Parker's fiancée that he was travelling to meet. When feeling better, Parker takes a stroll on the deck of the Covena and is surprised to see the ship full of lions, tigers and bears. He also witnesses Captain Davies drunkenly attack M'Ling, Montgomery's servant, and is attacked by the captain too, only to successfully defend himself. In revenge, Captain Davies throws Parker overboard when they arrive at Doctor Moreau's uncharted island.

Staying in Moreau's defendable complex, Moreau wishes to see how Lota, the only woman on the island, would react to meeting Parker. Parker and Lota enjoy each other's company until Parker hears a scream. Rushing into Moreau's laboratory, known as the 'House of Pain', investigate, he sees Moreau performing an operation on a half-human patient. Believing that Moreau turns people into animals, Parker flees with Lota, only to be surrounded by manimals. Moreau restores order with the use of his whip and encouraging the beastmen to recite the Law, and Parker and Lota return to the house. On the way Moreau explains that he created all the men on the island by his scientific experiments, but does not mention that he created Lota.

Moreau destroys his schooner to keep Parker on the island, hoping that Parker will breed with Lota, a successful hybrid human-beast baby would be the ultimate proof of his ability to create human life. Meanwhile Ruth Thomas and the American Consul learns that Davies marooned Parker on an uncharted island. Captain Donahue is dispatched to rescue Parker. Parker, attracted to Lota, embraces her and feels claws sinking into his back. Realising that she is one of Moreau's creations, he confronts the doctor, who confirms it. Soon after, Donahue and Ruth arrive, and with the arrival of Ruth, Moreau realises there is another way to create a hybrid human-beast and allows Ouran, one of his manimals, into the complex. In the night Ouran attacks Ruth, but is driven off.

Montgomery, sickened by Moreau's actions, assists Parker, Ruth and Donahue to flee, but Moreau orders Ouran to kill Donahue, thus breaking the most important Law he has taught the manimals. As Moreau has broken the sacred law, the manimals declare 'Law no more!' and revolt. Who out of Montgomery, Parker, Ruth and Lota will survive? Will Moreau, who bravely tries to restore order, succeed or be taken to the House of Pain to be experimented on by those he had created?


MenDr MoreauCharles Laughton
Edward ParkerRichard Arlen
Ruth ThomasLeila Hyams
MontgomeryArthur Hohl
Captain DaviesStanley Fields
Captain DonahuePaul Hurst
American ConsulGeorge Irving
ManimalsSayer of the LawBela Lugosi
Lota, the Panther WomanKathleen Burke
OuranHans Steinke
M'lingTetsu Komai
GolaHarry Ekezian

Noted English Shakespearean actor Charles Laughton is famous for playing the definitive Henry VIII in 1933's The Private Life of Henry VIII, for which he won an Oscar. He also starred and was Oscar-nominated for both 1935's Mutiny on the Bounty as Captain Bligh and 1957's Witness for the Prosecution. In 1955 directed The Night of the Hunter, now acclaimed a classic. One of his last roles was as Gracchus, not Spartacus, in Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film Spartacus.

Richard Arlen began his career as a deliveryman and only became an actor when he broke his leg making a delivery to Paramount and was cast in a film in order for the studio to avoid being sued. He made several films from the 1920s to the 1970s, including 1927's Wings, the first film (and the only silent film) to win the Best Picture Academy Award. Kathleen Burke won the part of Panther Woman after being one of 60,000 to audition. Her film career lasted only six years, before she retired.

Bela Lugosi, who plays the Sayer of the Law, is most famous for being the first Dracula in a sound production. When he made Island of Lost Souls, Bela Lugosi had filed for bankruptcy, and desperate for money, agreed to be the lowest-paid actor in the film, earning only $875. The two other main beastmen, Ouran and Gola, were played by wrestlers Hans 'The German Oak' Steinke and Harry 'Ali Baba' Ekezian.

The Making of

Paramount Studios made Island of Lost Souls as a response to capture some of the success that Universal Studios were enjoying with successful horror adaptations of classic gothic novels including Dracula and Frankenstein. As Paramount's adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde had been a success, the similarly themed novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, which dealt with the duality of man and had been written at the same time as many of the other successful gothic novels that had been successfully adapted, seemed ideal.

The film's screenwriters Philip Wylie and Waldemar Young introduced an element of sex in the form of erotic, animalistic character Lota the Panther Woman, and giving Parker a fainceacute;. By holding a nationwide beauty contest held to find the woman who would be cast in the role generated excitement and publicity before filming had even began. This is reflected in the film's promotional posters and the opening credits, when the film's stars are listed as:

  • Charles Laughton
  • Bela Lugosi
  • Richard Arlen
  • The Panther Woman

The film was shot by noted Cinematographer Karl Struss and directed by experienced director Erle C Kenton who went on to make many horror films in the 1940s.

The Making of the Make-Up

The make-up for Island of Lost Souls, the masks and faces worn by the beastmen, were crafted by legendary makeup artist Wally Westmore. Wally Westmore was head of Paramount's makeup department, and was best known for the Oscar-winning film Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Wally Westmore was the son of Isle of Wight born George Westmore, founder of Hollywood's Westmore dynasty. George founded Hollywood's first make-up studio when he noticed that the film stars of the day were doing their own make-up, and doing it badly. After humble beginnings, making wigs for film stars out of prostitutes' hair, George's six sons including Wally continued his tradition, doing the makeup for over three hundred films during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Wally was the uncle of Oscar-winning make-up artist Michael Westmore, famous for his make-up on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.


The Tempest

A key influence on this film was William Shakespeare's The Tempest, also set on a mysterious island. Doctor Moreau reflects the characteristics of Prospero, the authority figure who had left civilisation years earlier in order to pursue his magical research. Moreau, too, left civilisation to pursue his research into the creation of intelligent life, an act which is indistinguishable from magic. Lota can be seen as Prospero's naïve daughter, Miranda and Edward Parker as heroic Prince Ferdinand. Beastlike, deformed Caliban can be seen as Moreau's creation, Oran. Just as Caliban attempts to rape Miranda, Oran attacks Ruth, with the intent of rape heavily implied.

Of course, Island of Lost Souls is not the only science fiction film or series to have been inspired by The Tempest. This is most notably seen in Forbidden Planet, with Morbius in Moreau's role, complete with a 'plastic educator' that increases intelligence and strange creatures. Moreau wishes to use Parker to make Lota act more like a woman, a theme also used in Star Trek: The Original Series episodes 'Menagerie' in which a female wrecked survivor is attracted to Captain Pike and 'Requiem for Methuselah', in which the character of Flint creates a robotic woman and witnesses her fall in love with Kirk.


Another key influence is Dracula, especially the film version. Both films featured Bela Legosi as characters who at first glance can be mistaken for humans, but are revealed to be subhuman animals; in Dracula's case, he can transform into a bat. The character of Edward Prendick has been renamed for this film Edward Parker – is this to be similar to the character who innocently visits Dracula and becomes his victim, Harker? Both Harker in Dracula and Parker in Island of Doctor Moreau inadvertently bring their fiancéees into danger. Ouran's attack on a sleeping Ruth is very similar to Dracula's attack on a sleeping Mina. Just as in Dracula, Mina has a friend, Lucy, who has already been transformed into a subhuman vampire, Island of Doctor Moreau features a woman, Lota, with claws.

Differences from the Novel

There are several differences from HG Wells' novel. Some are trivial such as Captain Davis becomes Captain Davies. M'Ling is a loyal dog rather than a bear. There are lots of large animals onboard the ship, not just a puma and no rabbits are taken to the island. Moreau reveals he began his career experimenting on flowers, rather than the more sinister dogs of the novel. Differences like Edward being rescued by the SS Covena travelling to Apia in Samoa rather than the SS Ipecacuancha travelling to Arica in Chile are largely insignificant.

Many of the characters are different. It is revealed in the film that Montgomery faces imprisonment for a medical indiscretion if he returns to civilisation, which is broadly in line with the mysterious background we know for him. In the film Montgomery is redeemed; he is cured of his alcoholism and choses to face imprisonment in order to help Parker and his fiancéee escape harm. In the film he survives, rather than dying of alcoholic binge in the novel.

Edward Prendick is renamed Parker and has a fiancé, Ruth. This introduces a love-triangle, as he is also attracted to another new character, Lota the panther-woman, who has a much greater role than the female puma that Moreau begins experimenting on in the novel. The schooner, the only way off the island, is destroyed very early on in the film, deliberately by Moreau in order to keep Moreau on the island with Lota. Moreau's plan to breed Lota with Parker is never even considered in the novel.

Parker is an undefined character, an everyman with a fianceacute rather than the wealthy science student of the novel. He only appears to be on the island for a fortnight, rather than the months or almost a year the novel implies, and there are no apparent lasting consequences of his stay. The film's last words, 'Don't look back', implies that Parker will be able to put his adventure behind him and move on to enjoy a happy life with Ruth.

Wells himself disowned the film, feeling that it missed the subtle satire of his work and instead concentrated on horror.

The Natives are Restless: Reaction to Island of Lost Souls

The natives, they have a curious ceremony... They are restless tonight.

...They are unusually restless tonight.

- Doctor Moreau, Island of Lost Souls

Island of Lost Souls was banned in twelve countries: Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Hungary, India, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, and Tasmania. In Australia the film was categorised as NEN - Not to be Exhibited to Natives – with the film banned for aboriginal audiences, for fear of the subversive theme of a successful revolt against the white masters. In America, the film was so shocking that reportedly several people vomited in their seats.

In Britain not only was the film banned on released in 1933, and not considered suitable for the H (Horror) category, it was again banned in 1957 and only released in 1958 after several cuts were made, including the line in which Moreau says, 'Do you know what it means to feel like God' and Parker stating, 'They're vivisecting a human being. They're cutting a man to pieces!'. Other scenes of violence and the scene of the unsuccessful beastmen creations enslaved to work a treadmill in order to generate electricity were also removed. Following these cuts, it was issued with an X certificate. When Island of Lost Souls was released on video in Britain in 1996 it was classified as a 12, and for its DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK in 2011 was classed as a PG.

Island of Lost Souls is famous for popularising the phrase 'The Natives are restless', often used to imply a potential threat to the ruling white overlords by those considered primitive, but more numerous. Ironically, none of Moreau's manimals are native to the island, it is implied that they had all been brought to the island in cages and created in the lab. Yet his description of them as 'natives' satisfies the curiosity of Ruth and Captain Donahue. That none of Moreau's animals are native to Moreau's island but were brought there in captivity against their will emphasises their slave nature. The animal we see most is an African lion, bringing to mind the Slave Trade from Africa to the Americas.


Colonialism and Slavery

It is impossible to watch the film without seeing the underlying theme of the inherent evil of Colonialism and Slavery. The intelligent, educated western men, Moreau, Montgomery, Parker, the American Consul and Captain Donahue, dress in bright white. Captain Davies, the drunk, disgraced captain, wears off-white to reflect that he has succumbed and been corrupted by his animal instincts. Ruth also wears virginal white throughout. Yet the beastmen, a subservient class kept in check by the threat of whips and 'The House of Pain', are portrayed as dark-skinned and dark-haired. Some beastmen are kept as slaves, turning a wheel in order to generate electricity for the house.

Even Lota, the beautiful near-perfect created woman, has a dark origin. In the novel, the nearest equivalent to her character is a Puma. In the film, she has been created from a Panther, a black cat which explains her dark, black hair. Why the change, if not to emphasise her dark, and therefore 'impure' background?

White is seen to equal emotional detachment, the darker the character, the more likely they are to succumb to emotion and bestial desires. Moreau is the most educated, the most emotionless character – yet he is far from being a hero. Moreau at first glance is like a missionary, introducing his own personal beliefs on the beastmen population, yet as we see more of him his true character is revealed. His lack of emotions and base desires has resulted in his being uncaring and arrogant, ruling over his creations through fear. He delights in manipulating Lota into feeling attracted to Parker, and when she later breaks down in tears after Parker has learnt the truth about her, he is elated with her distress, as it proves she is human. While Lota reacts like a woman, Moreau becomes subhuman by being ecstatic at her pain and rather than comfort her, plans to cause her more distress by burning out all the animal in her. He even hopes for and plots the rape of innocent Ruth, for if Ruth were to be impregnated by one of his creations, Moreau would have proved that he could create true human life. As Moreau treats everyone around him as something to experiment on, there is a justice that his fate is be experimented on in return when his creations rebel against him.

Moreau represents the colonialist who believes he has an absolute right to rule. He even states, 'Do you know what it means to feel like God?' His ruling is not benevolent but brought about through fear, and the imposition of a law. He rules with an iron hand that clenches his ever-cracking whip, a Victorian colonist who lives by a view summarised by Belloc's poem about the First Matabele War (1893-94, only two years before Wells wrote The Island of Doctor Moreau), when 50 soldiers armed with four Maxims defeated 5,000 Ndebele warriors:

Whatever happens, we have got

the Maxim gun, and they have not.

Moreau has a Whip and the House of Pain. Being technologically more advanced, he arrogantly assumes automatic superiority.

Law and Order

As long as the Law is respected by Moreau, his island maintains its delicate sense of order. The law is learned and recited, but never actually respected. It is not just the beastmen that work under an interpretation of the law, rather than the spirit. Drunk Captain Davies interprets the law that he has a duty to rescue any man stranded at sea and deliver him safely to his first port of call to mean that he is legally allowed to dump Parker overboard and maroon him on Moreau's island without telling anyone, only to be later rebuked by the Consul. Like the Beasts, he is taught 'What is the Law' and pays lip service to the words, but without consider the law's meaning, spirit or intent.

The Role of Women

The PANTHER WOMAN lured men on – only to destroy them body and soul!

- Advertising poster for Island of Lost Souls

In Island of Lost Souls, two new principle characters not present in Wells' original novel have been introduced. These are Lota, the Panther Woman and Parker's finacée Ruth Thomas. These two women fall into the classic love triangle role of the Femme fatale and the virgin victim in white. Appropriately for a beauty and the beast story, Ruth's name means 'vision of beauty'. Not just a pretty face, Ruth proves to be resourceful; she is the one who manages to persuade the American consul that Edward Parker is alive and where he may be found. That said, she is otherwise a bit dull and a typical damsel in distress, a princess or beauty in a high tower (well, Moreau's first floor bedroom) that needs to be rescued from the beast.

There is no doubt that Lota as the Panther Woman is a more interesting character, something which Paramount's publicity department strongly emphasised. The poster campaign may have promised that The PANTHER WOMAN lured men on – only to destroy them body and soul!, but in the film that is not quite what happens. She does knock an instruction manual into a pool of water when she fears that the book threatens to take Parker away from her. She also gives Parker a hug and inadvertently scratches his back, which isn't quite destroying him body and soul. After this embrace, she follows up by bursting into tears and being ashamed of her appearance.

However, as a piece of 1930s cinema, the hero has to get together with the heroine. Moral dignity must be upheld, and so in common with many film noir femme fatales, Lota is killed off. She bravely sacrifices herself to protect Montgomery, Parker and Ruth from Ouran, the beastman stalking them all.

Who are the 'Lost Souls' of the title?

The film is renamed from Wells' original title The Island of Doctor Moreau to Island of Lost Souls. So who are the Lost Souls of the title?

  • Are the Beastmen, by being half-human, animals or people without a soul?
  • Has Moreau, through trying to play God, become tempted by evil and sacrificed his soul?
  • Has Edward Parker, by being attracted to Lota, an animal, lost his soul by desiring something unnatural?
  • Is Parker a lost soul because his ship, the Lady Vain sank, with the loss of all souls aboard?
  • Had Montgomery lost his soul by working with Moreau for many years. By helping Parker and Ruth escape, managed to redeem himself?
  • Is Lota a lost soul by being rejected by the man that she loves, her soul mate?


Island of Lost Souls is a very atmospheric, chilling film that asks us what it is to be human. What qualities actually make mankind different to animals – is it pure intelligence and curiosity, as represented by Moreau, or something more? Something we do not witness in the film itself, such as compassion?

The basic plot is intriguing, if unscientific. Moreau states that all animals are attempting to evolve into man – as mankind is, obviously, the pinnacle, aim and whole point of evolution, and he merely acts to accelerate the process. Yet mother nature is not a force to be underestimated, with the environmental balance always being restored. Lota's 'stubborn beast flesh' comes 'creeping back', changing her fingers back into a cat's claws. Moreau's solution is to wage war against nature, declaring 'This time I'll burn out all the animal in her!'

This leads to Charles Laughton's performance as Doctor Moreau, the vegetarian vivisectionist. Laughton is by far the domineering force of the film, playing Moreau with a suave charm and undefined threat. As the eponymous heroes never measure up to the way Laughton dominates every scene he is in, viewers almost want Moreau to succeed. The way that the revolt of the beastmen begins after Moreau orders the breaking of the law is also symbolic, proving that Moreau feels that such petty concerns as laws, even ones he has created, do not apply to him. It is revealed how flimsy his illusion of stability has been. Wishing to make animals in mankind's image he instead succeeds in creating animals in his own image; unfeeling, cold, calculating and capable of murder, rape and torture. His dramatic demise is therefore self-inflicted.

In contrast, Parker is rather weak and behaves rather appallingly. He seems to enjoy discussing cannibalism ('long pig', a nickname for human flesh) in front of his fiancée over dinner, which is hardly the behaviour of a well-mannered man. He is also extremely easily seduced by Lota, despite his engagement, blaming Moreau for his own desires and temptation into the world, rather than taking responsibility for his own actions.

There are some weak areas to the film. The cast cannot decide whether to pronounce Moreau's name as 'Morrow' or 'More-O'. It also seems odd that only Captain Donahue and Ruth disembark to the strange island. Presumably Donahue questioned Davies about what he knew of the uncharted island in the South Pacific, and that Davies' cargo had been lions, tigers, bears etc. Yet then deciding that the best way to rescue Parker would be to disembark just himself and a defenceless woman, not even bringing a man to guard his rowing boat, seems a bit bizarre, matched only by his plan to wonder off through the jungle later on in the film for no apparent reason.


One lasting legacy of the film is the 1981 Blondie song of the same name. In the music video, Debbie Harry can be seen marooned on a tropical island, surrounded by musicians who all have animal heads and chase her through the island's jungle. Many of the lyrics can be interpreted as Lota's reaction to Parker running away from her after they had embraced, and Parker discovered her true animal nature, with a cheeky mention of Moreau's speciality at the end:

Where did he go?

I'm tired of waiting here for him

Where can he be?

He's not with me

Where did he go?

What will I do alone?

Why did he run, run away from me?

The sky is blue the sea is warm and clear

And golden sands are calling out to you inviting

Make a new man outa you

Of course, the film has since been overlooked by a film released the following year, featuring a half-man, half ape monstrosity, King Kong.

The Island of Doctor Moreau
'Island of Lost Souls' |
The 1977 Film |
The 1996 Film

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