Appellate Judge James A. Stewart lost a world just the other day—and then he found it in his sock drawer.
Our review of The Lost World, published December 3rd, 2002, is also available.
"A body of land uplifted by volcanic eruption a hundred million years ago, cut off from the march of time by the unscalable nature of its cliffs. A land where monsters lived. George Edward Challenger's lost world."
It's actually Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World; Professor George Edward Challenger is just a character living in it.
When you think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, chances are another famous character comes to mind first (Irwin Allen named the heroine Jennifer Holmes as an homage, if you need a hint). The Lost World, published in 1912, was the first of five novels featuring Challenger, a character based on a real-life professor encountered by Conan Doyle.
The Lost World has been found in five movie variations and a TV series that undoubtedly made Sir Arthur Conan Doyle roll over in his grave. By 1960, the novel had sold 23,000,000 copies (a stat from the original press kit), making it a good candidate for the big screen.
Irwin Allen had been in the movie business for a decade before producing 1960's The Lost World, but the reputation the epic gave him took him on a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, got him Lost in Space, and sent him on The Poseidon Adventure, to name a few. For a time in the 1960s and 1970s, his name before a movie or TV series title meant more than that of Conan Doyle.
Fox presents 1960's The Lost World in a two-disc edition that presents the 1926 silent version as a bonus feature.
Facts of the Case
The Lost World (1960)—96 minutes
Malone is greeted by a poodle, and then by the poodle's person, Jennifer Holmes (Jill St. John, Diamonds are Forever), who offers him a lift into town. The two meet again at Challenger's presentation to the Zoological Society, where the prof makes a startling claim about the plateau he discovered: "There exists today many forms of creatures long believed to be extinct." Dinosaurs, to be specific.
Professor Walter Summerlee (Richard Hadyn, Five Weeks in a Balloon) is skeptical ("Were they big dinosaurs, professor?") but agrees to join an expedition, so long as someone else funds it. The money comes from Stuart Holmes, Jennifer's wealthy father and Malone's boss.
By the time the helicopter lifts off, the expedition includes Challenger and Summerlee, Malone, Jennifer, her brother David (Ray Stricklyn, Young Jesse James), adventurer Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie, The Third Man), pilot Gomez (Fernando Lamas, 100 Rifles), and guide Costa (Jay Novello, The Pride and the Passion). Jennifer brings her poodle, Frosty, along as well.
Within a day, something knocks the helicopter off the plateau, conveniently (for the story) cutting off communication with the outside world. The explorers also find a beautiful plateau woman (Vitina Marcus, Taras Bulba), who appears to be wearing a swimdress (Perhaps the explorers will discover a lost department store like Gimbel's or Marshall Field's on the plateau). She actually starts to like the explorers, despite a first meeting in which they chase her into the web of a giant spider.
Will they find those dinosaurs—and make it back to London with evidence?
The Lost World (1926)—75 minutes
Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery, Big Jack) is still as cantankerous as ever, and he's still a rival of Professor Summerlee (Arthur Hoyt, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock). Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone, The Hoodlum Saint) is an old friend of Malone's in this version.
The story wraps up in London, where a brontosaurus gets loose, creating havoc that will be familiar to anyone who has seen King Kong.
Frankly, Irwin Allen's sci-fi debut is as cheesy as heck.
Although she's playing an adventuress who can shoot and fight with the best of men, Jill St. John's main attribute as Jennifer Holmes is a good set of pipes. That's right; she screams at everything. At least Jennifer's poodle Fluffy is trying to scare the dinosaurs away when he barks.
The men's typical movie responses to noises and a giant footprint—Summerlee's scoffing, Malone's "What the devil's that?," and Costa's cowardly terror—aren't much better. At one point, Malone and Roxton come to blows over Jennifer, ignoring the fact that they're facing impending doom.
What's good here? The performances of Claude Rains and Richard Haydn as the believer-doubter rivals Challenger and Summerlee aren't bad. Fernando Lamas makes a clichéd storyline—Gomez's friend was lost on the plateau three years earlier—work better than it should. The set design was excellent.
The elegance of the 1926 silent version of The Lost World comes through immediately, as graceful shots of stop-motion dinosaurs introduce the picture. It's a silent film, so you'll see broad performances that you (hopefully) wouldn't see much of today. The storyline is oddly romantic, as Malone and Pearl find themselves falling in love on the plateau, and Malone must make a choice when he comes back to London. The rivalry between Challenger and Summerlee takes on an entertaining slapstick quality here as Challenger designs a catapult.
Oddly, the plateau looks more realistic in the 1926 version than in the 1960 version. The newer film is more obviously shot on soundstages, and the real (small) lizards made up to look like giant dinosaurs are less menacing than the stop-motion creations by Willis O'Brien (King Kong) used in the 1925 version. O'Brien's effects have a poetic quality that makes them interesting to watch; there are a few extra dinosaur sequences thrown in for good measure.
The 1960 movie has a bright, colorful feel to it, combining a hint of psychedelic dream imagery with, apparently, the production team's simple joy at having color film to work with. The color is transferred well here. The 1926 version is beaten up somewhat, but tinting is used to hide some of the scratches and spots. Sound quality is decent in both cases.
There's no commentary, but the extras include a few gems. My favorite part was the "Pressbook Gallery," which shows the original marketing elements—including ads and radio copy—for the 1960 movie. It's got lots of fun facts (it's where I learned about the book's sales figures and the Holmes homage), and lots of fun flummery (suggesting, for example, that seeing man-eating veggies on screen might get your kid "to start wolfing his spinach"). If you spring for The Lost World, you've got to check this part out; the press kit's more fun than the movie.
The rest of the galleries are good and extensive, but they're the sort that flash by on their own—way too fast. Letting us navigate would have made the galleries better.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The 1926 silent is marred by scenes with a servant in blackface, complete with inappropriate dialect.
If you have low expectations—killing a couple of hours and seeing how Irwin Allen started out in sci-fi—you'll probably enjoy 1960's The Lost World. The 1926 The Lost World is one that genre fans will want to explore, mainly for the special effects, so it makes a worthy special feature.
I won't call this a must-see, but The Lost World makes a great addition to your DVD cheese tray. Not guilty.
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