Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Lost Continent (1951)

Not to be confused with the barking mad late sixties Hammer film of the same title, (or, indeed, any other film of this title), 1951's Lost Continent is a cheap B Movie which, unusually, boasts some relatively sophisticated special effects.  Sadly, they are the only sophisticated thing about the film, which takes an age to get to the titular location then, when there, does very little with it.  Other than have it blow up.  To be pedantic, there is no continent, lost or otherwise, featured in the film, just a cloud shrouded plateau atop an uncharted island mountain covered by a prehistoric jungle and boasting some stop motion dinosaurs.  But the titular exaggeration rather sums up Lost Continent, which promises all sorts of things, exotic locations, high adventure, epic spectacle and Acquanetta, but delivers little of any of them.  Acquanetta, an actress popular in the late forties for portraying 'jungle girls', only appears late on and for only a couple of scenes, for instance, despite getting special billing on the poster.  As for the exotic locations, well, the whole affair is studio bound.

The reality is that the main lure of the film for audiences were the dinosaurs.  They certainly were for me - I've always been a sucker for movies featuring dinosaurs.  Unfortunately, you have to endure endless, virtually action-free and overly talky, footage of people on a plane, people in a jungle and people climbing a mountain to get to them.  Indeed, the mountain climbing sequence seems interminable, with the characters continually crawling past the same polystyrene rocks over and over again.  The only 'action' involves someone falling off of the mountain and a brief glimpse of a giant lizard (which is never mentioned again).  Otherwise, they just talk.  Which wouldn't be so bad if the dialogue wasn't so dull and bogged down with Cold War messages: the Commies are evil and we have to keep building dangerous nuclear weapons or they'll murder us all in our beds.  It really hasn't aged well, coming over as incredibly simplistic, not to say obvious.  Indeed, the whole plot is Cold War driven - the characters are searching for a lost nuclear powered missile and crash on the remote island when their aircraft's instruments go haywire.  Learning from Acquanetta's native girl that something fiery had fallen from the sky onto their sacred mountain, (from which no explorer ever returns), they naturally decide to climb it.  Interminably.

But they do finally reach the clouded peak, finding that it is actually a plateau covered in lush jungle, (at this point the film takes on a green tint), and hiding huge Uranium deposits, (which had, somehow, 'attracted' the rocket there).  There are also dinosaurs.  Very jerkily animated dinosaurs with little detail, but living dinosaurs, nonetheless.  Not many mind.  We see only a brontosaurus, a couple of triceratops and a scrawny looking pterodactyl.  Despite what the poster might show, there are no tyrannosaurs present, or any other predatory dinosaurs, for that matter, which leaves one wondering how the eco-system there has managed to function for millions of years, with nothing to check the herbivore numbers.  Those herbivores, however, seem determined to make up for this lack of predators through their insane displays of aggression. Both the sauropod and the ceratopsians take every opportunity to attack the humans.  For no apparent reason other than providing some action.  But no sooner have they arrived in this 'lost continent', or so it seems, our heroes find the rocket, retrieve the flight data they need, then hotfoot it back down the mountain when they find that, thanks to volcanic activity, it is about to explode.  Which it does in a series of spectacular, and quite effective, model shots, as the surviving explorers escape the island on a native canoe.

Lost Continent runs only eighty three minutes, but feels much longer.  There are times when you suspect that they are never going to reach that lost world on top of the mountain, and when they do, it is so late in the film that it feels like an afterthought.  Of course, the reason for this is obvious: the lost world episode, with its dinosaur sequences and cataclysmic volcanic eruption, was clearly expensive to film, so these scenes had, for budgetary reasons, to be kept to a minimum.  Hence the huge amounts of padding preceding them.  The low budget is also reflected by the cast, with Cesar Romero (long past his pre war matinee idol days) and Acquanetta the closest things to star names.  The rest of the cast is made up of mainly dependable character actors like Whit Bissel and John Hoyt.  But none of them can make much headway with a script which provides them with the most basic of character stereotypes and atrocious dialogue.  There are token attempts at character conflict, mainly involving Romero's tough, taciturn,red blooded American air force pilot clashing with Hoyt's typically shady seeming Russian missile scientist, suspecting the later of being up to no good.  But even that comes to nothing as it is revealed that the Russian is a Jewish emigre who hates those Commies just as much as Romero and that all the shady stuff he seems to have been up to were just misunderstandings.

You know, Lost Continent was a film I badly wanted to like - if nothing else, because of the dinosaurs - but it just disappointed me at every turn.  While the effects sequences, including, not just he dinosaurs, but also the plane crash and the exploding mountain, are pretty well done, especially when one takes the low budget into account, they are far and few between and surrounded by tedium.  That said, the dinosaurs themselves are well below the standard of even those in King Kong, made nearly twenty years earlier, being more reminiscent of those seen in Willis O'Brien's earlier silent production of The Lost World.  Most damaging, though, to the film's entertainment value, is the Cold War message its makers chose to burden it with - by the end you feel as if you have been bludgeoned over the head with its anti-Communist rhetoric, which is inserted at every opportunity.  As a final observation, why is it that in films of this sort, upon finding living examples of creatures thought extinct for millions of years, the characters' first inclination is to try and shoot them?



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