Making an adventure film that plummets your cast of characters into a “Land Lost in Time” is no easy task but when given little to no money and just eleven days to produce it, well, that’s asking a lot and it makes things exponentially harder to pull off, which brings us to Lippert Pictures and their 1951 dinosaur movie Lost Continent, a film that suffers from too much rock climbing and not enough dinosaurs.
The crux of this film centers around an expedition to the South Pacific to find a missing atomic-powered rocket that was designed by Russian scientist Michael Rostov (John Hoyt) working for the United States Government and who is aided by Stanley Briggs (Whit Bissell) and Robert Phillips (Hugh Beaumont) his two able-bodied assistants, but when the rocket vanishes without a trace, Major Joe Nolan (Cesar Romero) is put in charge of the retrieval operation along with his pal Lt. Danny Wilson (Chick Chandler) and aircraft mechanic Sgt. William Tatlow (Sid Melton), who is this film’s idea of comic relief, but when their transport aircraft mysteriously crash-lands on a remote island things get a little dicey. Not only are they on what appears to be an uncharted island, though inhabited by English-speaking natives – apparently there is a missionary school on a nearby island – but Nolan is also very suspicious of Rostov as he believes the man could be working for the other side, though I’d say it’s more a case of this mission having cockblocked his date and made him take his frustration out on someone.
Note: Up to this point in time Cesar Romero was more commonly known for playing Latin lovers, as well as historical figures in costume dramas, but it’s his role as The Joker in the 60s Batman series that cemented him into popular culture.
When a native woman (Acquanetta) tells the group that she saw a “Fiery Bird” land atop a forbidden mountain, a cloud-shrouded plateau that dominates part of the island, it’s clear to our heroes where they must go, sadly, the trip up the mountain takes about a third of the film’s running time and basically consists of long stretches of rock climbing where our characters are seen repeatedly climbing up and over the same Styrofoam set-prop only from different angles, which wasn’t fooling anybody and is as tedious as it sounds. Just how bad does it get? Well, I swear Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest has less rock climbing than what we see in this movie and when one of the men comments “It seems like we’ve been climbing for days” it literally feels like that for the viewer as well.
When the group eventually, thank God, reach the top of the mountain they discover a lush, prehistoric jungle inhabited by various dinosaurs and a large field of uranium, which is what disabled their electronic tracking equipment and caused their plane to crash. With Rostov’s assurance that the radiation emitting from this plateau is not lethal, despite it being strong enough to bring down a plane flying thousands of feet above it, they decide to proceed with the search for the missing rocket. It’s at this point that the filmmakers decided to tint the film a mint-green to give this lush prehistoric world a more otherworldly quality, sadly, any benefit this visual change could have made to improve things was quickly undercut by the film’s continued poor pacing as the endless climb up the mountain was then swapped out for endless shots of our heroes trekking through the jungle. Mercifully, we do get a few random encounters with some nice stop-motion animated dinosaurs and if it wasn’t for these moments I’m sure the audience would have been in danger of falling into a coma. This is not to say that the dinosaurs in this film make any logical sense but at least it beats rock climbing.
The real interesting element to this particular script was the reveal that Nolan’s fear surrounding Rostov’s loyalties was completely unfounded as we later learn that Rostov himself had suffered in a Nazi concentration camp and his wife and child died in a Russian camp, making him not only sympathetic but a case of great casting as John Hoyt is mostly known for playing pompous jerks in such films as The Blackboard Jungle and When Worlds Collide which makes this reveal a pleasant surprise. Of course, such originality can’t last for long so the film must end with your “Lost World” ending where a volcanic cataclysm destroys everything while our heroes flee for their lives. It seems that in these types of films man setting foot on a prehistoric land will always trigger its destruction.
Note: The destruction of this “Lost Continent” is actually well-orchestrated it’s just too bad most of what preceded it wasn’t as exciting.
• The opening shot of the White Sands Missile Base borrowed footage from Rocketship X-M which was another Lippert Pictures release.
• They were given orders to not break radio silence until they found the rocket, but you’d think crashing on an island would be a good case for making an exception and calling for help.
• While taking a break during their climbing up to the plateau Stanley Briggs pulls out pictures of his family just to ensure that he gets killed off. I guess he was just as bored climbing the mountain as we were watching them.
• Our first glimpse of a “dinosaur” looks to be a garden variety chameleon and because the filmmakers failed to put it next to anything to give it scale it looks just as it is, a tiny little lizard.
• The group comes across a set of Brontosaurus tracks but they are in a jungle area that is way too dense for a creature that size to be walking through without leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.
• In this film the Triceratops and Brontosaurus are depicted as aggressive killers that attack without provocation despite them both being plant-eaters, one must assume the writers of this film got their paleontology information from watching the original 1933 King Kong.
Much of the plot of this film was clearly borrowed from Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tale The Lost World but even back then it was understood that crux of the story was what they find on top of the plateau and not on the climb to get there, which director Sam Newfield and producer Robert L. Lippert clearly orchestrated to stretch their paltry budget, and the result was a film that only really gets going mere moments before the end credits roll. I’m a sucker for dinosaur movies and usually quite forgiving when it comes to the genre but even I had a hard time getting through this one, which is sad considering that the cast included some solid character actors and some decent animated dinosaurs. All these years later Lippert’s Lost Continent will most likely be remembered for being ridiculed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is the best way to view the film because without Joel and the bots this entry isn’t worth tracking down.
Lost Continent (1951)
Movie Rank - 4/10
A film with Cesar Romero encountering dinosaurs on a forbidden mountain top, one that is populated by dinosaurs, should have resulted in an exciting movie, instead, it’s the cinematic equivalent of Nyquil.