Saturday, February 11, 2012

Island of Lost Souls - 1933

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“What is The Law?
Not to run on all fours.  That is The Law.  Are we not men?
What is The Law?
Not to eat meat. That is The Law.  Are we not men?
What is The Law?
Not to spill blood.  That is The Law.  Are we not men?
His is the hand that makes!
His is the hand that heals!
His is the House of Pain!” 

Director:                       Erle C. Kenton
Screenplay:                 Waldemar Young, Philip Wylie
    (from the novel "The Island of Dr. Moreau" by
                    H.G. Wells)
Photography:                  Karl Struss
Art Direction:                Hans Drier
Makeup:                       Wally Westmore
Cast
Doctor Moreau            Charles Laughton
Edward Parker            Richard Arlen
Ruth Thomas                Leila Hyams
Sayer of the Law         Bela Lugosi
Panther Woman           Kathleen Burke
Montgomery                Arthur Hohle
M'Ling                          Tetsu Komai
Capt. Davies              Stanley Fields
Donohue                       Paul Hurst
Ouran                          Hans Steinke
               


-->"Island of Lost Souls”, released in January of 1933, is one of the classic horror movies that is less well known and seen much less often than others such as “Frankenstein”.  It was considered shocking at the time of its release; and still has power to, if not shock, at least to surprise, maybe to disturb, and possibly to horrify.

Although the Production Code was not in full effect in 1933, some things were considered too offensive to be allowed by censors.  Local authorities everywhere had the power to edit out from their copy of the film whatever was too raw for their delicate sensibilities. The film was chopped up in many different ways in different places, and was banned outright in England until 1958.  Only recently has it been restored to its original form.   

In 1932 movie studios were feeling the effects of the Depression.  Declining numbers of patrons meant declining ticket sales which meant declining profits.  Several studios were to declare bankruptcy in the early 30’s.  However, Universal had done well with “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” in 1931, and Paramount’s film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” became one of the top ten money makers of 1932.


Paramount had a reputation for classy, expensive productions drawing from their deep pool of talent .  Frederick March won an Oscar for his dual portrayal of Jekyll and Hyde.  For the part of Ivy, the flirtatious and alluring dance hall girl who had the misfortune to catch the eye of Mr. Hyde, the studio chose blonde Miriam Hopkins.  She had signed with the studio in 1930 after a successful Broadway career, and Ivy was one of her first big film roles.  The movie mixed sex with prestige, utilizing a suggestive script and lingering shots of Miriam Hopkins legs, with classic literary source material and an A-list cast.  Horror movies seemed to be the wave to ride, so Paramount tried to duplicate their success with a similar project for 1933.  Horror, mixed with sex of course. 

Miriam Hopkins as Ivy -- tempting Dr. Jekyll

-->The 1896 novel “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, written by H.G. Wells was selected as their next horror project.  The book tells the story of a castaway who finds himself on a small island occupied by Doctor Moreau, a scientist who had to leave England due to public outrage over his notorious experiments.  The other occupants of the island are the half-man, half-beast results of Moreau’s surgical attempts to create humans from animals. The book had a strong anti-vivisection message and was instrumental in encouraging the start of animal anti-cruelty organizations.
1896 edition
-->H.G. Wells, 64 years old and still very active, was paid $15,000 by Paramount for the rights to “The Island of Doctor Moreau”.  Two unauthorized adaptations had already been filmed.  The first was a 1913 silent, 23 minute French version titled, “Ile d’Epouvante”, or “Island of Terror” when released in the U.S.  A 1921 German film titled “Die Insel der Verschollenen” (“Island of the Lost”) featured an opium addicted scientist who was attempting to create an artificial human.

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Translating the novel into a screenplay wasn’t a breeze, as Paramount hired eleven different writers to take a crack at it.  Final screen credit went to Waldemar Young and Philip Wylie. They spiced up the story with the requisite ingredient of sex by creating a new character, “The Panther Woman”.  The vivisection/mad scientist angle was kept, but the other thrust of the film (pardon the expression) is, well…not to put too fine a point on it-- bestiality. 

In the film “Island of Lost Souls” we meet Edward Parker, shipwrecked in the South Seas while on his way to Apia to marry his fiancée Ruth, who is waiting for him there.  He is rescued by the S.S. Covena which is carrying a load of cargo to Dr. Moreau’s island.  While on deck with Dr. Montgomery, assistant to Moreau, Parker sees the strange, mute, hulking ship’s crew, and the cargo; cages of wild animals.  When Parker encounters the ship’s drunken captain cruelly beating Montgomery’s servant M’ling, he knocks out the bully.  As Parker leans down to help M’ling, he sees his furry, pointed ears.  M’ling sits up and shakes himself like a wet dog after a bath; then with a wild growl, attacks the captain.  Things are not quite normal on the Covena. 


When the ship docks with Moreau’s schooner the cargo is unloaded.  The captain, still holding a grudge against Parker, advises him that he is getting off, then unceremoniously picks him up and chucks him overboard onto the deck of Moreau’s ship.  Moreau protests, but has no choice but to offer Parker the hospitality of his island.  Quickly the wily doctor realizes the opportunity that, literally, has dropped into his lap.


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After landing, Moreau guides Parker through the jungle to his compound, cracking his whip at the bizarre creatures who are spying on them from the brush.  “Odd looking natives you have here” Parker says casually.  Don’t be alarmed, Mr. Parker assures Moreau.  Uh-huh.  Go ahead Mr. Parker, there will be plenty to be alarmed about. 

Dr. Moreau loses very little time introducing Parker to Lota, the only woman on the island.  Parker accepts this attractive, exotic young woman as a native Polynesian, not suspecting that she is the most successful result of the doctor’s attempts to transform animals into humans.
The Panther Woman
 
Moreau informs Montgomery of his ulterior motive – to find out how human she really is.  Watch him at the end of this clip, as he claps his hands and rubs them together in delight.
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After the attraction, his goal is to find out if a successful mating resulting in offspring is possible.  Mr. Parker, now would be an especially good time to start being alarmed.

Moreau plays Peeping Tom to their get-to-know-you session, his face registering creepy anticipation and excitement.  However, the scene is broken up when Parker hears an agonized scream from Moreau’s lab.  Rushing to the doorway, he sees Moreau and Montgomery performing surgery on what appears to be a conscious man.  He tells Lota: 
They’re vivisecting a human being! They’re cutting a living man to pieces!  Now I know about his natives, they are his victims.  You or I may be next”. 
He takes Lota with him to escape through the jungle, but they come upon a village inhabited by the man-beasts.   They are surrounded by dozens of creatures, all walking upright, having features that are animal but almost human. 

The leader of this group is The Sayer of the Law, played by Bela Lugosi.  The actor is unrecognizable under a bulk of facial hair, but there is no mistaking that voice.  As the beasts converge on Parker and Lota, Moreau suddenly appears on top of the hill.  He sounds a gong to gather the villagers, who all kneel at his feet.  He cracks his whip with each question, “What is the Law?”, punctuating this perverse parody of a religious declaration of faith.  It is filmed by firelight, the camera looking up at Moreau who gloats with the power he holds over his victims -- their deranged god is in his heaven and all is not right with the world.

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Parker is understandably worried about his fate, however with Moreau's pistol and this bit of assurance that he can defend himself, our hero allows the doctor to take him on a tour of the lab-- the House of Pain.

Moreau explains to Parker his experiments, saying: 
          "All animal life is tending toward the human form....with these (discoveries)
          I have wiped out hundreds of thousands of years of evolution.

 At the operating table he uncovers the creature whose cries we heard earlier.  In one of the most shocking scenes in the movie, Moreau casually handles him as he would an inanimate object.  The man-animal’s shrieks of agony are gut-wrenching.  Parker’s expressions of horror and disgust are dismissed with a wave of a hand.  In the clip below you see Laughton’s deft portrayal of a charming, gracious, intelligent and completely insane sadist.  Notice how he drapes himself over the seat and giggles as he describes his triumphs.
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Moreau’s question about what it means to feel like god, was one of the most frequently censored.  Laughton delivers the line with an eerie calm, unlike Colin Clive, who hysterically made a similar observation in “Frankenstein”.  That scene also was censored for many years. 
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By the way, if anyone said to me, "I hope you sleep well" the same way Moreau says it to Parker, I don't think I would ever sleep well again.

Later, when Parker succumbs to Lota’s sweetly innocent charm and kisses her, he sees her sharp claws.  Her hands are starting to revert to the animal paws.  He confronts Moreau:

“Moreau, you don’t deserve to live!  Those creatures out in the jungle weren’t horrible enough.  But to have created something as tragic as that girl.  It’s criminal.  I could have overlooked those others, I could have shown you that much consideration.  But not now.”

Moreau storms into Lota's room, demanding to know how Parker discovered the truth.  Laughton is wonderful in this scene, moving from fury to despondency to elation.  Kathleen Burke, in her first film role, does a terrific job with Lota's shame and helplessness.

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Meanwhile, Ruth has been informed of Parker's rescue and obtains passage on a ship to the island.  After she is reunited with her fiancé Moreau convinces Ruth and the ship’s captain that it would be safer to spend the night as his guests rather than make the trek back through the jungle after dark.  One of the servant beast-men, Ouran, takes every opportunity to leer at Ruth, which is noticed with delight by the good doctor.  Moreau says to Montgomery, “Maybe I won’t need Parker.”  Now would be a good time for Ruth to start being alarmed. 


-->As Ruth gets undressed for bed, Ouran gazes up at her window with primitive yearning.  There is a nice touch as she starts to blow out her candles, hesitates to leave herself in the dark, so leaves two candles burning.  The scene changes to Moreau downstairs, blowing out all three in his candelabra.  As if he is insisting on a romantic mood for the “lovers”.


-->Ouran bends the bars on the window of Ruth’s boudoir and starts to climb in, to have his way with her



Her screams bring Parker, who shoots at the apeman, scaring him off.  This attempted rape, sanctioned and blessed by Moreau, moves Montgomery to inform Moreau that (finally!!) he has  gone too far, and Montgomery tells the couple that he will flee the island with them.

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Their escape would upset Moreau’s plan, so he sends Ouran out to kill the captain.  He tells Ouran that it is alright to not observe The Law tonight.

Ouran does so, breaking The Law about not spilling blood.  This enrages the other beast-men who then decide that their “god” is very fallible indeed.  He broke The Law and now deserves to die for all the suffering he has inflicted on them.

When Moreau attempts to control them as he always has, they chant “Law no more!” as they close in on him.  The creatures depose their white-suited god, and it all ends very badly and ironically for Dr. Moreau in the House of Pain
 
The makeup by Wally Westmore is amazing.  Near the end of the movie, the beast men advance on Moreau, coming toward the camera.  We see the faces in closeup, each one more grotesque that the one before.  The makeup might have been a grim reminder to the audience of the "Great War", WWI.  Many of the survivors of that real-life horror returned home with severe disfigurements. One of the beast men hobbles on one human leg and one animal leg with a hoof for a foot.  It looks completely realistic.  I wonder if they managed to find an extra who was missing a leg, and so could wear a prosthesis made up to look beastly. 

Director Erle C. Kenton started in silents, continued to work through the sound era and later in television.  His reputation was as a competent but not brilliant director.  Other horror credits include the Universal monster parties: “Ghost of Frankenstein” in 1942; as well as “House of Frankenstein” and “House of Dracula”, both in 1945.  These movies are all a lot of fun for horror fans, but are unremarkable artistically.

"Island of Lost Souls” was photographed by Karl Struss, one of the most talented cameramen in Hollywood.  He started in 1919 and worked until the 1950s.  He created the seamless illusion of Frederick March changing from Jekyll  to Hyde using camera filters only, so separate transition shots were not needed.  (By contrast:  In “The Wolf Man”, Lon Chaney is filmed several times in the same physical position in separate shots wearing progressive makeup effects.)  Struss shared the first cinematography Academy Award in history, for “Sunrise” in 1929, and was nominated again for his work on “Jekyll”.  I suspect the main credit for the look of “Island” should go to Struss, and not to Kenton. 


There are several unusual or striking camera shots.  We get an understated introduction to the sly Dr. Moreau. The camera looks downward to Moreau's ship from the point of view of Parker on the deck of the Covena.  It then pans from the left where the animals are being loaded aboard, and sweeps along the deck to the right where Moreau sits surrounded by his dogs.  We don’t see his face at all for several minutes.  He is mysterious, but appears deceptively ordinary; just as he initially deceives his guests with his quiet good manners.

Our first view of Lota is in shadow from the back. We don’t see her face, only a frame of wild hair.  Moreau enters her room and paces back and forth in front of her, humming to himself, as he gives her instructions about how to behave with Parker.  She responds with a soft “Yes” to each order.  Suspense is built before we actually get a good look at her.  
Another beautiful scene shows Lota and Parker sitting by the pool.  For a moment the camera focuses on the water and we see only their reflections in the ripples.  In another context this would be very romantic, but here the irony is painful.


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Scenes set in the jungle are dark and ominous, but the interior shots are even more sensational; filled with light and shadow.  Both mood and character are described in the noir effects via window blinds, bars or candlelight.  The horizontal shadows from the window bars or screens give each interior shot the incongruous feeling of claustrophobia, in spite of the open airiness of the house.  The camera filming Parker through bars on the window makes it very clear that he is no more than the other beasts on the island.  The flicker of a cigarette being lit paints a scene with mystery and menace.  Shadows thrown up on a wall behind characters running into the jungle, growing larger as the figures recede into the distance; shadows chasing shadows.


But what makes this a particularly outstanding film, is Charles Laughton’s Doctor Moreau.  Laughton plays this part with relish, as he did all his roles.  When he speaks of creating his creatures, you see him grin with a naughty child’s glee.  His face is that of a satanic cherub.  He underplays the role, convincing us very quietly of Moreau’s madness.  The doctor enjoys the brutality, his soul is drenched in the pleasure of torture. Though he claims to be a scientist, the cold, clean impersonal attitude is merely a mask for a sadist with a god complex.  After finishing this film, Laughton started “The Private Life of Henry VIII” in England which was released later in 1933.  He won that year’s best actor Oscar for his role as the much-married monarch.  Six years later he starred as Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” for RKO Studios. 
Laughton as Henry VIII with Elsa Lanchester as Anne of Cleves






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Richard Arlen is the handsome, virile leading man with a simple role: He is there to represent us, the audience.  His arrival not only moves the plot forward, but lets us experience Moreau's madness as he encounters it.  Parker also expresses our revulsion.

However, he doesn’t really do  very much, he mostly reacts.  His disgust with Moreau seems to take a long time to build up.  Why is he so reluctant?  He only gets really upset when he realizes Lota is one of the creatures.  Before that he says that he could have overlooked the other monstrosities on the island out of consideration for Moreau.  Consideration?  Why?  He was outraged in the House of Pain when he witnessed the torture that went on there, but later he seems to calm down.  His reactions seem a little confusing.   It could perhaps be explained by the fact that there isn't really much he could do at the moment, and survives at the whim of a madman.  I don't know.  It just feels odd to me.  


However weakly the character was drawn, Arlen does a good job conveying the emotions Parker is feeling.  His face is expressive and he uses his voice without shouting or overplaying the character.   And when Parker finally decides that enough is enough, he throws a pretty convincing punch to Moreau's jaw.

Arlen had many other action roles, starting in 1920.  He starred in, and did his own flying, in 1927’s Best Picture winner, “Wings”.  He had been a pilot with the Royal Canadian Flying Corps in WWI.  In 1933 he played a much different role in the film “Alice in Wonderland” – the Cheshire cat.  Maybe something Dr. Moreau said made sense and he decided to try out being an animal.
Cheshire Cat Richard Arlen in "Alice in Wonderland"
Richard Arlen in "Wings"
Handsome, isn't he?
Richard Arlen in.....oh, who cares!  Isn't he gorgeous?
Another photo of Richard Arlen.  I just can't help myself.


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Leila Hyams was the leading lady (the sympathetic one), in MGM’s ”Freaks”, another movie which was reviled, censored and banned in many places.   She doesn’t have a lot to do either.  She is pretty, she worries, she screams.  She has the role of the white woman threatened with a fate worse than death from the dark natives.  However, her character does show some moxie when she stands up to the captain of the Covena, and then bravely travels to parts unknown to rescue her fiancé.
Leila Hyams as Ruth Thomas

Kathleen Burke is very good as vulnerable, pitiable Lota; particularly since this is her first movie role.  She is heartbreaking in the brutal scene with Moreau as she writhes in terror at the thought of more House of Pain.  With Parker she is curious and sensuously feline.  As he strokes her hair she leans into his touch and you can almost hear her purr.  Lota bravely risks her life to protect Parker and the others.  Is this just animal instinct – her panther nature taking over?  Or is it a woman’s love and devotion?  Or as Moreau would say, “a woman’s emotional response”?   Maybe it is more proof of just how human she is – more human (and humane) than either Moreau or Montgomery

Chicago born 19 year-old Burke won a nationwide contest over 60,000 other entrants to be “the Panther Woman”.  This was her first film, and she made several more, playing exotic roles most of the time. She married the boyfriend who followed her to Hollywood, but they divorced a year later.  Burke retired from the movies in 1938.  
Bela Lugosi is great as The Sayer of the Law.  It’s one of his best roles, even though it is very small.  We see him in two scenes only, but he is so over the top in his portrayal that the interpretation fits the character like a glove (a furry one). 

The part of Ouran, the beast man who takes a shine to Ruth, was played by professional wrestler Hans Steinke, known in the ring as “The German Oak”. His story is pretty interesting, see the article below***.   Hans had the opportunity to show off one of his wrestling moves in the film.  Ouran fights over Ruth with another apeman, Golo, played by a fellow pro wrestler, Harry Ekezian.  Apparently Ouran won. 

The only music in the film is over the title and the end credits.  The main theme has an opening fanfare which has a George Gershwin-esque  “Rhapsody in Blue” feel, then shifts into a quiet, moody jungle drum arrangement.  

The music under the end credits is completely different.  Instead of the bombast at the opening, suddenly we hear a sprightly, playful melody which could easily have been used for a Little Rascals short.  It’s so wildly incongruous, after the seventy minutes of torture, perversity and blasphemy we have just witnessed, you might suffer whiplash.  Perhaps the idea was to send the theater patrons out with a song in their hearts and a light step after the dark night of the (lost) souls they just witnessed.

Arthur Johnston and Sigmund Krumgold are credited with the score.  I have not been able to find out which composer wrote which piece of music.  Krumgold was a busy composer and music director in Hollywood during the 1930s and 40s.  Johnston composed the music for many well known film scores, working with some of the most popular and successful lyricists of the time.  His song “Pennies from Heaven” was nominated for an Academy Award in 1937.  

Since 1933 there have been two more direct adaptations of the novel; the 1977 film with Burt Lancaster in the title role, and the 1996 mess which starred Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.  The less said about both of these movies, the better.
Award-winning, acclaimed, method actor Marlon Brando as Moreau.  Don't go there.  Just try to remember him in "On the Waterfront", ok?

Surprisingly, “Island of Lost Souls” was not the first film to explore the topic of bestiality.  The mad Doctor Mirakle in 1932’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue” was obsessed with trying to mix the blood of his ape with a human female. In “Jekyll” Frederick March’s makeup as Mr. Hyde made him appear more simian than human, and it was abundantly clear that Hyde and Ivy had an intimate relationship.  “King Kong”, released in March of 1933, can be interpreted easily as having subtexts of miscegenation and even bestiality; diluted with the ‘beauty and the beast’ element of course.  But on the other hand, what exactly was Kong going to do with Fay Wray?  I mean, really.  Sometimes size does matter.

No matter how many times I see this film, it always works for me.  Audiences are not as easily shocked today as in 1933, and heaven knows I’ve seen my share of pretty scary movies.  But as far as I’m concerned, the final scenes of Moreau pursued and surrounded by the beast-men and the sound of his screams as they exact their vengeance in the House of Pain are as unnerving as a horror film gets.  I don’t need to see exactly what the creatures are doing to him on the operating table, what I imagine is grisly enough.  Besides, he deserves every second of what he gets.
  
Did I mention how handsome Richard Arlen is?

 
A FEW TIDBITS

1.  Charles Laughton was pretty handy with that whip.  He learned how to use one for a previous stage play.



2.  Supposedly, H.G. Wells was very unhappy with this adaptation of his novel.  He had better luck later in 1933 with the Universal production of “The Invisible Man”.  He had script approval on that one, and was reported to be very happy with the outcome.

 
3.  About Bela Lugosi.  He was a big star in 1933.  “Dracula”, released in 1931 had been a great success and people knew his name.  Why would someone of that stature take such a small role as Sayer of the Law?  Not to mention the fact that he is buried under a lot of makeup. 

One story about him says that he had turned down the role of the creature in “Frankenstein” because he felt that he was now a star and didn’t want to play a character who had no lines, and who was under layers of makeup.  The role went to Boris Karloff of course, and his career was made.  Hindsight is always 20/20. 

Another story is that he was considered strongly for the role in “Frankenstein” and made a test reel with Robert Florey, the director who was originally selected for the film.  Lugosi created his own makeup, which was very thick with big hair, and made his head look enormous – sort of like the makeup for “The Golem”.  It was awful, and a different look was created for the creature.  Lugosi was also not particularly good in the test reel.  So, Bela and Florey were out, and Karloff and James Whale were in.

Which story is correct?  Lugosi's version was that he had been offered the "Frankenstein" role and had turned it down?  Of course, he could say whatever he wanted to.  Maybe it was even true.  

In 1935 Lugosi made a film in England, "Mystery of the Mary Celeste", known also as “Phantom Ship”.  It was not a large role, but it was interesting and he was quite good in the drama.  After that finished, an English production company offered him a two film contract, for $12,500 per film.  But, Lugosi turned down the deal because his beloved dogs would have had to stay in quarantine for six months before they could join him. This would have been much, much more money than he had been making.  For “Island of Lost Souls” his contracted fee was $850.  Would his career have taken a different road if he had made a different choice?

Lugosi spent money freely, sometimes much faster than he made it.  He enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, but he was also a very generous man to his friends.  Throughout his life he was bankrupt or close to it many times.  

Ok, let’s look at all this.  Bela Lugosi had many demons, one of which was making poor business decisions.  Maybe he took the role in “Island of Lost Souls”, even though it was under a ton of makeup and the fee was small, because he was broke and needed money.  It was a job.  For heaven’s sake, didn’t the poor man have an agent???


4.  The 1976 song “Jocko Homo” by the band Devo was inspired in part by this movie.  The song has the refrain – “Are we not men?  We are devo!”

5.  Tim Burton, as a 13 year old budding filmmaker, made a super 8 movie called “The Island of Doctor Agor”.  It was inspired by our film.

6.  A strange piece of trivia which I have found in several sources is the possible, unconfirmed presence of Alan Ladd, Randolph Scott and Buster Crabbe as beastmen.  They are not listed officially in the credits for this movie anywhere that I have found.  It seems unlikely that any of the three actors would work as extras.  But if they were contract players at Paramount, I suppose anything is possible.

Alan Ladd was still listed as “uncredited” in most of his movies at that time and for a few years after.  His big break didn’t come until 1942 with the role of gangster Philip Raven in “This Gun for Hire”, opposite Veronica Lake.  So he may be a possibility.

But Randolph Scott was getting credited roles consistently in 1931, and was only 2 years away from his leading role in “She”.  A beastman?  Unlikely.

It's highly possible that Buster Crabbe could have been used as an extra.  Paramount made “King of the Jungle”, a Tarzan rip-off in 1933, with Crabbe playing Kaspa, the Lion Man.  He posed for publicity pictures with his feline cousin the “Panther Woman".

Many extras were used for the beast scenes in “Island of Lost Souls”, and if they needed a couple of guys with tall, hunky physiques, then …who knows?

7.  ***  About Hans Steinke.  This article is from website slam.canoe:


Hans Steinke: Mat star turned movie star
The German Oak a top grappler in 1920s and 1930s
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
http://www.canoe.ca/CanoeGlobalnav/invisible.gif

It is ironic that the biggest role in Hans Steinke's film career had him under so much makeup that he was virtually unrecognizable. Yet in the ring, the 6-foot-6, 275 pound Steinke was unforgettable, dwarfing his peers.

The part that hid Steinke was in the 1933 flickIsland of Lost Souls. Steinke played the lead villain named Ouran, a big ape-man seen throughout the movie. Steinke was billed just below stars Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi. A mad doctor (Lugosi) sets up shop on an uninhabited isle, and proceeds to push the boundaries of evolution, trying to speed up the process of making beasts more man-like.

According to the press Steinke received, the ape-man gimmick wasn't a stretch for the behemoth.
"If you have seen Hans in the roped ring you can easily understand why he is in demand for certain parts in the movies. In any part that has to do with ape-men, Hans cannot be beaten for his interpretation of the part," wrote Mike Meehan in the May 1933 issue of Boxing & Wrestling News. "Hans plays the part of an ape-man very well because he is very well fitted in a natural way for the part. Even in a match he has bearing of a big ape and the actions of his arms and shoulders remind one very much of the actions of an ape."

Steinke would never ascend to such heights again in his film career, which started out with Yellow Ticket, and followed withDeception in 1932 (which prominently featured wrestler Nat Pendleton. Other roles for Steinke included: A Wrestler's Bride andSweet Cookie in 1933; 1935's Once in a Blue Moon, where he was Count Bulba, and People Will Talk where he was Strangler Martin;Nothing Sacred in 1937, where he stretched to play a ... wrestler; and 1938's The Buccaneer, where he was uncredited as Tarsus.

Perhaps he thought the Hollywood business was on the up-and-up like wrestling? "Here's something for the fans who think that the wrestlers take turns winning and losing," explained the Frederick (MD) Post on June 26, 1931. "Hans Steinke, the big Dutchman, who left the ring at Carlin's last summer because a fan called him a vile name, also walked out of the movies. The story goes that Steinke was hired to make a talkie short, but when he found out the plans called for him to lose to an unknown wrestler he simply refused. The bearded wonder, Serge Kalmikoff, was supposed to throw Steinke in the picture, but the big German would have none of it, and so Rudy LaDitzi was substituted for Steinke."
The irony, of course, is that Steinke rarely showed any colour or acting ability as one of the most feared professional wrestlers of the 1920s or 1930s. Perhaps better said, Steinke had all the colour he needed just in his size and chiseled body.

"Steinke, no doubt, would be one of our champions if it were not for the fact that he lacks color while in the ring," wrote Meehan inBoxing & Wrestling News. "That is, he works in a smooth and unruffled manner and does no acting of any kind. He never becomes riled at the tactics of his opponent and rarely does he throw his man out of the ring or get himself thrown out. He gives the fans the impression that there is nothing to the matches he takes part in and so the fans do not look for much of the excitement they like so well."

Newspapermen thought very highly of Steinke, and he was considered a top contender.
"Termed the German Oak, Hans will weigh in around the 240 pound mark and what a man. Built like the rear end of a hack, this fellow Steinke is feared by all of the matmen in the racket today. He not only uses skill in his matches but his brute strength is often brought into play and when his opponent tries to get rough, look out boys, there touching off TNT," wrote Frank Colley in theHagerstown (MD) Daily Mail.
The Lethbridge Daily Herald wrote that Steinke was considered in the top six of grapplers in the world, in its September 16, 1924 edition. Calling Steinke "the wonder man of the mat", the paper went on to his diet: "'believe it or not' he eats a ton of sausages every day. But he is no sausage himself. He stands six and a half feet in the arena and is agile as a panther."

He was easy for promoters to promote as well. Boston-based mat majordomo Paul Bowser crowed Steinke to the Lowell (Mass.) Sun in June 12, 1934: "Back from a three days scouting trip through N.Y. and Pennsylvania wrestling circles, I find that Hans Steinke, burly German grappler, has been turned down as an immediate opponent by Champion Ed George. Steinke, one of the famous foreign stars, cornered myself and George in New York and demanded a shot at the crowd. George told Steinke to get a reputation for himself, whereupon the German offered to take on Nick Lutze, Joe Malcewicz and any other wrestler I name."

Born in Stettin, Germany in the mid-1890s, Steinke grew up the son of a butcher. He was a private in the German army in the First World War. After the war, he found his way into wrestling and to America in 1923.

He would battle greats like Stanislaus Zbyszko, Strangler Lewis, Man Mountain Dean, Earl McCready, Jack Taylor,  Jim Browning, Ed Don George wrestling across North America. Steinke and strongman Milo Steinborn had a long series of battles as well. According to historian Steve Yohe, Steinke had a minor claim to the world title in New York in 1929, but later lost in an elimination series with Jim Londos and Dick Shikat.

The German Oak had his fans, as well. A December 14, 1927 short in The New York Times proves it: A petition from admirers of Hans Steinke, wrestler, demanding a match with Joe Stecher, was rejected and the petitioners were instructed to file a challenge in the customary way. Incidentally Secretary Bert Stand pointed out that the commission does not recognize Stecher as heavyweight wrestling champion."
Steinke's wrestling career lessened in the 1930s when he turned to Hollywood and acting on a more regular basis. When the work as an actor dried up, he went into the cement contracting business.
He also gave boxing a whirl, as detailed by columnist Al Warden in his syndicated column "Patrolling The Sport Highway with Al Warden" in February 1940.
Bone benders object to old boxers starting a count every time they go down under a rabbit punch.

Boxing and wrestling simply don't mix.

Hans Steinke found that out one night in Los Angeles when after due preparation he launched what he believed would be a sustained drive for the heavyweight boxing championship. For a starter, they tossed the German in with a Negro named Tom Hawkins, and who could box like blazes.

Huge Hans lunged at Long Tom for a round and a fraction while getting his nose peppered with left jabs good and plenty.

Steinke grew tired of this before the second heat was half over ... decided to return to what he knew best ... pronto.

Gloves and all, he fastened a hammerlock on Hawkins.

The booing could be heard in San Francisco as Steinke glued the startled Hawkins' shoulder blades to the canvas, but that was all right with Hans. He took his customary bows from the four sides of the ring.

Hans Steinke had won his way and in his own mind and was glad to get out of there.

 Apparently, Steinke wasn't a bad golfer either. In April 1937, he won a tournament in Santa Monica, Calif., for wrestlers. "Golf professional Stan Kertes played host to the wrestling fraternity at the Clover Field links, and the winning trophy today belonged to huge Hans Steinke, German matman. Steinke carded a 90, with Hardy Kruskamp runner-up with 94 and Jules Strongbow next at 96," read the wire service short.

A chain smoker his whole life, Steinke died of lung cancer at age 78 on June 24, 1971 in Chicago.
Promoter Jack Pfefer addressed Steinke's legacy in the October 1971 issue of Ring Wrestling.
"When the German Oak was at his crest he weighed 240 pounds and was a match for anybody in the business. He was known as one of the great 'shooters,'" wrote Pfefer. "On and off the mat, Hans Steinke was a great athlete, an honest competitor, a credit to the game in which he achieved world fame." 
 

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