Review of “The Land Unknown” (1957)


Saturday pizza and bad movie night with Svengoolie. Oh, brother. The pizza was good.


The Navy is sending an expedition to Antarctica amid stories of an area of warm water in the interior. A helicopter is sent to survey the area, with Commander Alan Roberts (Jock Mahoney), a geophysicist, in command. The pilot is Lieutenant Jack Carmen (William Reynolds). Also aboard are mechanic Steve Miller (Phil Harvey) and the pretty lady reporter from Oceanic Press, Miss Margaret Hathaway (Shirley Patterson, credited as Shawn Smith).

A storm brings orders to return. They don’t have enough fuel to go around the storm. There’s no place to land to wait out the storm. Lt. Carmen looks for a break in the weather and takes it.

They don’t see much of anything but fog, snow, and ice until a pterodactyl swops by and damages the machine. Lt. Carmen realizes he can only descend—through the fog. Everyone braces for impact as the altimeter shows sea level, but they keep going down. And keep going down. It gets warmer. They have to shed their arctic gear. At 2500 feet below sea level, they land gently in a jungle.

The radio works, but they’re out of range. They hear rescue planes overhead, but they’re too far away for the flare guns to be noticed. (Those flares will come in handy later.)

Commander Roberts (Alan? Or Hal?) notices some of the trees they see have been extinct for millions of years. He guesses the jungle is still in the Mesozoic Era—you know, when dinosaurs roamed.

Jack and Steve find a bent push-pull tube to be the source of the mechanical trouble. All they have to do is straighten it out, but it’s made of a magnesium alloy and snaps after a few blows from a hammer. Bummer that!

If they don’t find a solution within a month, they’ll have to have their mail forwarded to Antarctica, because the fleet sails so as not to get locked into the winter ice, whether they’re with it or not.

Not only do they realize they’re not alone in the reptile department, they find someone has gotten into their food supplies, and that someone knows how to use a can opener! Later, the can-opener-savvy guy, a sole survivor of an earlier expedition named Hunter (Henry Brandon), kidnaps Maggie. He offers to tell the others the location of his wreck, where they might find spare parts to fix their own helicopter, in exchange for Maggie, an offer the Commander turns down. No one (including Hunter) bothers to ask Maggie how she might feel about the arrangement. After all, the decision would affect her. Think she’d want to have a say.

Such a gentleman.


A warm water jungle in Antarctica or some other exotic area of the world is an idea that’s been explored in such stories as James De Mille’s A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land that Time Forgot. Arthur Conan Doyle set his (yes) Lost World on a plateau in South America. Most of these stories have dinosaurs fighting each other and chasing the puny humans.

The prehistoric critters in this movie include the aforementioned pterodactyl; a man in a t-rex suit; a real monitor lizard or two, shot to make them look threateningly large; a plesiosaurus (probably?) that reminded me of a river carnival float; and a tiny tarsier.

Shooting this in color would not have made a better movie. The monsters were silly. Even the carnivorous plant was—oh, let’s just say you could see the strings. The flick was a real stinker, though, in that the story stunk.

The four people were all in danger. Or maybe they’re camping. In any event, they adjusted to the bizarre world of the steaming hot jungle surrounded by the frozen wasteland eagerly enough. They ran from those dangers—except Maggie, who screamed.

The actors do the best they can with the material they’re given, but there’s little room for curiosity for their surroundings. No one displays despair. Nor is there any of the expected military discipline or command to understand what they’re up against. Initially, while Jack and Steve try to find what’s wrong with the helicopter, Alan and Maggie walk away into the fog, primarily so he can hit on her. She narrowly (and unwittingly) escapes the clutches of the carnivorous plant in much the same way Daphne of Scooby-Doo fame steps away from being grabbed by some ghoulish hand when she finally decides which way to go.

Cheap effects (even a guy ambling around in a t-rex suit) I can forgive. Not every production company has the money or the knowhow to make fantastic effects. Hokey effects can be fun. But I cannot forgive a boring story.

Title: The Land Unknown (1957)

Directed by
Virgil W. Vogel…(as Virgil Vogel)

Writing Credits
László Görög…(screenplay) (as Laszlo Gorog)
William N. Robson…(adaptation)
Charles Palmer…(story)

Cast (in credits order)
Jock Mahoney…Commander Alan Roberts
Shirley Patterson…Margaret Hathaway (as Shawn Smith)
William Reynolds…Lt. Jack Carmen
Henry Brandon…Dr. Carl Hunter
Douglas Kennedy…Capt. Burnham (as Douglas R. Kennedy)

Released: October 30, 1957
Length: 1 hour, 18 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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