When one hears the name Irwin Allen the title “Master of Disaster” leaps readily to mind as he was the man behind some of the greatest disaster movies of all time, such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, but before that, he was a well-respected television producer with such classic shows as Lost in Space and Time Tunnel on his resume. Though he was a well-respected producer the same couldn’t quite be said of his time spent in the director’s chair as that often resulted in such box office bombs as The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, as well as the film we will be looking at today, and while his 1960 remake of the 1925 silent film Lost World wasn’t a complete failure it was still a less than stellar example of the genre.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic adventure tale The Lost World has been adapted many times over the years, most notably the 1925 silent movie version which truly captured the spirit of Doyle’s novel, but 35 years later Irwin Allen was at the helm of a remake that not only included sound and colour but would also be filmed in the wonderous Cinemascope, and with the advances in special effects over three decades how could the end result be anything less than spectacular? Sadly, the people at 20th Century Fox had a little less faith in the project and with the studio hemorrhaging money due to a certain bloated production called Cleopatra they gave Allen a meagre $1.5 million dollars to bring his dinosaur epic to life, needless to say, the end result was not quite what the legendary producer had in mind.
Irwin Allen had intended the use of stop-motion to bring his prehistoric beasts to life, he even hired legendary special effects man Willis O’Brien to provide conceptual sketches for the dinosaurs, but due to his slashed budget, he was forced to full back on the tried-and-true method of gluing plastic horns and spikes to a variety of monitor lizards, iguanas, and crocodiles. This technique had been utilized just a year earlier for the studio’s other big Cinemascope epic, Journey to the Center of the Earth, but even though the dinosaurs in the film were just as silly and ineffective looking the movie itself also had wonderful locations at Carlsbad Caverns, amazing sets and spectacular matte paintings to create the fantastical world of Jules Verne which more than made up for shabby dinosaurs. This would not be the case for Irwin Allen’s The Lost World as he had a third of that film’s budget, and thus hobbled by lack of funds Allen’s attempt at a faithful adaptation of Doyle’s novel was a non-starter from the outset.
The movie starts out as a fairly faithful updating of the material with Professor Challenger (Claude Rains), a celebrated biologist and anthropologist, arriving at the London Zoological Society to inform the world of his discovery of living specimens of supposedly extinct animals, including dinosaurs, located on a remote plateau deep in the Amazon Basin, which the local natives call Curupuri. Evidence of this startling find was lost when all his camera equipment sank en route back to civilization – which is a nice save from the previous film where the expedition didn’t even bother to bring a camera – but without any proof, it’s up to Challenger to outfit a second expedition to prove his outlandish claims. The group would include the head of the Zoological Society, Professor Summerlee (Richard Haydn), big game hunter Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie), newsman Ed Malone (David Hedison), whose publisher advances $100,000 to pay for the expedition and along for the ride is the publisher’s daughter, Jennifer Holmes (Jill St. John ), and her younger brother David (Ray Stricklyn) because you have to have a pretty face in your jungle adventure, I think that’s an actual law by this point.
Now, the original novel did not feature a female character yet even filmmakers of the silent era knew the importance of a pretty face, but in the 1925 version the character of Paula White was the daughter of the leader of the previous expedition and she joined the Challenger party in the hope of finding her missing father, while in this version, she’s just a rich dilettante who comes along for the ride simply because she has her mind set on marrying John Roxton, for his title if not for love as Roxton claims, and her role in this film is mostly forgettable. Did I mention that a sort of love triangle develops between Jennifer, Roxton and Malone? Yeah, that’s a thing, but it is so clichéd and meaningless that if it had been dropped no one would have missed it. But that’s not all; we also get an unnecessary backstory dealing with the fact that, unbeknownst to everyone in this party, three years ago Roxton financed an expedition to this plateau because of the rumoured diamonds that were to be found there. Turns out this plateau is the basis for the mythical city of El Dorado, because why not?
Things get complicated when we learn that their guitar-playing helicopter pilot Gomez (Fernando Lamas) had a brother on that lost expedition, and by lost, I mean Roxton abandoned them so he could chase some tail, and he will want revenge against the asshat who got his brother killed. Sure, why not at a revenge subplot while we’re at it? Then to make things even more unbearable we also get the racially offensive sidekick Jose Costa (Jay Novello), whose sole purpose is to be a greedy bastard and attempt the rape of a primitive jungle girl (Vitina Marcus), because what says “Jungle Adventure” without a little sexual assault. In fact, women in general, are treated pretty shabbily in this script as they are either skimpily-clad native girls or man-hungry women in search of a lucrative meal ticket. Now, if only the script was able to fit in a group of cannibals to either eat or sacrifice our heroes, we’d have the perfect movie, oh wait, I spoke too soon.
• Professor Challenger states that the plateau is “cut off from evolutionary development” but if that were true then dinosaurs from different eras would not inhabit the same place. Clearly, the professor doesn’t understand how evolution works.
• Malone is told that “No one who has seen Curupuri and lived to tell the tale” but if that were the case then how did the legends even start?
• Challenger is supposed to be this zoological expert but he constantly misidentifies dinosaurs that your average seven-year-old child could correctly name. Of course, his inability to name a dinosaur species is helped by said dinosaurs looking like nothing other than what they really were, which are lizards with crap glued on them.
As an adaptation, Irwin Allen’s Lost World is dodgy at best and his cast of characters ranges from the boring to the outright offensive. His casting choices didn’t fare much better aside from Claude Rains, who appears to be having a ball-chewing up the scenery as Challenger, you have a group of actors who look as if they’d rather be anywhere else, probably getting drunk and the worst offender of this David Hedison who’s utterly wooden performance as Malone can best be described as a walking catatonic state. This is not to say there isn’t anything to enjoy about this film, the aforementioned performance by Rains is a highlight and I did quite enjoy the goofy setting, the wacky cannibals and the updating of the group arriving by helicopter – which, of course, gets destroyed by a rampaging dinosaur – but the bad outweighs the good by a fare margin and the fact that we don’t even get a brontosaurus rampaging through London is simply criminal, and yes, I know that scene was not in the original story and simply added for the 1925 adaptation but this film needed that addition even more. In conclusion, Irwin Allen’s adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World feels more like a pilot for a television show than it does a big-screen adventure, and footage from this movie would later appear in shows like Land of the Giants makes that even more evident.
The Lost World (1960)
Movie Rank - 5/10
Even if one was to overlook the cheap dinosaur effects, which I’m sure involved torturing a bunch of poor lizards, there still is the problem of a lazy script populated by fairly unlikeable characters which all goes towards making a film that is a little harder to watch than one would expect.