Posted by: Gregoryno6 | November 29, 2020

From Lota to David: unnatural people in the cinema, part one.

Prologue:

I could have called them ‘artificial people’. or ‘man-made people’. But I didn’t. I preferred ‘unnatural people’.

Prologue ends here.

In 1932, Paramount Studios released Island of Lost Souls – the first screen version of The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells. The script deviates from the novel in several ways, most noticeably in the expansion of the character of the Puma-woman. In the book Moreau is in the midst of his experiments upon the Puma-woman. He speaks of her as potentially his finest achievement, but in Lost Souls her progress towards a human state of being is far more advanced.

Kathleen Burke as Lota, and Charles Laughton as Doctor Moreau.

Introduced in the opening credits as ‘The Panther Woman’, she is given a name: Lota. Lota is indeed the finest of the mad doctor’s creations. A mutual attraction develops between Lota and Parker, the survivor plucked from the sea and dumped on the island against Moreau’s will. Lota fears Parker at first, understandably so. The only true humans she knows are Moreau and his sullen assistant Montgomery. But Parker is kind; he treats her with courtesy, and she responds. ‘Talk to me,’ she says with gentle insistence, as Parker ponders a means of escape. ‘Talk to me more.’ She seems childlike, but then moves close, and Parker finds her physically irresistible.

Richard Arlen, as Parker, gets ready to make his move.

Moreau has already sensed the connection, and changed his plans to have Parker sent away. When Parker realises that Lota is another of Moreau’s unnatural people, Moreau responds (to quote William S Burroughs) with a leer of pure educated evil. You see, of course, the possibilities that presented themselves.

Lota has human intelligence enough to realise what she is, and what she cannot become. The stubborn beast flesh creeping back, Moreau laments; Lota’s fingernails are reverting to claws. But Lota is also human enough to shed tears, and that gives Moreau new hope. He swears he’ll burn out all the animal in her. The arrival of a rescue ship thwarts his plans. The Beast-Men rebel against Moreau; the island descends into riot. Lota dies in Parker’s arms, sacrificing her life to enable his escape.

Lota represents the unnatural people of the old world, the world of myths and legends that were the source of early horror movies. Lota, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Golem – created from natural materials: living flesh, dead flesh, the clay of the earth. There was an underlying moral message in the films of those early unnaturals. The order of the universe is fixed, and does not yield to the will of man.

The science of the time was rudimentary. Electricity was becoming commonplace in the cities, but large parts of the world still depended on fire for heating and cooking, and light. That age was closing even as Lota skittered around the pool to surprise Parker. Technology was about to begin its phenomenal advances. In the cinema, the unnaturals of this modern world had already appeared. Their presence had been announced in a silent film from Germany in 1927.

Part two to follow soon. UPDATE: Here it is!


Responses

  1. The scene at the end when, you might say, rough justice is done, is one of the most horrifying I’ve ever witnessed in the movies (certainly in an old movie). Moreau’s screaming is positively blood curdling.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Laughton went full choirboy for that scene.

  2. I’ve seen it but have little memory of it…thank you for writing about it, I look forward to Part 2.


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