Film Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

Release Date: July 13th, 1977
Directed by: Don Taylor
Written by: Al Ramrus, John Herman Shaner
Based on: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells
Music by: Laurence Rosenthal
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera, Richard Basehart, Nick Cravat, Fumio Demura

Major Productions, Cinema 77, American International Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“If one is to study nature, one must become as remorseless as nature. You should know that!” – Dr. Paul Moreau

I saw this once, when I was a kid. However, I thought it was a really cool movie and it was my introduction to H. G. Wells’ work beyond just “The Invisible Man”.

In fact, I was initially excited for the 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau but between the critics and my friends trashing the hell out of the film, I ended up going into the theater, prepared for disappointment. Needless to say, I was very disappointed but I also barely remember the movie now and plan to rewatch it in the very near future.

Anyway, this is about the ’70s adaptation, which I can now say isn’t as good as the ’30s version but I do think it’s closer to the source material and more fleshed out.

Additionally, I thought that Burt Lancaster and Michael York both put in really convincing performances and they had a good rapport in the film, until shit started to go sideways. The film reveals its mysteries like a slow burn and even if you know how this story is going to go, the reveals of what’s happening on the island are still effective.

Honestly, I’ve liked York for ages but this is one of my favorite performances by him. It’s also cool seeing him be able to hang with a legend like Lancaster.

I love the practical makeup effects in this, as well, and while they are vastly improved upon in the ’90s adaptation, there is something creepier about how they’re applied, here. You still see the humanity in the faces of the distorted creatures and their eyes are utilized well, speaking through their disfigurements.

This actually stands up to time, fairly well. In fact, it’s similar to how the original Planet of the Apes movies utilized similar effects that have also stood the test of time in spite of the limitations of the era in which they were made.

All in all, this was pretty damn cool to experience again, so many years later.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: He Walked by Night (1948)

Release Date: November 24th, 1948 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Alfred L. Werker, Anthony Mann (uncredited)
Written by: John C. Higgins, Crane Wilbur
Music by: Leonid Raab
Cast: Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Jack Webb, Whit Bissell

Eagle-Lion FIlms, 79 Minutes

Review:

“And so the tedious quest went on. Sergeant Brennan wore out his shoes and his patience going from police station to police station, checking photos until his eyes were blurry. For police work is not all glamour and excitement and glory. There are days and days of routine, of tedious probing, of tireless searching. Fruitless days. Days when nothing goes right, when it seems as if no one could ever think his way through the maze of baffling trails a criminal leaves. But the answer to that is persistence and the hope that sooner or later something will turn up, some tiny lead that can grow into a warm trail and point to the cracking of a case.” – Narrator

This is a really gritty picture and it has a semidocumentary feel to it. For those who have seen T-Men, you probably can’t help making comparisons between the two. While Alfred L. Werker was billed as the director, this feels an awful lot like Anthony Mann’s T-Men. Strangely enough, he also directed this but wasn’t given credit for it. Honestly, it feels like it is wholly his film.

The film also benefits from the cinematography of John Alton, who worked on several pictures with Mann, most notably, the aforementioned T-Men, as well as his stupendous work in Raw Deal.

Also like T-Men, the story is based off of real life events. In the case of this picture, it is a fictional retelling of the story of Erwin “Machine-Gun” Walker, a former cop and war veteran that started a crime spree in Los Angeles that included burglaries, robberies and shootouts. In this film, names have been changed and so have some of the details. The criminal is named Roy and he is most wanted fro being a cop killer.

Richard Basehart was believable as the criminal and he carried this picture on his back. The actors who played the cops were also good and so was the shop owner who had an association with Basehart’s Roy. Basehart just takes over the screen whenever he is present. He’s clever, ruthless and calculated. Basehart conveys these qualities with ease and his presence is like a dark and intimidating cloud over the proceedings, ready to rain down hell.

The action in this film is stupendous and displays more energy than what was the norm in the 1940s. The final chase scene through the Los Angeles sewers is beautiful and draws parallels to the finale of the 1949 film The Third Man. The moment where Roy slides on his belly across the asphalt, escaping into a storm drain is amazing and unlike anything I’ve seen before this picture’s time of release. The moment where the dying cop uses his car to smash into Roy’s, to prevent his escape, is another great action shot unlike anything from this era or before. This is a rather violent film for its time but nothing is really downplayed or understated.

He Walked by Night is one of the best classic film-noir movies ever made. It is short and quick but it doesn’t need to be anything more than what it was. It made its point, gave us something that truly felt real and was unapologetic about it in an era where censors had a tight grip on the film industry.

Rating: 9.75/10