“Even your words smell of fish.”

The guy on the left. His face.

Inexplicably, George Pal followed THE TIME MACHINE with ATLANTIS: THE LOST CONTINENT. He had several of the same crew (composer, make-up effects artist), but he didn’t have Rod Taylor or anyone like him and, crucially, he didn’t have an HG Wells source novel. Instead he had unknowns Sal Ponti (credited as Anthony Hall for some reason), a former songwriter who penned hits for Fabian, and Joyce Taylor (no relation to Rod), a Howard Hughes discovery. Neither is terrible, but neither is Rod Taylor. And instead of a Wells book he had an unproduced musical play by Gerald Hargreaves, demusicalized and opened out by Daniel Mainwaring — who worked on OUT OF THE PAST and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, but who doesn’t seem at home in the ancient world.

George Pal, Japanese cinema enthusiast? Having borrowed from RASHOMON in THE TIME MACHINE, he seems to have taken a liking to UGETSU MONOGATARI for this misty boat ride.

Here’s a really good, exhaustive report on Atlantis in popular culture, including the only plot synopsis of Hargreaves’ play ever written, seemingly. Hargreaves was keen on having his play filmed — he published the playscript, along with suggestions for a film treatment, and sued the makers of HELEN OF TROY for infringing on his creation — apparently he thought he was Homer. He did manage to get a copy to Cecil B. DeMille, who fobbed it off on Pal, who was sucker enough to go for it.

It’s unfair to blame Hargreaves for not being HG Wells — not that much of Atalanta: A Story of Antlantis made it to the screen anyway, just the idea of a shipwrecked princess and a fisherman. You might argue that they needn’t have credited the play at all, but then Hargreaves would definitely have sued. (It’s amusing to note that the play was dedicated to Winston Churchill, later played by THE TIME MACHINE’s star.) Mainwaring’s talent seems to have deserted him utterly — maybe he was simply miscast as writer of an ancient world science fiction sword and sandal movie. His dialogue is stilted and “epic” in all the worst ways. Apparently a writer’s strike prevented the turd script from being polished.

Even his words smell of fish.

 

So: shipwrecked princess, which is just backstory in the play. Rescued by fisherman. Persuades him to sail her home (no explanation of how she got cast adrift in the first place.)

The best bit: a smoochy love scene upstaged by a mini-Nautilus in the background. The midget sub shadows them for AGES, in utter silence, as they bill and coo and exposit, unacknowledged for so long that I started to wonder if I was seeing things, or if they accidentally used the wrong process plate. So I have to admire them for that.

 

Atlantis!

What got the film made, seemingly, was not the success of THE TIME MACHINE but that of the Steve Reeves HERCULES, which is why the movie features (rather brutal) gladiatorial combat and other sword-and-sandal tropes, and almost none of Hargreaves play (certainly none of its songs). There wouldn’t have been room, once Pal had added all his bonkers scienti-fiction stuff. OK, so there’s a lot of recycled props and costumes and sets and stock footage, but I do think the miniatures of Atlantis are really nice.

This guy, with his runny body paint, not so much.

A healthy, or unhealthy, chunk of Wells has been imported, since the Atlanteans have a “House of Fear” much like Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain, only it works in reverse — they turn humans into animals. “Why do they do that?” asked Fiona, since nobody in the film explains it. “Wouldn’t you, if you could?” “No.” And that’s how I know I married the right woman.

 

Champion sneerer Berry Kroeger is in charge of the animalification process, and taunts Anthony/Sal cruelly, threatening to turn him into various lower mammals, including a buffalo. I really longed for Sal’s character, a Greek fisherman, to say, “I don’t know what that is,” but no such luck. Pal & Mainwaring’s nonsensical reverse-genetic-engineering did remind me of PINOCCHIO and the unfortunate Lampwick, and I think I’ve belatedly figured out why there are so many Disney actors in THE TIME MACHINE — Pal, naturally, wanted to be Disney. He was an animator, why not? It’s a shame, because what George Pal was, was a really good George Pal, but not such a good Disney.

A Pal ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, with manimals by William Tuttle, could have been quite a thing. Get another good actor, or two, or more — Rod Taylor, Tony Randall, and I’d call that a good night out. Use stop-motion for the goat legs and stuff…

Note the Krell laboratories gear, swiped from FORBIDDEN PLANET, behind the guy’s comedy hat.

Also sneering at poor Sal are John Dall from ROPE, as the Caligula-type debauched usurper, and heroine/snooty princess Joyce Taylor, who gets the most terrible line of all, which I have titled this post with.

Volcanoes! Earthquakes! Lasers! The movie expires in a welter of stock shots and unusually large water droplets.

I always get some kind of pleasure out of Pal’s stuff. I’ve written about DR LAO and THE POWER. I want to revisit DOC SAVAGE, which upset me as a kid(animated snakes killing a man is NOT a cause for comical music, damnit!) and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, which bored me. But clearly, WAR OF THE WORLDS needs to be in there too.

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6 Responses to ““Even your words smell of fish.””

  1. What all the kids from my neighborhood loved about “Atlantis The Lost Continent” was the appearance in it of gigantic who-knows-how many pound wrestler “Haystacks Calhoun” in a major fight scene.

  2. The chap who gets his hair set ablaze? Haystacks by name…

  3. chris schneider Says:

    “Haystacks”? Sounds like a nickname for Jane Russell in THE OUTLAW.

  4. I was wild about Atlantis, a high point of a near-perfect Colorado summer when I was ten years old. Saw it a couple of times every day the weekend it was in town; intoxicated by the submarine and the cityscape with volcano; experienced none of the formidable narrative and production problems at that age. On the other hand, I was not so keen on WAR OF THE WORLDS, which I didn’t see until several years later, and then on television, and after I had read the book, put off by the treacly sanctimony and absence of tripods (I have never gotten past the film’s visual inferiority to the Classic Comics treatment, which I saw first). I expect you’ve seen CONQUEST OF SPACE, an uproarious yesterday’s tomorrows romp intended as a bigger and better sequel to DESTINATION MOON, which seemingly produces a guffaw with every beat, featuring a jaw-dropping turn from Phil Foster, and source of considerable stock footage in its turn. If you haven’t, do so at once.

  5. Other delights from Atlantis:
    — The animated opening titles. Turn off the sound and it’s a Gumby cartoon.
    — When the slaves set to drilling a hole to sink the island, they happily sing (led by the one black guy, of course) the least inspiring work song ever.
    — The high priest is Ed Platt, the long-suffering Chief on “Get Smart”
    — When the island is doomed, the villain turns on the death ray and seems to be having a swell time randomly incinerating people and boats. It’s like the last day of school.

  6. Dall’s laser frenzy is very funny, and a fitting climax to his fervid career. And then he turns into an anatomy lab skeleton complete with cranial screwtop.

    I really liked the animated map stuff, would have welcomed more of it. Interrupt the movie with lessons on Atlantis!

    I remembered Destination Moon as a snooze and I’m not sure I ever did try Conquest of Space. I’m inspired to now, naturally!

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