The Lost World (1960)
“150,000,000 Years Ago or Today?”
Director: Irwin Allen
Cast: Michael Rennie, Jill St. John, David Hedison
Synopsis: Professor Challenger leads an expedition of scientists and adventurers to a remote plateau deep in the Amazonian jungle to verify his claim that dinosaurs still live there.
While Wallace Beery was called upon to sport an unconvincing fake beard for his portrayal of the irascible Professor Challenger in the 1925 version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, in the 1960 version poor old Claude Rains (Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia) was required to dye his hair orange, which he did with the dogged professionalism of the seasoned trooper that he was. He would have done better to turn down the role and preserve his dignity, because Irwin Allen’s remake is a fairly wretched version which is inferior to the 1925 movie (which was itself something of a disappointment). Clearly intended to cash in on the success of the previous year’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Lost World was hamstrung by budget cuts due to the drain of 20th Century-Fox’s coffers by the filming of Cleopatra which saw original plans for stop-motion dinosaurs scrapped in favour of monitor lizards with plastic horns and spikes stuck to their skin.
Irwin Allen’s version is updated to the modern day, in which Professor Challenger mounts an expedition to a remote plateau upon which he claims to have witnessed prehistoric dinosaurs roaming freely. As he has no proof to back up his claims, his stories are naturally met with scepticism by Professor Summerlee (Richard Haydn – The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin) who accepts Challenger’s challenge to accompany him on the expedition. Independent witnesses are also required, and are selected from the audience of Challenger’s lecture on the lost world. These witnesses are upper-class adventurer Johnny Roxton (Michael Rennie — The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel) and journalist Ed Malone (David Hedison) with whom Challenger has already had a run-in.
It’s not long before the expedition is underway, collecting other members along the way. Costa (Jay Novello — Escape from Zahrain) is a disappointingly stereotypical peasant type — both greedy and cowardly, while he guitar-strumming helicopter pilot Manuel Gomez (Fernando Lamas) clearly has some sinister hidden agenda. Their numbers are rounded out by Roxton’s girlfriend Jennifer Holmes (Jill St. John) and her brother, David (Ray Stricklyn). En masse, they travel by helicopter to the plateau, and it’s not long before they discover that Challenger’s claims were true. The problem is that the dinosaur they see promptly stomps on their helicopter, effectively stranding them on the plateau with no way of contacting the outside world…
The Lost World is one of those movies many people remember with fondness thanks to repeated viewings as a child back in the 1960s and 70s. Well, let me tell you — revisiting such movies isn’t recommended because nine times out of ten they prove to be a crushing disappointment. The Lost World is no exception, coming up short in almost every department. Initially, it seems as if Allen and co-screenwriter Charles Bennett are going to play things for laughs, which would be bad enough as the humour is particularly infantile, but they settle for a mix of melodrama and spectacle which never really comes off. Claude Rains demonstrates no interest in, or enthusiasm for, his role, which is perhaps understandable given the quality of the script and the colour of his hair, but then almost everyone involved seems to be going through the motions in order to pick up their pay cheque. It’s perhaps unfair to single out one performance amongst so many poor efforts, but Jill St. John’s is stunningly bad. Granted, it would be difficult to inject any credibility into a character who embarks on a jungle expedition wearing a pink shirt and slacks and carrying a poodle, but she could at least have tried.
It’s not only script and performance that are sub-standard, however. Allen’s day for night shots are woefully unconvincing, and those ‘dinosaurs’ look like exactly what they are: lizards with things stuck to them. In fact, the only thing about them that looks remotely genuine is the fight in which two of them are forced to partake. I could go on — ‘These fumes are deadly’ warns Challenger as everyone runs through them with no ill effects whatsoever, for example — but to do so seems both cruel and pointless. I just wish I could learn the lesson and stop returning to childhood favourites — God knows, it’s a lesson that those movies have tried to teach me often enough.
(Reviewed 18th May 2014)