Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 37 min.
Release Date: July 13th, 1960 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Irwin Allen Actors: Michael Rennie, Jill St. John, David Hedison, Claude Rains, Fernando Lamas, Richard Haydn, Ray Stricklyn, Jay Novello, Vitina Marcus
eological professor George Edward Challenger (Claude Rains) returns to London from New York, where reporters swarm him at the airport. When one inquires about his having punched a newsman in the nose back in the States, Challenger responds by bashing him over the head with an umbrella. The eccentric yet highly regarded professor insists upon his privacy, remaining tight-lipped until the big unveiling that evening at the Zoological Institute.
The assaulted reporter is Global News Service special correspondent Ed Malone (David Hedison), rescued from a mud puddle by Jennifer Holmes (wispy-voiced Jill St. John), the boss’s daughter. That night, they’re joined by her boyfriend, big game hunter Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie), another socialite anxious to hear Challenger as he reports on his latest, protracted trip to the headwaters of the Amazon. To a shocked gathering, the renowned anthropologist proclaims that the wild and unscalable jungle is home to living dinosaurs, cut off and unseen for millennia. The eager crowd is quick to call him a liar, especially after he reveals that his camera and equipment were lost in the water.
To prove his tale, Challenger demands an immediate return expedition, to include colleague Professor Summerlee (Richard Haydn) and two additional, impartial witnesses. John and Ed promptly volunteer, while Jennifer’s interest is shot down. According to the stuffy scholar, women have no place in the wilderness. But once they arrive at the trading post, the foursome is surprised by Jennifer’s reappearance, alongside her brother David (Ray Stricklyn), both insisting upon participating in the adventure. The next day, all of them – as well as Jennifer’s tiny, pampered puppy – are flown via helicopter by local liaison Costa (Jay Novello) and pilot Gomez (Fernando Lamas) to a lost world – marked by a mighty plateau and extreme isolation.
Although it’s based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work (and it’s certainly not the first theatrical adaptation), the abundance of major characters doesn’t represent the typical monster movie fodder. So many roles (too many, to be sure) feel sympathetic enough not to fall victim to hungry behemoths – an idea which suggests that there will be lots of chases and few casualties. And, indeed, the first brush with a reptilian titan is merely observational, while the body count remains at zero for almost the entire picture.
That first dinosaur turns out to be a lizard dressed up to look prehistoric, and augmented with sound effects and low angles so that it appears colossal. In a curious way, this initial encounter mirrors Ray Harryhausen’s “One Million Years B.C.” (from a few years later), which comparably starts off with real creatures and green-screen effects before bringing in man-eating plants, environmental hazards, and even a native girl (Vitina Marcus, adding yet another character to the fold). Unfortunately, it never graduates to stop-motion, which would have allowed for far more impressive – and creative – designs.
Dinosaur confrontations occur frequently (some feeling like animal abuse when dressed-up lizards tussle), though it’s soon evident that humans – from both within the group and outside of it – pose more of a threat. Amid jurassic carnivores, it’s mankind that is most destructive and barbaric. As the film progresses, the sets grow more amusing, but the adventures wane, not due to the perils (including cannibals and human sacrifice) but due to poor scripting, unconvincing acting, shoddy props, unrealistic reactions to adversity, and a general insincerity toward danger.
Deadly scenarios are made innocuous by hollow solutions and aggravating slowness; no one behaves as if their life is at stake, instead opting to make levity-filled remarks or stand around dumbfounded as terror strikes. Genuine thrills are virtually nonexistent. Ultimately, it’s difficult to appreciate action and adventure when everything is so silly and phony (a death scene at the finale is hilariously comical, while the final line of dialogue is a joke that reinforces the harmlessness of the entire expedition).
– Mike Massie