Tag Archives: H.G. Wells

Island of Lost Souls (1932, Erle C. Kenton)

What’s so incredible about Island of Lost Souls is how Charles Laughton doesn’t overpower the entire picture. Laughton’s take on the mad scientist role–playful, gleeful, callous, cruel–is a joy to watch and it definitely contributes but it doesn’t make Souls. Even with Laughton, Kenton’s direction is still a must, as are the performances of Richard Arlen and Arthur Hohl.

Arlen’s an unlucky shipwrecked man who ends up on Laughton’s island, Hohl’s Laughton’s assistant but also the guy who helped save Arlen. Waldemar Young and Philip Wylie’s script gives Hohl a lot of time to establish himself before revealing his profession. The big things in the film–Laughton, the island, the enormous action sequences–are all hidden at the beginning. It could very well just be the story of a man shipwrecked and tempted by a Polynesian native girl, a riff on a Maugham South Seas outing. And then things get very strange.

There’s no big standoff between Arlen and Laughton; Laughton’s not exactly an antagonist throughout the entire film. Instead, Laughton leads into the next antagonists… only they’re the most sympathetic characters in the film. The film moves fast and demands the viewer keep up pace. There are occasional humor payoffs, but things eventually just stay rough.

Kenton and cinematographer Karl Struss do these wonderful one shots of Laughton being evil. Laughton takes such a joy in the role, frequently smiling at himself.

Great supporting turn from Bela Lugosi. Maybe his best work.

Souls is an excellent picture.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Erle C. Kenton; screenplay by Waldemar Young and Philip Wylie, based on a novel by H.G. Wells; director of photography, Karl Struss; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Charles Laughton (Dr. Moreau), Richard Arlen (Edward Parker), Arthur Hohl (Montgomery), Leila Hyams (Ruth Thomas), Kathleen Burke (Lota), Stanley Fields (Captain Davies), Paul Hurst (Donahue), Hans Steinke (Ouran), Tetsu Komai (M’ling), George Irving (The Consul) and Bela Lugosi (Sayer of the Law).


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The Invisible Man (1933, James Whale)

The Invisible Man is a filmmaking marvel. First off, R.C. Sherriff’s screenplay sets things up speedily and without much exposition. The film introduces Claude Rains’s character through everyone else’s point of view–first the strangers he meets, then his familiars–all while Rains is front and center in the film. Even though he is, after all, invisible.

Rains is another marvel. The script is excellent, Whale does a peerless job directing (more on his contributions in a bit), but Rains makes the whole thing possible. With him, Invisible isn’t some horror picture or a sci-fi one, it’s a very simple, very tragic story of a man going mad. It doesn’t need the special effects, it just needs Rains. Everything else is a bonus. It’s an outstanding performance.

The whole cast is great–Gloria Stuart has to sell the idea Rains was once a lovable guy, so goes Henry Travers for instance. William Harrigan gets to be a sleaze bag but a decent enough minded one.

Now for Whale. Many of the special effects in The Invisible Man are unbelievable. Even the ones where they obviously used some kind of matte decades are sort of unbelievable, but the practical effects–where the bandages must have been suspended by wire–those are astonishing. And Whale knows, early on, to wow the audience. But he never lets up with it; it’s one wow after another.

The Invisible Man gets better on every viewing. The work from Whale, Rains and Sherriff is singular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by R.C. Sherriff, based on the novel by H.G. Wells; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Heinz Roemheld; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Claude Rains (The Invisible Man), Gloria Stuart (Flora Cranley), William Harrigan (Dr. Arthur Kemp), Henry Travers (Dr. Cranley), Una O’Connor (Jenny Hall), Forrester Harvey (Herbert Hall), Holmes Herbert (Chief of Police), E.E. Clive (Const. Jaffers), Dudley Digges (Chief Detective), Harry Stubbs (Inspector Bird), Donald Stuart (Inspector Lane) and Merle Tottenham (Millie).


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The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996, John Frankenheimer), the director’s cut

Looking over his filmography, one could argue John Frankenheimer stopped making significant films at some point in the late sixties or early seventies (I haven’t seen Black Sunday so I don’t know about that one). But by the eighties, he was already someone whose best work was clearly behind him. By the nineties… well, it’s hard to believe he got jobs. Especially on something like The Island of Dr. Moreau. Obviously, being quickly brought in after the studio fired the original director might have something to do with it. It’s not like Frankenheimer was busy and, if it did anything, all his experience did make him a guy who could get a movie finished.

Dr. Moreau, as I recall, wasn’t supposed to be a bomb or a piece of crap. It was supposed to have rising stars Val Kilmer (following Batman Forever) and Rob Morrow (who had left “Northern Exposure” to do movies). Morrow dropped out. It was also Marlon Brando, earning a buck. Brando’s incredible in the film, because there’s so little left. He’s so unconnected to it–you can see some of the talent in his gestures–but he’s delivering this dialogue, this terrible dialogue, and he’s just not connecting to any of it.

Kilmer’s a different story. He’s fantastic–the scenes were he’s imitating Brando are hilarious–and he manages to turn this underwritten mess of a character into someone who, well, is at least consistently amusing.

David Thewlis (who took over for Morrow) turns in a fine performance. His character is dreadfully underwritten, but Thewlis overcomes. He’s not a good guy, which is interesting, and it gives the film the air of complexity.

Who I realized I really missed, thanks to the film, is Fairuza Balk. She holds her own with Thewlis and when she does scenes with Brando, it’s too bad he isn’t delivering on her level.

The script doesn’t do anyone in the film any favors. Thewlis comes off as a twit and a jerk, one of the worst protagonists I can think of. Kilmer’s character sets off the film’s chain of events, but it’s never clear why, since it’s all so predictable. Brando… jeez. The less said about that disastrous character the better. Balk gets the shaft too, though her character really is just a love interest.

Stan Winston’s make-up is good and the scenes with the crazed animal people are a little creepy. But it’s a piece of garbage and it’s impossible to care what happens next because there’s no one in the film to really care about.

Gary Chang’s music is surprisingly decent.

Technically, Frankenheimer can fill a Panavision screen. With constantly interesting content, no, he cannot.

The best part of the movie is the beginning, when it’s Thewlis and Kilmer, because it gives Kilmer the chance to be really crazy.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Richard Stanley and Ron Hutchinson, based on the novel by H.G. Wells; director of photography, William A. Franker; edited by Paul Rubell and Adam P. Scott; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Edward R. Pressman; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Marlon Brando (Dr. Moreau), Val Kilmer (Montgomery), David Thewlis (Edward Douglas), Fairuza Balk (Aissa), Ron Perlman (Sayer of the Law), Marco Hofschneider (M’Ling), Temuera Morrison (Azazello) and William Hootkins (Kiril).


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Dead of Night (1945, Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer)

Dead of Night is an Ealing anthology from 1945. I don’t know where it fits in the history of anthology films–films composed of a number of shorts, with or without a “bridging” sequence to tie them–because I’m not particularly familiar with the genre. I saw Dead of Night because movielens recommended it, recommended it a little too highly.

The four short films that comprise Dead of Night are fine, some quite good. There’s a disturbing ventriloquist one, starring an excellent Michael Redgrave, and a gentle premonition one about a race car driver. The first two stories don’t take up as much time as the second two, since the first half of the film is also establishing the “bridging” story. It’s not enough to have four short films playing one after the other, Dead of Night tries to wrap a fifth story around the others….

The film fails because of that fifth story. It’s predictable and, by today’s standards, relatively cheap. Though maybe not. I mean, Memento was cheap and no one thought so, so maybe Dead of Night has just as much fictive merit as it did back in 1945. But it doesn’t deserve the merit, because it’s cheap. My dread of the anthology film–especially one with bridging scenes–is that the characters are going to be secondary. Dead of Night realized that fear. The characters are all thin, though amiably played by all the actors, and there’s no depth to the film. It’s a collection of some–mildly–uncanny stories and it’s mildly amusing. If it had been just a little bit better, I wouldn’t feel like I stayed up late to scare myself for nothing. It didn’t even scare me.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer; screenplay by John Baines, Angus MacPhail and T.E.B. Clarke, based on stories by H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, Baines and MacPhail; directors of photography, Jack Parker, Stanley Pavey and Douglas Slocombe; edited by Charles Hasse; produced by Michael Balcon; released by Ealing Studios.

Starring Mervyn Johns (Walter Craig), Roland Culver (Eliot Foley), Frederick Valk (Dr. van Straaten), Anthony Baird (Hugh Grainger), Google Withers (Joan Cortland), Michael Redgrave (Maxwell Frere), Sally Ann Howes (Sally O’Hara), Judy Kelly (Joyce Grainger), Ralph Michael (Peter Cortland), Hartley Power (Sylvester Kee), Barbara Leake (Mrs. O’Hara), Mary Merrall (Mrs. Foley), Elisabeth Welch (Beulah), Miles Malleson (Hearse Driver) and Johnny Maguire (Dummy).