Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

The Lost World (1925)


Notes: Openingcredits announce “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Stupendous Storyof Adventure and Romance”: “by arrangement with WattersonR. Rothacker. The film, in other words is based on the 1912 adventurenovel by Doyle, who initially sold an option to a British filmproducer. Watterson R. Rothacker, Chicago promoter, purchasedthe option in 1922 (now that Willis O’Brien had come to work forhim) and negotiated an eight-year deal with Doyle.

Professor Challenger: Wallace Beery
Edward Malone: Lloyd Hughes
Paula White (the name of my first college English teacher!): Bessie Love (a box office attraction, for a character not in Doyle’s book)
Sir John Roxton: Lewis Stone
Summerlee: Arthur Hoyt
Mrs. Challenger: Margaret McWade
Austin the Butler: Finch Smiles
Zambo: Jules Cowles
Apeman: Bull Montana
Colin McArdle: George Bunny
Major Hibbard: Charles Wellesley
Gladys Hungerford: Alma Bennett

Director: Harry O. Hoyt
Screenplay: Marion Fairfax
Camera: Arthur Edeson

Technical Background: 18″-tall scale models with metal skeletons and rubber skinswere filmed frame by frame after a fraction of an inch movementon 75′ x 150′ miniature landscapes. Willis O’Brien, former cowboyand sports cartoonist, had developed the technique in short subjectslike Prehistoric Poultry and several other shorts listedin Dinofilms. A full day in the studio would yield about20 seconds of moving pictures. Two negatives were combined ontothe same piece of film for stop-motion animation and live actiontogether. [Director Harry O. Hoyt and O’Brien in 1930 plannedCreation in which a submarine cruise finds a prehistoricworld. Dinosaur models were fashioned by O’Brien’s associateMarcel Delgato. They refined the effects process by projectingimages onto a transparent screen, so actors seem to interact withfilmed footage of models. Backgrounds were printed on sheetsof glass, layered to provide illusion of depth. So ultimatelythey combined smoothly sketches, diagrams, sound effects, score,and dialogue. RKO dropped the project as too expensive, but seeKing Kong.]

At the office of the London Record Journal,news circulates of Professor Challenger’s lawsuit over doubt abouthis assertion concerning live dinosaurs. The editors questionhis sanity, since, in a rage, Challenger nearly killed three reporters.

In stumbles a bumbling Edward Malone, askingMcArdle for a dangerous assignment. [In Doyle’s book, GladysHungerford serves to inspire Malone towards this. ApparentlyDoyle’s “Gladys” frame was part of this film but thismaterial was part of the lost footage; Gladys appears as a characterin the credits, but we never see her.]

Malone goes to the Zoological Hall to hearChallenger speak. Sir John Roxton, “famous hunter and explorer,”stands before a dinosaur skeleton and greets Malone before thetalk. Roxton is openminded: “The back country of the Amazoncontains over fifty thousand miles of unexplored water-ways.”

At the gathering, Professor Summerlee, “coleopterist,”introduces Challenger. The boisterous crowd shouts, “Bringon your mastodons! Bring on your mammoths!” Challengercalls them “sineless worms,” not brave enough to trekback to where they live, too cowardly “to go back to theLost World with me.” Summerlee agrees to go in order toprove Challenger “a liar and a fraud.” Roxton signson. Malone volunteers, but when Challenger asks twice, “Occupation?”and Malone admits he’s a reporter, Challenger lunges at him andchases him out of the hall.

Challenger returns home to 11 Enmore Park,Kensington West where Malone has climbed in the window to pleadhis case. Challenger attacks again and the two roll out the doorand down the steps in front of the house. When Malone blameshimself in front of a bobby, and it turns out that he is a freindof Roxton, Challenger agrees to have him in. Roxton arrives,followed by Paula White, daughter of Maple White, the explorerwhose book records the sightings of dinosaurs and who was loston the plateau.

The sketchbook shows “Carnivorous BeastAllosaurus” and we scan up to “a Living Brontosaurus”(interestingly unparallel wording). Maple White “actuallysaw descendents of these monsters,” “tremendous in sizeand ferocity . . . those beasts.” Paula feels faint at recountingher journey with her father. Malone is suddenly fired up andannounces, irrationally, “Why, this is a great human intereststory!” The scene closes with a moment between Paula andRoxton.

We next see the explorers canoeing past a leopard,a snake (at which Paula’s pet monkey Jocko freaks), and sloths. At camp, Malone’s typing indicates three weeks have passed. An apeman and his chimp sidekick drop a boulder on the camp, buthit no one. The explorers see a pterodactyl fly to the pinnacleacross from the plateau and decide to fell the remaining treein order to cross over. At dawn, a bronto hears the choppingsounds, as does the apeman. Once across, the explorers see “ABrontosaurus–feeding merely on leaves. Perfectly harmless–unlessit happens to step on us.” [At least we still found a contortedway to make it our enemy.] Their tree falls into the ravine sothat they become “prisoners!” and Malone and Paula chatdeeply.

The explorers encounter “An allosaurus–ameat-eater–the most vicious pest of the ancient world” whichfights another dinosaur until it falls into a bog. It harassesa triceratops family but the two adults succeed in protectingthe young one (did the triceratops form protective family bonds?). The allosaur goes after the humans at night, eyes aglow. Theyshoot it in the snoot but it runs away only when they throw atorch in its mouth. Later, it has another fight with a triceratops,and the latter wins, but another allosaur in turn kills the triceratopsand a pterodactyl. Ah, life.

Zambo (a white man in blackface) prepares acatapult below the plateau. [Part 4.] Above, Malone and Paulagrow close: “Now that we’ve found these caves we could livehere the rest of our lives–if we had some weapon capable of makinga dent in a dinosaur!” Meanwhile, Roxton finds the skeletalremains of Maple White and a passage out to the sheer cliff wallon the side of the plateau.

Malone and Paula kiss, supposedly cut off fromobligations of home (like Malone’s fiance, Gladys). When Roxtonreturns, Malone declares, “I’m going to ask Professor Summerleeto marry us. . . . He used to be a minister!”

Challenger meanwhile is studying a bronto:”A lovely specimen. We’ll stalk it and observe its habits.” While it eats leaves, an allosaur arrives. The bronto chewson the neck of the allosaur, but is backed off a cliff and falls.

A volcano erupts and animals run in panic. Fire spreads, but no human is killed. Afterwards, baby dinoseat corpses. Jocko climbs with a rope while the fallen brontowallows. The explorers climb down a rope ladder. The last onedown is almost pulled up again by the apeman, but a bullet makeshim drop the ladder.

With the help of a steel cage and a raft, theytransport the brontosaur back to London. Challenger reports beforea crowd the “unloading of the monster,” but Malone callsand says that cables broke: “It’s running wild–the streetsare in an uproar!” The bronto knocks people down with itsswiping tail, knocks over a statue, burns its snoot on a streetlampand busts up a building. Tower Bridge is not sturdy enough forit. The bronto falls through and into the water, and swims outto sea.

Malone and Paula take off; Roxton is dignifiedbut alone; Challenger sits exhausted on the bridge.

This business of transporting a prehistoric creature back homeis a recurring screw-up in dinosaur movies: not because of theinevitable escapes and property damage, but in terms of plot dynamicsand anticlimax, because the films seldom follow through with transportingthe right thing back in the first place. In this film, all along,we’re trained to regard the Allosaurus with fear and awe. Butwe cart back a cheesy bronto? In Doyle’s book, interest in dinosaursis superseded when tribes of humanoids are discovered on the plateau;but after the genocide, the explorers bring back only a baby pterodactyl. Even the Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World (1997),in which they finally bring back the right creature–a T-rex–notmuch happens on the short rampage. The dynamics in King Kongare on the mark: alleluia.