July 31, 2011

Down, Down Through the Underworld

The Mole People (1956)
Directed by Virgil W. Vogel
John Agar as Dr. Roger Bentley
Hugh Beaumont as Dr. Jud Bellamin
Nester Paiva as Dr. Etienne Lafarge
Cynthia Patrick as Adad
Alan Napier as Elinu, the High Priest

Virgil Vogel's surprisingly brutal, The Mole People - a film about a mutated society living in caverns beneath the Earth's surface - strives for historical authenticity. To set the tone, the film begins with an introduction from Dr. Frank C. Baxter, a then professor of English, University of Southern California.1

Standing behind a large, world globe, Dr. Baxter briefly summarizes the amazing progress of science "during your lifetimes and mine," how man has reached into the stars, been to the North and South Poles, charted nearly every inch of the surface of the planet. "Yet," wonders Dr. Baxter, tapping the model world, "what is inside this globe? What is beneath our feet?"

Describing the Underworld - Dr. Frank C. Baxter

Moving to a set of flip charts, Dr. Baxter next describes various myths and theories regarding just what might be beneath the surface of our planet. He discusses how great figures in literature - Dante and Gilgamesh - have "ventured down, down, down through the underworld;" how in recent times theorists have speculated that the Earth is actually layered like an onion, with each successive layer representing a surface hosting individual "worlds."2 Dr Baxter also touches on the "Cellular Cosmogony" theory of Cyrus Teed (wherein it is proposed that life exists on the inside of the Earth's crust, not the outside; and the sun is an enormous, battery operated machine existing at the hollow center - so that when we gaze at the sun, we are not looking outward, but inward).

"And so in this picture we're about to see," concludes Dr. Baxter, placing his hands in the pockets of his suit jacket, "you'll see the culmination of a long series of such desires to look into the Earth. One might well believe philosophically that some ancient culture, engulfed by a great and tremendous upheaval, might linger on in some pocket of the earth. This is science fiction, of course. It's a fiction. It's a fable - beyond fiction. Yet I believe that if you study this picture, and think about it when it's over, that this is something more than just a story told. It's a fable with a meaning and a significance for you, and for me, in the twentieth century."

Go bless you, Dr. Baxter. I believe as you do, brother, and follow your philosophy into the twenty-first century and beyond: This film, in fact all sci-fi B movies from the atomic age, are fables beyond fiction - timeless fables with significance and meaning for you and for me.

After Dr. Baxter's enthusiastic intro, the story proper begins and we find a team of archaeologists excavating a large, deep "dig" somewhere in Asia. Drs. Roger Bentley (John Agar) and Paul Stuart (Phil Chambers) are summoned urgently by a day laborer to examine a fresh discovery. Rushing, they are joined by Drs. Jud Bellamin (Hugh Beaumont) and Etienne Lafarge (the eternal ethnic, Nestor Paiva). The four find a partially exposed tablet in the dirt, which Lafarge quickly identifies as being written in Cuneiform script (one of the first forms of written language originating in Sumer circa 30th century BC).3

"But," says the Frenchman, Lafarge (Nester Paiva uses a nearly ubiquitous accent throughout his performance that is more "European" than French), "this is not possible in this part!"

"You mean it's not probable, Lafarge" scolds Bentley. "In archeology all things are possible!" (Yes, Bentley is an ass hole - that is to say, a "natural leader.")

The team take the tablet fragment back to their tent and begin brushing it and pointing at the ancient script with their pipe stems. Dr. Stuart explains that the piece was found below the great flood level, making it over 5,000 years old and thus one of the oldest human records. Being the expert on ancient languages, Bentley is asked to translate. Naturally, as is the case with nearly all tablets found by archaeologists in movies, the hieroglyphics reveal in part a warning for those that destroy or deface the tablet. Also naturally, an earthquake hits the camp on cue, cracking the tablet in half.

John Agar, Phil Chambers (seated), Nestor Paiva; and Hugh Beaumont

The next day, while the team are sitting around camp convincing themselves the warning could not possibly have been meant for them ("Our intentions were not malicious," says Lafarge), a shepherd boy is brought to them with a discovery wrapped in a blanket. "What, another one?" says Bellamin tiredly. Clearly, the local lads have been bringing the Western chumps many "discoveries" in exchange for silver. Bentley stands and hands the boy a coin. "You buys your ticket and you takes your chance," he says, stuffing his pipe in his mouth and unwrapping the offering. His face goes slack as he immediately recognizes the find as a legitimate prize - an object of great antiquity. "Hey," he calls after the ragamuffin local, who is fleeing the tweedy gang as though expecting a flogging, "where did you find this?"

The boy turns in his flight and points to a nearby mountain range, trimmed with snow. "Kuetara!" he says pointing. "High! High!"

"Kuetara," says Lafarge quietly. "The epicenter of the earthquake." (cue ominous music)

The four again retire to their tent and pick and scrape gently at the artifact, revealing it to be an oil lamp in the shape of a boat. Lafarge discovers a bit of moss in the clinging dirt that grows only on Kuetara, although not near the base where the boy found it but much higher, near the top. Bentley deduces that the lamp must have been dislodged by the earthquake and came down intact in an earth slide.

On the surface of the lamp are depicted pairs of animals and a couple, walking onto a large arc. Again, our ancient language expert, Bentley, is able to read the script which tells of an ancient king and his family escaping a great flood, eventually finding harbor on the peaks of the great mountain, Kuetara, as the waters subsided.

"A Sumerian version of Noah's Arc?" asks Stuart.

Exactly," says Bentley "The flood's been proven to be historical fact. Why not a Sumerian version?" He reads on, quoting from the inscription:

"I, Sharu, King of Kings, son of Sharuet; from water I emerged. I caused to embark upon the vessel all my family, my relations, my craftsman, my slaves, and all the beasts of the field. I made my home in the ark. We floated on the waves until we found the land of the snow near the goddess of Ishtar."

"The top of the mountain," says Lafarge reverently. "The Sharu Dynasty was saved from the flood on Kuetara!"

"And never heard from again," says the pragmatist, Bellamin.

"Of course not!" exclaims Stuart, "no one would look for human beings on top of Kuetara!"

We are!" proclaims bully-boy Bentley.

Lafarge for the first time shows the fragile set of nerves that will soon destroy him: "It is impossible," says the Frenchman, his voice rising. "It's treacherous, always wind and snow. Nothing is there! Nothing!"

"Than we shouldn't be afraid of . . . nothing," says Bentley, staring down Lafarge.

With that, the four archaeologists and local guide, Nazar (Rodd Redwing)4, begin the ascent to the plateau on Kuetara the next morning. After several, long minutes of stock footage of snowy mountain climbing; our team reaches the plateau and finds the massive ruins of a Sumerian temple. As they team begins to wonder around the crumbling walls and ancient idols, the four archeologist's spread out - each, no doubt, with dreams of fame wetting their lips. Only Bentley and Bellamin remain working as a team.

Reaching the summit of Kuetara

"I don't understand," says Bellamin. "They usually built their cities right next to the temples. Where are the rest of the buildings?"

"Five thousand years is a long time," says Bentley, piercing right to the obvious. "To make any sense of this is going to take awhile." Hmmm. Yes.

Suddenly Stuart, poking around by himself, falls into a massive sink hole. His screams echo loudly for a bit, then vanish amid the howling wind. Nazar and others rush to the hole and Bentley shines a flashlight down, but the pit is too deep to see the bottom. With Nazar's help, the team begins repelling down the face of the hole to save their colleague. As the three archaeologists reach the bottom, they find Stuart dead, his body bent and crushed by the fall. No sooner is Stuart's body discovered than Nazar, still descending, taps a poorly placed climbing piton into the rock face and causes an avalanche (earthquakes and avalanches provide the timely deus ex machina throughout the picture). Nazar is thumped on the head by a rock and falls to the pit floor. As the tons of falling rock cover the bodies of Nazar and Stuart, it also seals off the remaining three from the long shaft back to the surface.

The rumbling debris finally settles, sounding like fading thunder. Lafarge immediately goes white. "We are trapped here," he says, already fighting for control. He takes a step away from the others and sags against a wall, his eyes buggy with panic. Bentley and Bellamin ignore him. Bentley begins shining his flashlight around, its beams white with stone dust. They discover a draft, and begin to follow the air movement.

The movie kicks into high gear when the remaining three eventually discover an underground city and the remnants of the Sumerian Sharu dynasty, whom have mutated and splintered into two, separate races. The first, a race of albino rulers, complete with the ancient Sumerian cultural trappings; and the second - a race of mole-like slaves with enormous claws, reptilian skin, and bulging eyes. Our tomb raiders are captured and taken before the ruling king (Arthur D. Gilmour); who rather hastily decides to have them executed (it is explained that the Sumerian, underground ecosystem; which provides the Sumerians with a diet of mushrooms, can't sustain the addition of the three intruders). During an ensuing slugfest and escape, the increasingly shaky Lafarge finally cracks and rushes off on his own, only to be captured and killed by the lurking Mole People (who serve as slaves to the pale-faced masters). Just as the remaining two archaeologists are about to be captured, Bentley shines a flashlight into a bank of approaching guards, who cringe, shield their albino eyes from the glare, and scamper off like singed cats.

Hearing of this, the Sumerian king immediately assumes that Bentley and Bellamin are gods, as they posses the "light of Ishtar." Henceforth, and for a few, too many scenes, the two are treated as royalty; even given a serving girl, Adad (Cynthia Patrick). Inevitably, Bentley will fall in love with Adad who will, also inevitably, be sacrificed before picture's end for the surface man she loves.

Their godly status can't last forever as Bentley simply can't keep his yap shut about the glories of the surface world and about the unfair treatment of the subservient Mole Men. Bentley's blowhard soap boxing rankles the Sumerian high priest, Elinu (Alan Napier)5, no end; as he considers such crazy talk both dangerous and blasphemous. When Elinu discovers the dead body of Lafarge, he is able to convince the king that Bentley and Bellamin are mortals. Just as the two are about to be executed to Ishtar, Adad convinces the Mole People to revolt. In the movie's final scene, the Mole People slaughter their albino rulers, allowing the Bentley and Bellamin to escape with Adad. An extremely convenient earthquake occurs after their escape, killing Adad (and sealing of the liberated Mole People forever from the world of the surface). Thankfully, the script allows Adad no final speeches. She simply stares longingly into Bentley's eyes briefly before relaxing rather prettily into death. Cue rumbling timpani and credits.

The Mole People is often remembered for its flaws rather than its strengths; and certainly the picture is hindered by some very noticeable problems. First and foremost, despite being a short film (77 minutes); it is heavily padded. Scenes of mountain climbing and shaft repelling are asked to do far too much work, and there is a dance sequence in which an albino slave girl (Yvonne De Lavallade) entertains the court for what feels like several lifetimes (this seems to be the scene that is best remembered for good or ill). The romantic scenes between Bentley and Adad lumber along mercilessly, offering neither Agar or Patrick any respite from a grim absence of chemistry. Never at his best in a romantic scene, John Agar tended to go a bit smarmy when charming the ladies; and he and Patrick offer no combustion. Toss into this mix that the beautiful Ms. Patrick, not a terribly experienced performer at any rate,6 was more than likely instructed by director Vogel to speak her lines in a stilted way to approximate "alien" speech; and we have some problematic mountains very difficult to climb.

Yet, despite these challenges, The Mole People is an under-valued gem from Universal Studios - and not terribly far off the mark from 1954's Creature From the Black Lagoon, (Jack Arnold, dir.) which is generally regarded as the last picture of value from the studio's great cycle of monster pictures beginning with Hunchback of Notre Dame (Wallace Worsley, dir.) in 1923.

Why under-valued? Let's explore.

The Good Stuff, Part I: The Sumerians

The film works very hard, and succeeds, in creating a full-fledged Sumerian world existing under the crust of the earth. In fact, all attention and energy is devoted to this endeavor once the underground world is discovered - so much so that both leads, Bentley and Bellamin; begin to loose all character definition. Prior to their presentation to the Sumerian court, Bentley is a bully hero - noble and overly sure of himself; and Bellamin is cynical and tough - yet devoted to duty and mission. Their characters are perfectly delineated in a scene in which the two stumble into a crypt or burial tomb and find the skeletal remains of Mole Men:

Signs of advanced civilization - Hugh Beaumont and John Agar

"All we can say is they walked upright," says Bentley in his usual know-it-all-fashion, examining one elongated skeleton by flashlight. "And they have a skull large enough to house a brain large enough for associative areas." He touches a gaping crack in the skull. "And this one died as a result of a blow by a heavy, blunt instrument."

"That is a sign of higher civilization," says Bellamin flatly (actor Beaumont is here given the best line in the film and smacks it over the fence with a cool, understated reading).

Once they are brought shackled before the albino king, however, they become nearly interchangeable ciphers, simply marking time while the film becomes completely focused on developing the Sumerian world. The world presented is so interesting in detail, however, the film manages to keep its head well above water.

The world created is thus: Escaping an ancient flood in Mesopotamia (the same flood recorded in the Bible), a Sumerian ruler, Sharu, and his immediate family and court survived the waters by means of an arc. After many months afloat, the arc found port atop a mountain range in Asia (Kuetara in the film). Having survived the flood, the Sumerian remnants are plummeted into the bowels of the earth by a cataclysmic earthquake (hard luck, right?). Once submerged, the Sumerians mutated over thousands of years into two distinct races: The albino Sumerians, who retain the Sumerian traditions; and the Mole People, who have developed bulging eyes, elongated claws for digging, and reptilian skin. The collective culture has developed into a master/slave society with the pale-faces having the dominant role; while the mole culture (called "beasts of the dark" by the albinos) serve as tormented slaves. Occasionally the albinos produce a genetic throwback; a "dark one," like the girl, Adad. These unfortunates posses the human physiognomies of the albinos, yet with pigmented skin and blue eyes; and are thus able to tolerate light. These ones are treated little better than the mole people and are relegated to servitude.7

The film is rife with excellent and compelling detail, such as scenes of Sumerian workers forging metal by means of lava vents - their sooty, glistening bodies shining in lava light - and albino women weaving material from a burlap-like substance. The cavern walls are full of a phosphorous material, supplying the culture with its only source of illumination (save lave vents). The mole people are like plantation slaves, shepherding a few scrappy albino goats and harvesting mushrooms; which are the primary source of food. This limited ecosystem, with its limited resources, has evolved into a ruthless, pitiless world:

Elinu, the Hugh Priest - Alan Napier

The culture can stand a population of no greater than 150 Sumerian albinos at any time (the Mole People are simply fed sparsely and worked until they die). If the albino population exceeds 150, access numbers are chosen and marched like cattle into the burning "Eye of Ishtar."

These "fires" of Ishtar, as well as other savage aspects, lead us to more good stuff.

The Good Stuff, Part II: This Brutal World

The moment the archaeologists descend into the subterranean world, they enter a harsh, nether universe of brutal laws - both natural and un-natural. In fact, the brutality begins during their descent, which kills both native guide, Nazar; as well as Dr. Stuart. When Dr. Bentley first reaches the bottom of the shaft into which Stuart has fallen, he finds his comrade's body on the pit floor in a beam of surface light; smashed, twisted and bloody. The effect is jarring. Stuart looks not just "Hollywood dead," but rather smashed-and-cracked-open-like-a-discarded-doll dead. His shattered head trickles blood. Bentley tries to lift the body, but pauses as the pieces aren't holding together correctly. Likewise, moments later, when the unconscious Nazar comes tumbling down, his body hits like a bag of potatoes and is immediately smashed and buried under tons of avalanching boulder and dirt. Again, the effect is excellent (I even winced not once but twice - first when a rock clunk's off Nazar's head, making a sound like a thumped pumpkin, and then again when his body pounds heavy and flat on the shaft's unforgiving floor, sending up a cloud of dust).

Perhaps the best moments in the film come, however, when we are given glimpses of the dank, hellish world of the Mole People. During an early escape attempt, Bentley and Bellamin come across a scene straight from Dante's Inferno, wherein the albino masters are whipping the slave moles back into their pits after a day's labor. Each pit - an entrance into a Mole Man domicile - appears like a wet, ulcerous wound upon the surface of this steaming, inner chamber; and the walls are black and shiny as coal. The pale albino guards, in their Sumerian helmets and leather breastplates, move around in the gloaming like luminous phantoms, some feeding the Mole Men mushrooms from burlap sacks, others whipping them back into their slimy nests. The Mole Men lurch and scramble under the whip, moaning and screaming in animal noises; sometimes clawing at each other over a mushroom.

Masters and slaves - the domain of the Mole Men

Also impressive for its severe visuals are the final scenes in which Bentley and Bellamin are to be executed; and in which virgins are sacrificed into the Eye of Ishtar. Huge doors are cast open, brilliant light comes flooding into the court chamber; and young, naked virgins (naturally) walk stoically into a blinding light - into the "Eye of Ishtar." (These are the sacrifices made so that the population will not exceed 150). This eye of Ishtar is nothing more than a long shaft leading to the surface world, which is filled with brilliant, direct sunlight at noon - fatal to the albinos. After a few moments, the virgins are brought back in, burned to death, their pale bodies blackened nearly to bone. In the final scene, Adad inspires the mole people to revolt, and they slaughter all 150 of the Sumerians as the three escape into the shaft, beaming up into the sunshine of the surface as if gazing into the light of Heaven.

The Good Stuff, Part III: John Agar and Hugh Beaumont

First, a moment of appreciation for John Agar.

Early in the career of John Agar, the actor seemed destined for a snug spot in John Ford's acting troupe - perhaps even for a bit more. He appeared in Ford's Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, both with John Wayne. Yet, there was something about the young, handsome actor - something that nearly vanished when paired with the likes of Wayne, or any of the other roughnecks in the Ford stable like Ward Bond or Victor McLaglen. Perhaps working in the burly world of Ford so young was a misstep. When the Ford bulls came crashing through a scene, Agar always became the smiling clerk in the china shop, hitting his mark as if hoping to escape a trampling.

Agar found his niche in B work, where he better fitted the canvas. When he starred in Tarantula (Arnold, 1955) he was 34 years old, and his "relegation" to B movies was cast in stone. In our beloved genre of atomic age sci-fi, Agar would go on to star in Revenge of the Creature (Arnold, 1955); Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (Ulmer, 1957); The Brain From Planet Arous (Juran, 1957); Attack of the Puppet People (Gordon, 1957); Invisible Invaders (Cahn, 1959); and Journey to the Seventh Planet (Pink, 1962).

If one imagines that Agar was "cast down" to B pictures, so be it. One recalls Milton: "Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven," particularly if one serves poorly but reigns well. That is to say, Agar was one of the most important leading men that ever served in sci-fi B movies, and his work therein will be remembered fondly as long as people enjoy these movies. "A" list pictures tended to minimize Agar, force him into the woodwork, whereas in B movies, he became the actor the eye followed.8 And, not for nothing, Tarantula and Brain From Planet Arous are two of my personal favorites from the atomic age, so his place in my heart is bronzed.

Certainly, a pairing with Wayne Monument was problematic for Agar's style; yet in Mole People, the actor is well met with the sturdy but less monumental Hugh Beaumont.

Best known for his role as Dad, Ward Cleaver, in television's Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963), Hugh Beaumont always offered a confident, solid-as-a-rock presence with a persona often spiced with a pleasant dash of bedrock cynicism. While remembered best for his late 1950s television work, his career was built upon a very sold noir foundation a decade earlier. Beaumont appeared in several gems, like The Blue Dahlia (Marshall, 1946); Railroaded (Mann, 1947); and the under-appreciated Bury Me Dead (Vorhaus, 1947); all of which present the actor's surprisingly rough edge.

Agar and Beaumont make a very interesting and well-suited team, at least in the early going: Agar the idealistic blowhard with a reckless charm; with Beaumont offering a refreshingly jaded view and a pugnacious, steady competence. Once the movie goes underground, however, their very watchable partnership is lost in the greater glories of the Sumerian universe.

The surface as Heaven - Cynthia Patrick and John Agar

Had the movie received a significant tweak here or there (a tighter script, several deeper shades of development for the Mole Men, and a much brisker pace for a start), The Mole People just might have made it into Universal's monster hall of fame. As is, it qualifies easily as a must see for fans of atomic age sci-fi.

  1. Dr. Frank Baxter also hosted the popular The Bell Laboratory Science Series (appearing as "Dr. Research"), a series of documentary films produced for television explaining scientific phenomenon. These films were used for classroom education though the 1980s. (Link) In addition, his television program Telephone Time, and a series of lectures on Shakespeare, won seven Emmys. Dr. Baxter has a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, right next to Yvonne DeCarlo. (Link)

  2. This "Hollow Earth" Theory was most famously proposed by John Cleave Symmes. For a great article discussing Symmes's work, try: Duane A. Griffin, "Hollow and Habitual Within: Symmes's Theory of Earth's Internal Structure and Polar Geography." (you'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader) (Link)

  3. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2006) s.v. "cuneiform writing."

  4. Rodd Redwing, a Native American (Chickasaw), was one of the foremost weapons experts in Hollywood, known for training stars in whip, gun, knife, and tomahawk. His catalogue of famous students include nearly every male actor that appeared in westerns throughout the 40s, 50s, and early 60s. Perhaps most notably, Redwing taught Alan Ladd to handle a six-gun for his career-defining role in Shane. (Jim Martin, Rodd Redwing - Hollywood Gun Coach; (Link)

  5. Alan Napier will be best remember for his role as Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred, in the 1966 television series, Batman.

  6. The gorgeous Patrick appeared in only a small handful of pictures, nearly always uncredited. The Mole People was by far her largest part; and the part for which she will always be remembered.

  7. The racial hierarchy of the film is impossible to ignore. The paler one is, the higher one's status. The darker one is, the closer one is to an animal or beast, suited only for labor and slavery. This theme is not developed enough to count as social commentary, however.

  8. In a perfect bit of sweet symmetry, Agar found work alongside John Wayne again in the 1970s, when he appeared in supporting roles in Chisum and Big Jake. Wayne, always loyal to those he had enjoyed working with, more than likely found or secured a part for Agar (where he did a solid job in both pictures).

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  1. I have fond memories of John Agar. He was one of the first actors I ever met in real life. This was when I was, I dunno, ten maybe. My memory of the encounter is not kind to the man--Agar was hitting the bottle pretty hard at the time--but I'm not sorry for having met him, because he had a face that I knew from a bunch of movies I had seen on late-night television. If he had been, say, Glenn Ford or Randolph Scott, I probably would have been less impressed. Heh.

  2. Vulnavia: Agar fascinates me for reasons that are unclear. Perhaps it was his brief, failed marriage to Shirley Temple. The imagination reels. I choose to think of their marriage as "stormy."

    From all I've read, he was a very nice man to work with, but his drinking apparently really got the better of his personal life.

  3. This is a gem of a movie. I saw this on Saturday afternoons and on Halloween movie marathons all during my formative years. This movie scared the living bejeezus out of me.

    I adore all of these Universal movies from this era for their unapologetic blend of pseudo-science and straight-forward practically-minded good guy solutions.

    This one along with Tarantula, Monolith Monsters, Monster on Campus, and Deadly Mantis rocked my world back in the day.

    John Agar is a superstar as far as I'm concerned, and while it's sometimes painful to watch him in some of the mush he made later in his career, it's still cool to watch a pro hammer away at a part in the midst of nonsense and foolishness.

    Great review!

    Rip Off

  4. Rip: ". . . it's still cool to watch a pro hammer away at a part in the midst of nonsense and foolishness."

    That's it exactly. I'm thinking of Agar pounding away with a fireplace poker at the fake brain on a string in The Brain From Planet Arous. What a goddamn trooper.

  5. The Mole People has always been one of my favorites from those years, and I have to admit that I've never really considered any of the flaws that you rightly point out as actual shortcomings.

  6. Chuck: Believe me, I know what you mean. The only reason I mention the flaws is that I got to wondering about the reasons this film has fallen short with fans with regard to the Universal Monster hall of fame. The huge pleasures vastly outway the flaws.

  7. Mykal, your excellent post vaulted this movie to the top of my must see list. The poster is a beauty too. They don't make them like that anymore sad to say.

  8. Tony: great to hear from you, my friend. I hope you enjoy it.

  9. Mykal,

    Very glad you followed my blog the other day because it led me to find this one. Your posts are excellent. Your "moment of appreciation for John Agar," in particular was really perceptive. I've never been a fan of Agar, mostly because I always thought his delivery showed up as dialing up a little too much John Wayne. But your take on his early career in Ford's troupe was so empathetic... Really made me feel for the guy.

    Great stuff here. I'm looking forward to checking out your archived posts.

  10. Stephen: Thanks a lot. Welcome aboard!

  11. The tragic ending seemed abrupt and arbitrary, like a last minute change. As it turns out, it was. Cynthia Patrick explained in an interview in Starlog that the picture originally ended when the three protagonists reached the surface and walked off together. Universal's front office decreed that Adad (who was not exactly human) couldn't survive and marry a human character, so the earthquake was tacked on to conveniently kill her off. Kind of like those Westerns (e.g. Broken Arrow) where, if an American Indian girl marries a white man, she gets killed.

  12. Anonymous: Very true on all points. Thanks for commenting.

  13. Mykal,
    Dr. Baxter's intro could easily be snipped off this film and used as the beginning of 1951's "Unknown World". I hope you add this bizarre bit of underground exploration to your site some day.

    Re: "great cycle of monster pictures"
    For me, the great cycle ended in 1936, when the Laemmles lost control of Universal. Eventually, Universal would be starved into a second cycle near the beginning of WWII (perhaps starting with "Son of Frankenstein"?) and lasting until "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948). (An interesting set of bookends!) A third cycle began after 1952, when Decca Records took control of Universal-International. Most of the third cycle can be traced to William Allend and Jack Arnold.
    IMHO, of course!