Island of Dr Moreau writer reveals more amazing details from legendary flop

Ben Arnold

The screenwriter of legendary movie flop ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’ has revealed some bizarre new details from the making of the film.

And the details that are already in circulation were pretty darned bizarre.

The 1996 movie was directed by John Frankenheimer (after initial director Richard Stanley was fired), and found its star Marlon Brando at peak eccentricity.

Adapted from H.G. Wells’ classic novel, it starred Brando as the mad scientist creating animal-human hybrids in his remote island lab.

But even by Brando’s standards, his behaviour on set was staggering.

In a new book called ‘Clinging to the Iceberg: Writing for a Living on the Stage and in Hollywood’, writer Ron Hutchinson has detailed his own experience working on the movie’s screenplay.

“He [Frankenheimer] said: ‘Take a look at these [tapes] before you actually commit.’ They showed Brando sitting in a hammock with literally the smallest person who’s ever been measured by scientists, the actor Nelson De la Rosa who was just under 28 inches tall,” Hutchinson told The Observer.

“Brando absolutely fell in love with this guy. He put him on his chest in the hammock and sang ‘Frog Went A-Courting’ to him. There was 90 minutes of that. John said: ‘This is all I can persuade Brando to do.’”

Now there’s an image that’s hard to shake, perhaps notably because Brando had ballooned in stature weighing about 300 pounds by that stage, thanks in no small measure to a borderline addiction to pizza.

“They were flying in these hapless [studio] executives to try to beg him to come out of his damned trailer,” said Hutchinson.

“Brando was only answering the door when the pizza man came. This was the best news that the pizza-makers of Cairns, this small town, had ever had because Brando was consuming industrial quantities of pizza while ruminating on what the hell he was going to do when he had to face the cameras. I think there might have been an existential terror there.”

Hutchinson also speaks about the ‘poisonous’ relationship between Brando and some of his co-stars, and how there was ‘prohibition’ of one of the actors – who remains nameless – from having a prop gun on set, despite it only shooting blanks.

In the book, he adds: “By this stage of his life Brando, playing the God of Moreau’s island and emerging as the God of the production, was way beyond bored with the making of movies. Overweight, unprepared, mocking, dismissive, on the razor’s edge where caprice becomes malice, the case for the prosecution is therefore easily made. He was indeed here to sabotage this movie.

“Brando placed a kitchen colander on his head, slathered himself in sunscreen, fell in love with Nelson, retired to his trailer and refused to leave it.

“It was an island of crazy people – an awful experience.”

The movie, which also starred a rather difficult Val Kilmer, and David Thewlis, ended up costing New Line Cinema $40 million, making back just $49 million, thus losing millions after promotional and marketing costs.

A documentary, ‘Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau’, was released in 2014 telling the story of the troubled production.

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