Island of Lost Souls (1932) is an American science fiction horror film starring Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi and Kathleen Burke. The film was directed by Erle C. Kenton, who was one of the original Keystone Kops and produced by Paramount Pictures from a script written by Waldemar Young and science fiction legend Philip Wylie. The movie was the second film adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. The first adaptation was the French film Ile d'Epouvante (1913) (The Island of Terror), a 23 minute silent film directed by Joe Hamman in 1911. The film was released in 1913. By late 1913 it was picked up by US distributor George Kleine and renamed The Island of Terror for its release in Chicago.
During the summer of 1932 Arthur L. Mayer who was the Director of Advertising, Publicity and Exploitation for Paramount came up with a nationwide promotional campaign for Island of Lost Souls (1932) . A contest was held through the Paramount Publix Theatres and local newspapers in which women between 5’4” and 5’8” and over the age of 17 competed for the part of Lota, the Panther Woman. While working as a dental assistant in Chicago, Kathleen Burke submitted her photograph. Burke a former fashion model, radio and stage actress was picked from 60,000 contestants. After her success with Island of Lost Souls (1932) she would be typecast as exotic temptresses and second leads for the remainder of her brief Hollywood career. Throughout her short 6 year career much to her dismay Burke was referred to as the Panther Woman. After appearing in over twenty films she retired from acting in 1938 at the age of 25.
Island of Lost Souls (1932) was Charles Laughton's third Hollywood production, having already completed filming The Old Dark House (1932) directed by James Whale and co- starring Boris Karloff and The Sign of the Cross (1932) which was directed by Cecil B. De Mille. Laughton claimed to have based his performance as Dr. Moreau on that of his dentist. After making the film Laughton humorously claimed that he could not go to a zoo for the rest of his life.
Richard Arlen, who plays Edward Parker in the film, served in the Royal Canadian Flying Corps as a pilot, during World War I. After the war he got a job as a motorcycle messenger at a film laboratory in Los Angeles. Once will delivering a message he crashed into the gates at Paramount Pictures and suffered a broken leg. The studio provided medical attention. Paramount executives, impressed by his good looks, gave him a contract after he had recovered. Arlen started as an extra in 1925, but soon rose to credited roles He is also known for appearing in Alice in Wonderland (1933) and Submarine Alert (1943). Arlen made dozens of appearances on television during the 1950’s and 60’s and continued acting until his death in 1976.
Leila Hyams, who played Ruth Thomas (Parker’s fiancée) was the first person to model for Listerine advertisements. She later became one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies during the early talkie pre-code years and had been the original choice to play Jane in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), but she turned it down. After a film career lasting only 12 years she retired from motion pictures in 1936, to concentrate on her marriage but remained active in Hollywood society.
Bela Lugosi, who had achieved movie stardom with his role in with Dracula (1931) appeared in a minor role in Island of Lost Souls (1932) as the Sayer of the Law. Lugosi whose career was already beginning to take a nose dive after the Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) made the film for a salary of just over $800, which was less than any other actor on the project. He was force to accept the small salary and the role because he was in the middle of bankruptcy at the time.
Originally Nancy Carroll and Randolph Scott were to play the leading roles of Ruth Thomas and Edward Parker, but they were replaced by Leila Hyams and Richard Arlen. It has been rumored that Randolph Scott played an uncredited roles as one of the "beasts" along with Buster Crabbe and Alan Ladd however this fact is undocumented and highly questionable.
The elaborate makeup for mutants was created Wally Westmore who is known for his work on Bonanza (1959), Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958) and Charlie Gemora, a makeup artist who was renowned as "the King of the Gorilla Men" in Hollywood. Germora appeared as a Gorilla in several films during his career including The Unholy Three (1930), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and Road to Zanzibar (1941). He is also credited for creating the legendary alien in War of the Worlds (1953)
Shot in October-November 1932 the film was released in December of that same year amidst a storm of controversy. To create the language of the mutants sound-man Loren L. Ryder recorded a mixture of animal sounds and foreign languages. He played the sounds backward at varying speeds. As a results the sounds caused nausea and some audience members to actually to vomit in the theaters.
The author of the source material, H. G. Wells was outspoken in his dislike of the film, stating that the overt horror elements overshadowed the story's deeper philosophical meaning. The censors also objected to Dr. Moreau saying "Do you know what it means to feel like God?"
Island of Lost Souls (1932) was denied a certificate three times by the British Board of Film Censors, in 1933, 1951, and 1957. The reason for the 1933 ban was due to scenes of vivisection or animal experimentation. It is believed by many film historians that Island of Lost Souls (1932) was a major factor in the passing of the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act in 1937, which forbade the portrayal of cruelty to animals in films released in Britain. The film was eventually passed after cuts were made with an 'X' certificate on July 9, 1958.
When British censors claimed the film was "against nature", Elsa Lanchester (wife of Charles Laughton) stated, "Of course it's against nature. So's Mickey Mouse!"
Island of Lost Souls (1932) is credited with introducing the phrase "The natives are restless tonight" into pop culture:
Ruth Thomas: "What's that?"
Dr. Moreau: "The natives, they have a curious ceremony. Mr. Parker has witnessed it. "
Ruth Thomas: "Tell us about it, Edward."
Edward Parker: "Oh, it's... it's nothing."
Dr. Moreau: "They are restless tonight."
In 1958 Paramount productions sold the film to MCA/Universal along 700 other films made between 1929 and 1949. It was been owned and controlled by Universal ever since.