Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


THE LAND UNKNOWN (1957). Director: Virgil Vogel.

A helicopter carrying passengers lands in a lost world full of prehistoric animals and dangerous plant life. No, it's not The Lost World, it's The Land Unknown, which came out from Universal three years earlier and was similarly in CinemaScope [if black and white]. The Technicolor 20th Century-Fox production of Lost World, with bigger names in the cast and a ton of publicity, sort of eclipsed this earlier film, which is not bad at all. Commander Roberts (Jock Mahoney), reporter Maggie Hathaway (Shawn Smith), Lt. Carmen (William Reynolds) and machinist's mate Steve Miller (Phil Harvey) set out in their copter to explore the South Pole and wind up descending through mist into a lost world of monsters, discovering the sole human inhabitant is a crashed scientist, Dr. Hunter (Henry Brandon). There are lots of gigantic slithering lizards (which Hunter can control with a horn), some mechanical T-Rex's with slobbering jaws, and a creditable lake monster with big flippers and a long memory, not to mention a big rubbery plant that badly wants to wrap its tentacles around Maggie Hathaway. The optical work can be uneven, but there are many effective shots, as well as an exciting bit with Comdr. Roberts running from a voracious T-Rex. There are some impressive and elaborate sets and excellent art direction, and the film manages to work up some suspense [if the group doesn't get out of this valley in a certain number of days, their ship will leave without them]. Despite their phony appearance, the T-Rex's are better than the ones in Unknown Island and actually work well enough in context. Despite the absence of stop-motion effects, which would have greatly improved the picture, The Land Unknown is still quite entertaining, with the cast more than adequate for the proceedings. Vogel also directed The Mole People. Henry Brandon had a very long list of credits, probably his most famous role being nasty old Barnaby in the 1934 Laurel and Hardy masterpiece Babes in Toyland, in which he was made up to look older than he does in Land Unknown 23 years later! He also had the title role in the 1940 cliffhanger serial Drums of Fu Manchu. Phil Harvey appeared in a number of Universal horror/sci fi films of the period, including The Monolith Monsters. NOTE: This movie is now available in a remastered DVD which keeps the widescreen ratio intact and is complete, a far better way to see it than on TV with commercials, missing sequences, and no Cinemascope, which is how most people have seen it, unfortunately.

Verdict: For big lizard and lost world lovers. ***.

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