Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

The Land Unknown

THE LAND UNKNOWN

(1957)



PreCommentary: The trailer for this film ungrammatically announces “Notsince the dawn of creation . . . a sight like this!” Thegrim narrative voice asks, ” Could man have survived in thedinosaur age of mighty monsters? . . . Shudder at history’s mostferocious killer, Tyrannosaurus Rex. . . . Huge carnivorous man-eatingplants. . . !”

Notes: Universal-Internationalpresents. 79 minutes.
Commander Alan Roberts: Jock Mahoney
Margaret “Maggie” Hathaway: ShawnSmith
Lt. Jack Harmon: William Reynolds
Dr. Carl Hunter: Henry Brandon
Also, Douglas R. Kennedy, Phil Harvey.

Directed: Virgil Vogel
Produced: William Alland
Story: Charles Palmer
Screenplay: Laszlo Gorog
Special Effects: Roswell A. Hoffman
Music: Joseph Gershenson


Summary: In Washington D.C., a navy mapping mission of Antarctica is beingdiscussed. Previous expeditions to the South Pole have noteda body of warm water surrounded by ice. Hmm. Maybe Uranium!

Reporter Margaret Hathaway turns heads andis introduced to Commander Alan Roberts, a geophysicist, and LieutenantJack Harmon, schmuck. We all hunker down to an Admiral Byrd filmfrom 1947, about “penetrating barriers” in “Nature’sgreat deep-freeze.” Cut to months later when the expeditionis underway with stock footage of ships. Alan and Miss Hathawaylisten to Alan discuss diesel engines and women’s chemical componentsas the ship unsymbolically plows through the ice. When the shiphas gone as far as possible, Maggie, Alan, Jack (as pilot), andmechanic Steve helicopter over seals and penguins which Alan feelscompelled to identify by sex. They get caught in a storm and”Helicopter X-3″ drops, oddly a few thousand feet belowsea level, as the temperature increases. But it’s the humiditytoo!

No one dies as the helicopter bumps down. Al and Mag wander aimlessly in the fog. Everyone sweats. A tentacledplant nearly grabs Maggie, but Alan calls her over to see volcanicactivity (bubbling mud). Steve busts a bent push-pull thing fromthe helicopter when trying to straighten it.

The next morning, a roar awakens the camp. Speculation: “Climatic change, one of the main causes ofevolution, doesn’t exist here.” And come to think of it,the place is strangely Mesozoic. Maggie wonders about animallife. Steve gets a drink and sees the remains of a “flyinglizard.” They all witness monitor lizards fighting (or possiblymating). Then a Tyrannosaurus appears (rubber-suited, roaring,and enormous) and Jack shoot at it futilely. They run to thehelicopter and let the blades defend them. An odd sound turnsthe dino’s attention and it leaves.

It appears their camp was visited. Maggie:”What could be worse than that thing that attacked us?” “Just people, Maggie; just plain folks.” They stillhave 25 days before the ship will have to leave Antarctica. Maggie:”That’s just about how long my clothes are going to last.” One of them dubs the place “Hell’s Chimney” but neverrefers to this again. They examine a pre-monkey mammal: “homosapiens junior.”

Maggie is chased by a lizard and captured bya human arm. The others discover human tracks, but Maggie hasbeen rafted away to a cave. A grungy-looking guy offers, “Here. Drink.” Maggie: “You’re one of us! . . . That’s ourfood!” “It’s mine. The whole valley’s mine. Everythingin it belongs to me, including you.” He says the othersare dead: “one of the beasts did it for me.” He claimsto have been in the valley 10 years, and Maggie wonders how hesurvived. “Not on charity or pity. . . . I survived becauseI’m the fittest to survive, because I’ve learned to kill efficiently.” He smashes dino eggs and controls the adults with sound by blowinga shell. The creatures kill when they’re hungry, “but Iplan murder ahead.”

The others discover the cave and accuse Hunter,”You’re out of your mind.” Hunter: “Don’t saythat.” They mollify him: the “ability to survive insuch a place proves your superior intellect.” Hunter isthe only survivor of a 1945 expedition which crashed also. Withthe right piece from the wreckage, the helicopter could be repaired,but Hunter says the three men must leave and the woman is to stay. The men decide to try to find the wreck without him. Huntergoes back to smashing eggs and blowing his horn.

After being threatened by the T-Rex and thecarnivorous plant again, Maggie decides to join Hunter to savethe others. She sneaks off to an inflatable raft, but is attackedby a plesiosaur. Hunter, out on the river with torches, hurlsthem into the surprisingly flammable dino-mouth. Hunter takesan unconscious Maggie with him.

Back in the cave, Steve and Hunter fight. Steve wants to torture Hunter to make him tell where the wreckageis. But the others arrive and Alan says sensitively, “We’renot going to dig our way outta here through human flesh.” They help Hunter, who out of respect gives them a map to findthe wreck; he just wants to be left alone. Alan: “It’s truethat you can’t live among beasts without becoming one,” butso too is the company of humans humanizing. The three men discoverthree graves and the wreckage. When repairing the helicopter,Maggie starts to leave the cave but the plesiosaur appears atthe mouth.

At a climactic, harrowing lift-off, the Tyrannosaurlooms, but the men escape. Maggie and Hunter are on a raft, sothey send down a rope for her. The plesiosaur appears again,has learned to dive underwater to put out its flaming mouth andnow to overturn Hunter’s raft. Its flipper bashes Hunter, butthe helicopter sends a flare into the creature’s mouth and Hunteris rescued from the water.

Pilot Jack manages to crash the copter again,this time near enough to the ship for all to be rescued immediately. Aboard, Alan and Maggie discuss the possiblity of another expeditionnext year, but there are coy hints that it would be a honeymoon. But who would stay home with the baby? “Baby?” Maggie:”Why, by this time next year. . . !” The End.


Commentary: Aside from the sickening attempt at romance between two characterswho have a much “chemistry” as water and a brick, thefilm is surprisingly good, at least among its ilk (e.g., LostContinent, King Dinosaur, etc.). The Rex, though lumbering, isenormous and disturbing. Hunter’s psychology is sufficientlyintriguing, and he’s got a kind of Ahab / Moby Dick thing goingon with his nemesis the plesiosaur. And best of all, flammabledinosaur mouths! (See my Dino-Dragon Abstract.)