The Lost World (20th Century Fox, 1960).
Irwin Allen, the producer who would go on to make the disaster film a huge success in the seventies, brought us this Saturday afternoon fodder with giant lizards posing as dinosaurs. Starring Michael Rennie, David Hedison, Claude Rains and Jill St. John.
Intended as a grand sci-fi/fantasy epic remake of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novel. The first film adaptation, shot in 1925, was a milestone in many ways, but movie making and special effects had come a long way in 35 years. Irwin Allen’s Lost World (LW) & 20th Century Fox version was derailed on the way to greatness, but managed to still be a respectable, (if more modest) A-film. Allen’s screenplay followed the book fairly well, telling of Professor Challenger’s expedition to a remote plateau in the Amazon upon which dinosaurs still lived. Aside from the paleontological presumptions in the premise, there is little "science" in The Lost World. Nonetheless, dinosaur movies have traditionally been lumped into the sci-fi genre.
When his plane lands in London, crusty old professor George Edward Challenger is besieged by reporters questioning him about his latest expedition to the headwaters of the Amazon River. After the irascible Challenger strikes reporter Ed Malone on the head with his umbrella, Jennifer Holmes, the daughter of Ed’s employer, Stuart Holmes, offers the injured reporter a ride into town. That evening, Jenny is escorted by Lord John Roxton, an adventurer and big game hunter, to Challenger’s lecture at the Zoological Institute, and Ed invites them to sit with him. When Challenger claims to have seen live dinosaurs, his colleague Professor Summerlee scoffs and asks for evidence. Explaining that his photographs of the creatures were lost when his boat overturned, Challenger invites Summerlee to accompany him on a new expedition to the "lost world," and asks for volunteers. When Roxton raises his hand, Jenny insists on going with him, but she is rejected by Challenger because she is a woman. Ed is given a spot after Holmes offers to fund the expedition if the reporter is included. The four then fly to the Amazon, where they are met by Costa, their guide and Manuel Gomez, their helicopter pilot. Arriving unexpectedly, Jenny and her younger brother David insist on joining them. Unable to arrange transportation back to the United States, Challenger reluctantly agrees to take them along. The next day, they take off for the lost world and land on an isolated plateau inhabited by dinosaurs. That evening, a dinosaur stomps out of the jungle, sending them scurrying for cover. After the beast destroys the helicopter and radio, the group ventures inland. When one of the creatures bellows threateningly, they flee, and in their haste, Challenger and Ed slip and tumble down a hillside, where they encounter a native girl. The girl runs into the jungle, but Ed follows and captures her. They then all take refuge in a cave, where Roxton, who has been making disparaging remarks about Jenny’s desire to marry him solely for his title, angers Ed. Ed lunges at Roxton, pushing him to the ground, where he finds a diary written by Burton White, an adventurer who hired Roxton three years earlier to lead him to the lost diamonds of Eldorado. Roxton then admits that he never met White and his party because he was delayed by a dalliance with a woman, thus abandoning them to certain death. Gomez angrily snaps that his good friend Santiago perished in the expedition. That night, Costa tries to molest the native girl, and David comes to her rescue and begins to communicate with her through sign language. After Gomez goes to investigate some movement he spotted in the vegetation, he calls for help, and when Roxton runs out of the cave, a gunshot from an unseen assailant is fired, nearly wounding Roxton and sending the girl scurrying into the jungle. Soon after, Ed and Jenny stray from camp and are pursued by a dinosaur, and after taking refuge on some cliffs, watch in horror as their stalker becomes locked in combat with another prehistoric creature and tumbles over the cliffs into the waters below. Upon returning to camp, they discover it deserted, their belongings in disarray. As David stumbles out from some rocks to report they were attacked by a tribe of natives, the cannibals return and imprison them in a cave with the others. As the drums beat relentlessly, signaling their deaths, the native girl reappears and motions for them to follow her through a secret passageway that leads to the cave in which Burton White lives, completely sightless. After confirming that all in his expedition perished, White tells them of a volcanic passageway that will lead them off the plateau, but warns that they must first pass through the cave of fire. Cautioning them that the natives plan to sacrifice them, White declares that their only chance of survival is to slip through the cave and then seal it with a boulder. After giving them directions to the cave, White asks them to take the girl along. As the earth, on the verge of a volcanic eruption, quakes, they set off through the Graveyard of the Damned, a vast cavern littered with dinosaur skeletons, the victims of the deadly sulfurous gases below. Pursued by the ferocious natives, Roxton takes the lead as they inch their way across a narrow ledge above the molten lava. After escaping the natives, they jam the cave shut with a boulder and, passing a dam of molten lava, finally reach the escape passage. At its mouth is a pile of giant diamonds and a dinosaur egg. As Costa heaps the diamonds into his hat, Challenger fondles the egg and Gomez pulls a gun and announces that Roxton must die in exchange for the death of Santiago, Gomez’ brother. Acting quickly, Ed hurls the diamonds at Gomez, throwing him off balance and discharging his gun. The gunshot awakens a creature slumbering in the roiling waters below. After the beast snatches Costa and eats him alive, Ed tries to dislodge the dam, sending a few scorching rocks tumbling down onto the monster. Feeling responsible for the peril of the group, Gomez sacrifices his life by using his body as a lever to dislodge the dam, covering the creature with oozing lava. As the cave begins to crumble from the impending eruption, the group hurries to safety. Just then, the volcano explodes, destroying the lost world. After Roxton hands Ed a handful of diamonds he has saved as a wedding gift for him and Jenny, Challenger proudly displays his egg, which then hatches, revealing a baby dinosaur. The End.
The 50s had seen several examples of the dinosaur sub-genre. LW is one of the more lavish ones, owing to color by DeLuxe and CinemaScope. The A-level actors help too. Claude Rains plays the flamboyant Challenger. Michael Rennie plays Roxton, perhaps a bit too cooly. Jill St. John and Vitina Marcus do well as the customary eye candy. David Hedison as Malone and Fernando Lamas as Gomez round out the bill.
The first film version of LW was a silent movie shot in 1925: screenplay by Marion Fairfax. The film featured stop-motion animated dinosaurs by a young Willis O’Brien. Fairfax followed Doyle’s text, but Fairfax added a young woman to the team, Paula White. Ostensibly trying to find her father from the first failed expedition, she provided the love triangle interest between Malone and Roxton.
Allen’s screenplay tried to stick to Doyle’s text as much as Hollywood would allow. It carried on Fairfax’s invention of the young woman member of the group as triangle fodder. Fairfax had Doyle’s ape men (ape man) but omitted the native humans. Allen had the natives, but no ape men. Allen revived the Gomez/revenge subplot, which Fairfax skipped. Doyle’s story had Challenger bringing back a pterodactyl. Fairfax made it a brontosaur who rampaged through London streets (spawning a popular trope). Allen suggested the baby dinosaur traveling to London.
Willis O’Brien pitched 20th Century Fox in the late 50s, to do a quality remake of LW. He had gained much experience in the intervening 35 years, so his stop-motion dinosaurs were to be the real stars. Fox bass liked the idea, but by the time the ball started rolling, there was trouble in studioland. Fox’s grand epic Cleopatra was underway, but was already 5 million dollars over budget. Cleo would nearly sink 20th Century Fox when it was finally released in 1963. To stay afloat, all other Fox films’ budgets were slashed. Allen could no longer afford the grand O’Brien stop-motion.
Allen’s production is often criticized for its "cheap" dinosaurs, which were live monitor lizards and alligators with fins and plates and horns glue onto them. (more on that below) These were already a bit cheesy when used in the 1940 film One Million B.C.. O’Brien is still listed on the credits as "Effects Technician," but all Allen could afford was lizards with glued on extras. Somewhat amusingly, the script still refers to them as brontosaurs and T-Rexes.
The character of Jennifer Holmes starts out promising. She’s a self-assured to the edges of pushy, and is said to be able to out shoot and out ride any man. Yet, when she gets to the Amazon jungle, she’s little more than Jungle Barbie, dressed in girlie clothes and screaming frequently. She even does the typical Hollywood trip-and-fall when chased by the dinosaur, so that a man must save her.
Bottom line? FW is a finer example of the not-quite-sci-fi dinosaur sub-genre. The actors are top drawer, even if some of their acting is a bit flat. Nonetheless, FW is a fair adaptation of Doyle’s
classic adventure novel, given the constraints of Hollywood culture.
The Movie Club Annals … Review
The Lost World 1960
There was absolutely nothing wrong with Irwin Allen’s 1960 production of The Lost World. Nothing. It was perfect in every way. I therefore find myself in the unique and unfamiliar position of having to write a rave review about a Movie Club movie that was entirely devoid of flaws.
Faced with such a confounding task, I half-heartedly considered faking a bad review, then praying my obvious deceptions would go unnoticed. But the patent transparency of my scheme convinced me to abandon it posthaste. After all, leveling concocted criticisms at such an unassailable masterpiece would be a futile and tiresome exercise, the pretense of which would escape nary a semi-cognizant soul.
Thus, having retreated from my would-be descent into literary intrigue, I start this review in earnest by borrowing a quote from the legendary Shelly Winters, spoken during the 1972 filming of Irwin Allen’s The Poseidon Adventure:
"I’m ready for my close up now, Mr. Allen.” Shelly Winters, 1972
A bit of research into the casting choices of Irwin Allen, who wrote, produced, and directed The Lost World, begins to reveal the genius behind the virtuosity.
The first accolades go to Irwin for his casting of Vitina Marcus, the immaculately groomed Saks 5th Avenue cave girl with exquisite taste in makeup, jewelry, and cave-wear. No finer cave girl ever graced a feature film.
Vitina Marcus, as The Cave Girl
She was the picture of prehistoric glamour, gliding across the silver screen in her designer bearskin mini-pelt, her flawless coiffure showing no signs of muss from the traditional courting rituals of the day, her perfect teeth the envy of even the most prototypical Osmond. Even her nouveau-opposable thumbs retained their manicure, in spite of the oft-disagreeable duties that frequently befell her as an effete member of the tribal gentry.
By no means just another Neanderthal harlot, Vitina had a wealth of talent to augment her exterior virtues. Her virtuoso interpretation of a comely cave girl in The Lost World certainly didn’t escape the attention Irwin Allen. In fact, he was so taken with her performance that he later engaged her services again, casting her as the Native Girl in episode 2.26 of his Voyage to The Bottom of The Sea TV series.
Leery of potential typecasting, Vitina went on to obtain roles with greater depth and more sophisticated dialogue. This is evidenced by the great departure she took from her previous roles when she next portrayed the part of Sarit, a female barbarian, in episode 1.24 of Irwin Allen’s The Time Tunnel TV series.
Vitina, as Sarit
Vitina’s efforts to avoid typecasting paid off in spades, as she was soon rewarded with the distinctive role of Girl, a female Tarzanesque she-beast character, in episode 3.14 of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series.
Lured back from the U.N.C.L.E. set by Irwin Allen, Vitina was next cast in the role of Athena (a.k.a. Lorelei), the green space girl with the inverted lucite salad bowl hat, in episodes 2.2 and 2.16 of the revered Lost in Space TV series.
And with this, Vitina reached the pinnacle of her career. For her many unparalleled displays of thespian pageantry, she leaves us forever in her debt as she exits the stage.
For those who would still question the genius of Irwin Allen, I defy you to find a better casting choice for the character of Lord John Roxton than that of Michael Rennie. Mr. Rennie, who earlier starred as Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still, went on to even greater heights, starring as The Keeper in episodes 1.16 and 1.17 of the revered Lost in Space TV series. Throughout his distinguished career, Mr. Rennie often played highly cerebral characters with
unique names, such as Garth A7, Tribolet, Hasani, Rama Kahn, Hertz, and Dirk. How befitting that his most prolific roles came to him through a man named Irwin, a highly cerebral character with a unique name.
The selection of David Hedison to play Ed Malone was yet another example of Irwin’s uncanny foresight. Soon after casting him in The Lost World, Irwin paved Mr. Hedison’s path to immortality by casting him as a lead character in his Voyage to The Bottom of The Sea TV series. Although Voyage ended in 1968, Mr. Hedison departed the show with a solid resume and a bright future.
In the decades following Voyage, Mr. Hedison has been a veritable fixture on the small screen, appearing in such socially influential programs as The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Knight Rider, The Fall Guy and The A Team. Mr. Hedison’s early collaborations with Irwin Allen have left him never wanting for a day’s work in Hollywood, a boon to the legions of discerning fans who continue to savor his inspiring prime time depictions.
Irwin selected Fernando Lamas to play Manuel Gomez, the honorable and tortured soul of The Lost World who needlessly sacrificed himself at the end of the movie to save all the others. To get a feel for how important a casting decision he was to Irwin, just look at the pertinent experience Mr. Lamas brought to the table:
Irwin knew that such credentials could cause him to lose the services of Mr. Lamas to another project, and he took great pains to woo him onto the set of The Lost World. And even though Mr. Lamas never appeared in the revered Lost in Space TV series, his talent is not lost on us.
Jay Novello was selected by Irwin Allen to play Costa, the consummate Cuban coward who perpetually betrays everyone around him in the name of greed. In pursuing his craven calling, Mr. Novello went on to play Xandros, the Greek Slave in Atlantis, The Lost Continent, as well as countless other roles as a coward.
Although Mr. Novella never appeared in the revered Lost in Space TV series, his already long and distinguished career as a coward made him the obvious choice for Irwin when the need for an experienced malingerer arose.
Jill St. John was Irwin’s pick to play Jennifer Holmes, the "other" glamour girl in The Lost World. Not to be upstaged by glamour-cave-girl Vitina Marcus, Jill played the trump card and broke out the pink go-go boots and skin-tight Capri pants, the perfect Amazonian summertime jungle wear.
Complete with a perfect hairdo, a killer wardrobe, a little yip-yip dog named Frosty, and all the other trappings of a wealthy and pampered prehistoric society, Jill’s sensational allure rivaled even that of a certain cave girl appearing in the same film.
With the atmosphere rife for an on-set rivalry between Jill and Vitina, Irwin still managed to keep the peace, proving that he was as skilled a diplomat as he was a director.
Claude Rains, as Professor George Edward Challenger
And our cup runneth over, as Irwin cast Claude Rains to portray Professor George Edward Challenger. His eminence, Mr. Rains is an entity of such immeasurable virtue that he is not in need of monotonous praise from the likes of me.
I respectfully acknowledge the appearance of Mr. Rains because failure to do so would be an unforgivable travesty. But I say nothing more on the subject, lest I state something so obvious and uninspiring as to insult the intelligence of enlightened reader.
Irwin’s casting of the cavemen mustn’t be overlooked, for their infallibly realistic portrayals are unmatched within the Pleistocene Epoch genre of film. Such meticulous attention to detail is what separates Irwin Allen from lesser filmmakers, whose pale imitations of his work only further to underscore the point.
To be sure, it is possible to come away with the unfounded suspicion that the cavemen are really just a bunch of old white guys from the bar at the local Elks lodge. But Irwin was an absolute stickler for authenticity, and would never have allowed the use of such tawdry measures to taint his prehistoric magnum opus.
In truth, Irwin’s on-screen cavemen were borne of many grueling years of anthropological research, so the explanation for their somewhat modern, pseudo-caucasian appearance lies obviously elsewhere. And in keeping with true Irwin Allen tradition, that explanation will not be offered here.
1964 – Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Season One, Episode 7 – "Turn Back the Clock", featuring Vitina Marcus as The Native Girl. Produced by Irwin Allen.
And then there was Irwin Allen’s masterful handling of the reptilian facets of The Lost World, most notably his inimitable casting of the dinosaurs. His dinosaurs were so realistic, so eerily lifelike, that they almost looked like living, breathing garden variety lizards with dinosaur fins and horns glued to their backs and heads.
The less enlightened viewer might even suppose this to be true, that Irwin’s dinosaurs were indeed merely live specimens of lizards, donned in Jurassic-era finery, vastly magnified, and retro-fitted into The Lost World via some penny-wise means of cinematic trickery.
But those of us in the know certainly know better than that, as we are privy to some otherwise unpublished information about The Lost World. The lifelike appearance of the Irwin’s dinosaurs can be attributed to a wholly overlooked and fiendishly cunning approach to the art of delusion, which is that the dinosaurs didn’t just look real, they were real.
While the world abounds with middling minds who cannot fathom such a reality, we must follow Irwin’s benevolent leanings and temper our natural feelings of contempt for this unfortunate assemblage of pedestrian lowbrows. In spite of Irwin’s superior intellect, he never felt disdain toward the masses that constituted his audiences. He simply capitalized on their unaffectedness, and in the process recounted the benefits of exploiting the intellectually bereft for personal gain.
The purpose of all this analysis, of course, is to place an exclamation point on the genius of Irwin Allen, the formation of his dinosaur exposé being a premier example. Note how he mindfully manipulates the expectations of his unsuspecting audience, compelling them to probe the dinosaurs for any signs of man-made chicanery. Then, at the palatial moment when the dinosaurs make their entry, he guilefully supplants the anticipated display of faux reptilia with that of the bona fide article.
Upon first witnessing the de facto dinosaurs, some in the audience think they’ve been had, and indeed they have. Irwin, in engineering his masterful ruse, had used reality as his medium to convey the illusion of artifice. His audience, in essence, was blinded by the truth. It was the immaculate deception, and none but Irwin Allen could have conceived it.
Indeed, the matter of where the live dinosaurs came from has been conspicuously absent from this discussion, as the Irwinian technique of fine film making strongly discourages the practice of squandering time on extraneous justifications and other such trite means of redundant apologia. For the benefit of the incessantly curious, however, just keep in mind that Irwin Allen wrote and produced The Time Tunnel TV Series, a fact that should provide some fair insight into his modis operandi.