Ah, Charles Laughton. He could rock an insane character like no one else. Six months after playing a bonkers submarine commander in The Devil and Deep (1932), he tackled the mad scientist Dr. Moreau for this Paramount horror movie. Bela Lugosi was hired for his horror movie gravitas, though he's mostly wasted in a small part, "The Sayer of the Law." I confess, I couldn't pick him out of a beast man line-up to save my life. He does get to utter the most famous line of the film, "are we not men?" which was inspiration for Devo to ask the question decades later.
Richard Arlen rather woodenly portrays the protagonist Edward Parker who is stranded on the island. Parker is disturbed by Moreau's experiments-- the "unsuccessful" examples are used as slaves and the "House of Pain" that the islands inhabitants fear is a vivisection lab. He decides to keep quiet about things in order to get off the island more quickly. After meeting Moreau's creation, Lota the panther woman, (Kathleen Burke) he changes his mind about keeping quiet.
Moreau quickly moves from being a hospitable if eccentric host to being completely crazy, deciding that he's going to keep his new house guest to mate with Lota to prove once and for all that his creations are perfectly human. What's completely insane about Moreau and is never really addressed is the question of exactly what the doctor's experiments are supposed to do to help humanity? In Frankenstein, the ability to reanimate the dead could seemingly have profoundly positive benefits, but why go around making a race of mutants, if the only point is to prove that animals can be turned human? Aren't there plenty of regular humans walking around who were made the old-fashioned way? South Park pretty much nailed this flaw in the story in their parody, in which the mad scientist makes turkeys with multiple asses. Really, what's the point, dude?
My favorite part of the movie is Lota. You gotta love Lota. And indeed, until he finds out her secret origin, Parker is completely prepared to ditch his fiancee back on the mainland to have a shot with her. Paramount, desparate to hype the film, had held a nation-wide contest to cast the part and Burke won. Though she never really hit the big time, she proved more than capable in the movie and went on to play more exotic temptresses in Paramount classics such as The Lives of The Bengal Lancers and The Last Outpost.
Bonus Eye candy: A whole lotta Lota!
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