Review of “Lost Continent” (1951)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. We watched it via Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Plot:

An unmanned experimental atomic-powered rocket has disappeared somewhere in the South Pacific. Major Joe Nolan (Cesar Romero) and Lieutenant Danny Wilson (Chick Chandler) are called upon to ferry a team of scientists responsible for the rocket to retrieve what important data they can from it. Nolan is entertaining a date (Marla Stevens) he doesn’t remember well when the knock comes on his door. Wilson is already in his civvies, ready to start a leave. A military policeman from the Air Force meets him at his front door.

In addition to scientists Dr. Michael Rostov (John Hoyt), Dr. Robert Phillips (Hugh Beaumont), and Dr. Stanley Briggs (Whit Bissell), is Sergeant Willie Tatlow (Sid Melton), an airplane mechanic who is afraid of heights and carries a parachute with him. He also serves coffee aboard the plane. The scientists have a camera and a Geiger counter.

The scientists have calculated the area where the rocket should have run out of fuel. When Major Nolan spots an island, he diverts toward it. All the electrical components in the plane fail—even Sgt. Tatlow’s watch stops. The plane nosedives and crash lands on trees, albeit mostly intact. No one is hurt, except for Briggs, who receives a minor cut on his leg. He tells Nolan that while the plane was out of control, his Geiger counter picked up intense radioactivity. Once they land, readings return to normal. Tatlow’s watch starts up again.

They exit the plane and make their way to a village of grass huts, only to find it deserted except for a young girl (Acquanetta) and her younger brother. The village chief decided to get the villagers away after the “firebird” streaked across the sky and landed on the sacred mountain. She and her brother stayed behind to take care of their father, who has since passed away. She escorts them to the sacred mountain but will not climb it because it’s “taboo,” and no one ever comes back from it alive.

Our heroes begin to climb the mountain. And continue to climb. And continue. And continue… Seriously. The climbing takes up about thirty minutes of screen time.

Atop the mountain is a prehistoric world with an aggressive brontosaurus (now generally referred to as Apatosaurus), a couple of pugnacious triceratopses, an unfortunate pterodactyl, and, coincidentally, a rocket sticking out of the ground.

Thoughts:

The opening sequences with Joel and the robots cracking wise are cute. They refer to several old television shows that have nothing to do with the present movie but are appropriate. While the atomic-powered rocket (…stock footage…) blasts off at White Sands proving grounds, the viewer hears, “Jane, stop this crazy thing.”

One gripe I have is the MST3K crew is they seemed to talk over the movie dialogue to the point of annoyance. Granted, the viewer isn’t missing out on Shakespearian prose, but perhaps the scientist and military types could have explained why they went by plane to recover information from a rocket that went down in an unknown location in the South Pacific, mindful that the South Pacific is mostly ocean—and a rather deep one at that. Their detection and retrieval equipment? A camera and a Geiger counter.

So what if that doesn’t make sense? It’s the journey, right? That is, all that climbing. At one point, the team has to scale an escarpment by rope. Nolan lassoes a protruding rock. One member is pulled up onto the ledge with his rear end on prominent display. In the back, Dr. Phillips (Beaumont, who will later play Ward Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver) laughs ungraciously. Who would have thought Beaver’s dad was so mean?

One member falls while another is trying to help him up. He disappears, screaming into a thick mist, leaving a perfect fuzzy man-sized outline in the haze. This is effective. As a viewer, you buy that this poor unfortunate has just met his end.

On the top of the mountain—and there is indeed a top—our heroes find a lush prehistoric jungle. In the theatrical release, the film is given a green tint at this point. This is not the case for the versions shown on television or MST3K. Some DVD versions are supposed to have restored this. No one mentions munchkins coming out to advise our heroes to follow the yellow brick road, however.

The special effects used to create the monsters will disappoint anyone in 2020, but for 1951, they seemed to have done what they could.

The film seems to have borrowed from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 The Lost World. It was adapted for film as early as 1925. Both probably owe debts to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The writers took stabs at creating characters the viewer will find interesting if not always sympathetic. The viewer wants the mission to succeed. Some personal information is revealed. Overall, though, this has the feel of haste. It could have been more engaging if there were less climbing, of course, and other challenges. There were fun moments and some humor, such as well Nolan is trying to recall when he saw his date and which discussion of his work he recited to her.

I would keep this movie for when there is nothing else to watch.




Title: Lost Continent (1951)

Directed by
Sam Newfield…(as Samuel Newfield)

Writing Credits
Richard H. Landau…(screenplay)
Carroll Young…(story)
Orville H. Hampton…(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
Cesar Romero…Maj. Joe Nolan
Hillary Brooke…Marla Stevens
Chick Chandler…Lt. Danny Wilson
John Hoyt…Michael Rostov
Acquanetta…Native Girl

Released: August 17, 1951
Broadcast Mystery Science Theater: May 25, 1991
Length: 1 hour, 23 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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