Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lost Continent (Lippert, 1951)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I wanted a movie that I thought would work better as a cinematic “dessert” to Mamma Mia! than a heavy (in more ways than one) modern action-fest like Batman Begins. The film I picked out was Lost Continent, a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 presentation of a 1951 “B” from Lippert Pictures that reunited some old PRC stalwarts: producer Sigmund Neufeld, director Sam Newfield (his brother — “They must have got into different lines at Ellis Island,” one of the MST3K crew joked) and cinematographer Jack Greenhalgh — along with a cast that was at least a bit better than what they’d been used to in their PRC days.

Cesar Romero headlined as Major Joe Nolan, who’s called away from a date with Marla Stevens (Hillary Brooke) to lead a search party that’s supposed to find a missile that wandered off its flight course during a test — it was supposed to double back and instead it kept going forward — and the people in charge of the U.S. rocket program, including Michael Rostov (John Hoyt) — whose peculiar half-German, half-Russian accent is explained in the script by Richard H. Landau and an uncredited Orville H. Hampton (based on a story by Carroll Young) by saying he’d spent time in both German and Russian prison camps — are determined to regain control of the wrecked missile before a sinister but (typically) unnamed foreign power can recover it and steal all our missile secrets (this was 1951, and I think the Rosenberg trial had just concluded when it was released).

This requires them to fly somewhere into South America and do a lot of rock climbing — around and around what are all too obviously the same papier-mâché rocks on the floor of Goldwyn Studios, where this film was shot — including one point at which the characters have to leap a chasm to go from one mountain to its neighbor (at which point we’re wondering, even if they do find the rocket wreck, how on earth they’re going to bring it back — though maybe they didn’t have to bring it back and were planning to destroy it instead), at which point the film turns into a ripoff of The Lost World and shows us some quite obvious stock footage of dinosaurs which came either from the 1925 film of The Lost World, the 1940 One Million B.C. (long a go-to film for people wanting dinosaur footage and lacking the budget to create any themselves) or possibly some other source I didn’t recognize.

There’s a genuinely suspenseful bit in which one of the actors is menaced by a brontosaurus which shakes the tree he’s hiding in and tries to get at him (the MST3K crew joked about his idiotic flight up the tree, which only brought him up to brontosaurus level), but aside from that, not only is this film incredibly boring but also the print we were watching turns blue and becomes incredibly overexposed towards the end. According to imdb.com, in the original release prints these sequences were actually tinted green, but when the film was “duped” on conventional black-and-white stock the tinted sequences turned an unearthly blue and got so washed out it’s almost impossible to tell during the final half-hour of this movie exactly what on earth (or elsewhere) is going on. The MST3K crew did a brilliant job on this one, throwing in references to movies as diverse as The Grapes of Wrath, The Wizard of Oz and even the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers and generally doing a quite good job livening up a quite stupid and boring film.