The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) – By Duane L. Martin

One of the many films based on the stories of H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau had two major incarnations.  This particular film from 1977 is probably the best known, while another telling of the story from 1996 with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer is almost equally as notable.

The story revolves around a man who survived a shipwreck, only to find himself stranded on an island that contains secrets that no one could have possibly imagined.  Dr. Moreau was drummed out of he scientific community by his compatriots for his theories on selective breeding and DNA manipulation.  His work largely involves turning animals into human beings through genetic manipulation, but he’s never quite managed to turn one fully human.  As such, there are a large number of animalistic semi-humans on the island that he rules over with an iron fist.  They see him almost as a god since he was the one who gave them their manhood and the laws they’re required to live by.  If they’re ever to break those laws, they’re taking to what’s called the house of pain for punishment.

Michael York plays Andrew Braddock, the shipwrecked man.  After being told initially by the doctor that there would be a supply ship coming at any time that he could get a ride home on, he later came to discover that there wouldn’t be another supply ship coming to the island for at least two years, which meant that he had no other choice but to cooperate with the doctor.  Living on his own out on the island would be far too dangerous, so he had no choice but to help the doctor, albeit reluctantly.  Unfortunately, when he finds he can no longer stomach it and wants to escape the island with the doctor’s beautiful ward, he unwittingly becomes the subject of the doctor’s next experiment.

Adaptations of H.G. Wells stories are kind of a hit and a miss for me.  The Time Machine was just flat out boring, and this film, while it had it’s moments, and even included one of the most impactful scenes I’ve ever seen in a film, still felt a bit unbalanced.  There were parts that were interesting, while other parts made no sense at all.  There was no reason he had to be all moralistic with the doctor when he found out what he was doing.  He was stuck on the island, so all he had to do was to go along with everything until the ship came.  Then the fact that the doctor even had a girl living with him on the island was completely unrealistic.  He’d supposedly picked her up somewhere when her family was basically whoring her out as a child for the price of a dozen eggs, and then brought her to the island with him for no apparent reason.

I can’t say the story ever got overly exciting, and the animal make up they did on the actors made them look like something straight out of the broadway production of Cats, but the story wasn’t that bad either.  I think my biggest problem was with the Dr. Moreau character.  He was far too unbalanced as far as what kind of a person he really was.  Sometimes he’d seem like a decent guy who genuinely wanted to use his research to help man kind, while other times he was more unscrupulous.  The problem was, he never came off as anything more than unscrupulous.  In other words, he never went over the line into actually being evil and malicious.  I don’t think that’s what his character was supposed to be anyway, but the fact that he wasn’t meant that there was never any real tension built up in the film over what he could possibly do next.  It was like the whole thing just cruised along at sort of a blah pace and never became more than that, which is almost the exact same problem I had with The Time Machine.  It was long, tedious and boring.  This movie wasn’t as boring, but it could have been more than it was.

Do I recommend seeing it?  Yes, absolutely.  In fact, you’ll want to own it if you love these types of films.  Is it better than the 1996 version?  I have no idea to be perfectly honest.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen more than just bits and pieces of that one, but this one’s good enough to stand on its own in any case, and the restoration on this new Kino Lorber release looks and sounds great.  It’s even got subtitles, which I’m so happy to see on these latest Studio Classics releases.

So yeah, pick yourself up a copy of this one.  Yeah it can be a bit boring and cheesy at times, but it does have flashes of brilliance here and there that make it worth owning.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here: