Tag Archives: Marlon Brando

30 Days of Madness, Day 8 — Island of Lost Souls (1932)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

islandlostsouls

 

Directed by Erle C. Kenton. Adapted by Philip Wylie & Waldemar Young from the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells.

“Do you know what it means to feel like God?” — Dr. Moreau

This was the first film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, criticized by Wells for focusing more on the horrific aspects of the work than the philosophical aspects. This is one of the Wells novels I have not yet read (though I love The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds) so I can’t comment on the adaptation itself, but I will take the author’s word for it. Indeed, there isn’t much gray area explored when it comes to genetic engineering done of Moreau on his secretive island. He does come off as more of a villainous mad scientist; but oh what a villain!

Let me start with the good here, before I get into my problems with this film. First off, I have seen the 1996 trainwreck of an adaptation that starred Marlon Brando as Dr. Moreau. It was one of the most storied troubled film productions in history, and if you’re interested in that sort of thing, may I recommend the wonderful 2014 documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. The stories are insane. Brando was clearly insane, or had by that point gotten so high on himself that he shanghaied the production with his antics. Maybe he thought he was the second coming of Charles Laughton. Well, I have seen Island of Lost Souls, and you, Mr. Brando, are no Charles Laughton. Laughton is fantastic as the creepy, obsessed, manipulative doctor. And this film is far superior to what they managed to spit out in 1996.

Other good stuff: Kenton’s direction is pretty solid, and all the technical stuff is solid. It seems the studios just knew how to produce a film in the 30s. The makeup is excellent. And supporting players Arthur Hohl, Leila Hyams, and Bela Lugosi (my second Lugosi performance this month after The Body Snatcher) are all fine. And the ending is truly horrifying. It reminds me of my reaction to the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera, which I covered during my 30 Days of Madness project six years ago. Whether its target is deserved or not, mob mentality is terrifying.

Now the not-so-good stuff. The plot feels a bit rushed, and as it centers on the brick wall that is protagonist Edward Parker (played by Richard Arlen of Wings fame), a character whose disposition toward his predicament seems to change from scene to scene (and sometimes mid-scene), it also feels like it meanders sometimes. His first night on the island he is so horrified by what he witnesses that he calls Moreau a monster–then just kind of hangs out afterward.

And then there is the “Panther Woman” subplot, where Moreau sends his one female creation, Lota, to Parker to see if she will react toward him with a woman’s emotions rather than an animal’s instincts. I understand what they were going for here, but it really is the weakest part of the entire film, compounded by the fact that each scene focuses on a brick wall and a woman who had never acted before. The scenes are clunky and unbelievable, ethically wishy-washy, and frankly not much more than a gimmick to sell the film. (Also, the Panther Woman reminds me a little too much of a girl I once dated.)

There is a scene in which Parker gives in to his attraction to Lota, but then walks away looking disturbed. She then runs to him and puts her arms around him, and he sees that her hands have animal claws, and is understandably horrified. I feel like they were trying to convey that, despite being in love with his fiancée Ruth, he was momentarily overcome by animal desire. But you know what? Many men wouldn’t lose their self-control so easily. And, dude, before you were horrified by her fingernails, when you were making out with this beast woman, do you realize that your devoted fiancée was moving land and sea to find you? This, of course, is never addressed as a problem.

Ruth, thankfully, is the strongest character in the film, despite screaming like a typical horror movie heroine at a couple points. When Edward doesn’t show up, she doesn’t sit around wringing her hands. She tells off the captain of the ship that marooned Edward on Moreau’s island, probably destroying his career in the process, and then goes herself across the sea to rescue Edward instead of just sending a crew and sitting around fretting about it. When she gets to the island, she shows more backbone in the face of entering scary caves and jungles than the ship captain who is accompanying her. (Though why one woman and one ship captain venture onto a strange and mysterious island to rescue a castaway who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances and bring no crew with them is a question I’d like answered. Oh, right, because it’s in the script.)

Last negative criticism: I have a difficult time with seeing real animals in distress, which happens so often in old monster movies. Seeing tigers being riled into viciousness in a small cage hurts me inside. I am glad, however, that they didn’t do the same to a real gorilla. I’ll take an obvious man in a suit in a case such as this.

I know that all makes it sound like a really disliked this film, but I actually think it’s a decent horror film, and Laughton’s performance plus the makeup of the beast people and the real sense of horror it conveys bring this up to classic status. Final thought: I wonder if director Jonathan Demme was inspired at all by this film. There are several shots where characters are speaking in close-up directly into the camera.

Final grade: B

My Flickchart ranking: #877 (out of 3255, a relative 73/100)

Oscar Month: The 1955 Academy Awards

By Tom Kapr

As part of my Year of Movies, during the month of February I will be focusing on past Academy Award-winning films, facilitated in large part by Turner Classic Movies and their annual 31 Days of Oscar marathon, in which they air nothing but Academy Award nominees and winners every hour of every day for 31 days, leading up to and eventually eclipsing the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on February 27. Throughout the month of February, I will be posting short articles on films that have won Academy Awards in past years, most of which I will not have seen before. So you can expect me, by the end of the month, to be even more of the classic film snob of the Incidental Dog crew than I already am. (I’m sure the other guys will love it.)

Having seen eight of the films from 1954 that received Academy Award nominations, I thought I would take a look at all of them in the various categories in which they appeared. I begin with the film I saw this week for the first time, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, directed by Stanley Donen of Singin’ in the Rain fame.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1955. Its only win was a two-fer: Adolph Deutsch and Saul Chaplin took home Oscars in the category of “Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.” This award, as well as its nominations for “Best Cinematography, Color” and “Best Film Editing,” are the three of the five categories in which Seven Brides seems deserving. Although, there is a peculiarity about the win.

Seven Brides won the Best Musical Score Oscar over A Star Is Born (now generally considered the superior film), but it was conspicuously absent from the “Original Song” category, for which composer Harold Arlen and lyricist Ira Gershwin were nominated for their song “The Man That Got Away” from A Star Is Born. In other words, there have always been certain inexplicable Oscar nomination anomalies–and I’ve just invented a new tongue-twister. (This category also gave White Christmas its sole nomination for Irving Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.”)

Seven Brides‘ other two nominations were for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, neither of which it deserved. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is one of those films that I am constantly asked if I have seen. I finally have seen it, so I finally can say yes; but now, I foretell that when I say yes I am in for a debate. I cannot fathom this film’s popularity, especially over half a century later. It might more accurately have been titled Seven Kidnapping Victims Who Develop Stockholm Syndrome Over a Long Winter of Being Held Hostage in the Mountains by Seven Brothers. And that doesn’t even describe this film’s most bizarre and disturbing plot development, which occurs during the final scene. Women like this movie?

The film does have merits, going back to its three deserving nominations: the music is great, the cinematography is beautiful, and the editing is impeccable. It also has one of the most fun, entertaining, and well-choreographed dance scenes in musical history–when the seven brothers (the colorful shirts in the still below) go into town for the barn-raising festivities and use fancy footwork to vie for the affections of the young ladies of the town.

The phenomenal dance scene from "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," before the film's sanity begins to deteriorate.

As a whole, the film doesn’t hold up. Even its popularity from its own time in the 50′s is a little surprising. It’s far too simplistic (I’ll even go so far as to say sexist) to deserve any nominations for writing or Best Picture. But then it seems musicals used to get away with that sort of thing quite often.

I could have shown a picture of the apartment complex set from "Rear Window." Instead, here's a largely irrelevant shot of the film's star Grace Kelly. You're welcome.

Seven Brides‘ spot in the Best Picture nominations should have gone to Rear Window, which was nominated for Hitchcock’s directing, John Michael Hayes’ screenplay, and Robert Burks’ cinematography, but, in one of Oscar history’s most glaring omissions, not as one of the best films of the year. (Rear Window was also strangely absent from the art/set direction category, despite featuring one of the most memorable, unique sets ever built–the apartment complex and courtyard as seen from James Stewart’s character’s window.) Rear Window is my personal favorite from 1954, and I’m shocked it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, but at least the film that did win for Best Picture that year was entirely deserving of the honor. That would be On the Waterfront.

Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando have electrifying chemistry in "On the Waterfront."

On the Waterfront was nominated in 12 categories and deserved every one. All five of its foremost actors (Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger) were nominated, which must be a record (but don’t quote me on that). Brando and Saint took the gold, and for my money, if those two had won solely on the basis of their make-out scene, I’d say they deserved it, because it may be the best kiss in all of cinema. (Just thought I’d throw that in there.)

Waterfront also took home awards for Richard Day’s art/set direction, Boris Kaufman’s cinematography, Gene Milford’s editing, Budd Schulberg’s writing, and Elia Kazan’s directing. Leonard Bernstein was nominated for his dramatic musical score but lost to Dimitri Tiomkin for The High and the Mighty. (There were two separate music scoring categories in 1955: “Best Music, Scoring of a Musical PIcture” and “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.” Musicals were so popular, they essentially had their own category.)

Other favorites of mine that were classy contenders at the Academy Awards in 1955 were the Edward Dmytryk-directed The Caine Mutiny, which was nominated in seven categories including Best Picture and Best Actor for Humphrey Bogart (his third and final nomination after 1942′s Casablanca and 1951′s The African Queen, for which he won); Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which won for its art/set direction and its visual effects; the post-nuclear horror film Them!, whose giant killer ants lost in the visual effects category to 20,000 Leagues‘ giant killer squid; and the Friz Freleng-directed Sylvester-and-Tweety short Sandy Claws, which lost in the animated short category to Mr. Magoo.

(Learn more about these films and the 1955 Academy Awards at the Internet Movie Database.)