Labs on film


From mad scientists to screwball experiments, the laboratory has often provided a suitable testing ground for cinema

9th December 2014
By Geoffrey Macnab
The Nutty Professor

The Nutty Professor (1963)

Jerry Lewis starred as the mad scientist/uber geek with the goofy, toothsome smile in a parody of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931). With potions bubbling and bunsen burners ready to start fires, labs are natural homes for slapstick and numerous other films have been set there. Monkey Business (1952) finds Cary Grant searching for the elixir of life and encountering simian problems in the process.

The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

Horror movies and medical disaster films have also often featured lab scenes. There is barely a film involving Victor Frankenstein and his relatives that hasn’t included at least a few sequences of scientists tinkering with elaborate lab equipment. One of the most memorable is director James Whale’s 1935 incarnation, with its famous scene of Elsa Lanchester being unwrapped as if she is a lab specimen. Once the bandages come off, she emerges as a shock-haired harpy who looks like a cross between a Pre-Raphaelite model and a more conventional monster.

The Fly

The Fly (1986)

David Cronenberg, cinema’s acknowledged master of “body horror,” is often found tinkering in the lab. Take the scenes in the Canadian director's 1986 film in which Jeff Goldblum turns into a hybrid creature, part fly, part human. The film's tagline (“something went wrong in the lab today, very wrong!”) has been the starting point for many genre movies.

The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)

For more restrained and earnest scenes of labs, you could try Paul Muni’s Oscar-winning role as the diligent scientist in biopic of the 19th-century French chemist and his groundbreaking medical discoveries. Similarly, Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte were the anguished parents doing all they could to save their child from a rare disease in Lorenzo’s Oil (1992).


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