Cinema’s often described as having a certain magic to it, a power that can transport people from their mundane lives to alien worlds, fantasy realms, or the frontlines of a galactic civil war. It turns out, however, that sometimes the metaphorical magic of the moving image is real.
Or at least that’s one explanation of how Marlon Brando, one of the greatest actors of his day who starred in some of the best movies ever made, ended up making one of the worst movies of all time, the notorious 1996 science fiction movie, The Island of Dr Moreau. In case you don’t know, the production of Dr Moreau was about as chaotic as you can possibly imagine.
Seriously if we listed everything that happened, you wouldn’t believe us, but here are a few ‘highlights’ from the film’s well documented troubled production. Bruce Willis dropped out, and Val Kilmer replaced him but began feuding almost immediately with Brando (who was playing the titular doctor); Brando befriended the world’s smallest man Nelson de La Rosa and insisted he be given more lines, or he wouldn’t perform; oh and the director Richard Stanley was replaced early in the shoot.
Basically, if it sounds made up, it probably happened on the set of Dr Moreau. Intriguingly, though, the chaos actually began long before the shoot began. The entire film was a passion project of Stanley, who’d had some experience making low-budget horror movies, and had managed to convince the studio, New Line, to bankroll the film.
Soon after Stanley got the job, reports emerged that Roman Polanski would replace him as director, as Brando didn’t want to work with such an inexperienced director. Desperate to keep the gig, Stanley booked a meeting with Brando to reassure the veteran actor he could handle a fantasy movie on this scale.
To tip the scales in his favour, however, Stanley reportedly approached a British warlock named Skip (yes, really) to conduct a ritual during the meeting that would bewitch Brando into appearing in the film. Amazingly after the meeting, Brando agreed to stand by Stanley.
Now, we’ll never know whether it was Skip’s magic or Brando just liked the young director, but there’s a bizarre sting in the tale of this already rather odd story. According to SlashFilm, Skip, a biochemist (magic doesn’t pay the bills, it seems), accidentally irradiated himself and was hospitalised.
During this time, Stanley feared the spell was broken, and it’s reportedly when all the trouble began on set. Did radiation cause Skip’s magic to fail, or was it just a coincidence? Probably coincidence…
If you enjoy Brando’s other work, check out our guide on the Superman movies, or we have a list of the best drama movies ever made for you to enjoy.