Love This Lost World Or Leave It!
Full disclosure obliges me to say here and now that when discussing The Lost World, merit doesn't matter. I'll not tax anyone's patience by arguing it's a worthwhile film. What TLW means to this viewer has everything to do with pleasant associations the 1960 version calls up, ones I unfortunately cannot gift to those coming cold to what's generally regarded a dreadful show. Others have argued the latter case, persuasively so. Read Bill Warren's denunciation in Keep Watching The Skies (seen the recent Second edition? --- it's magnificent) and be assured I'd not dispute any of his salient points. By all standards of science-fiction filmmaking, The Lost World really blows. And yet it was there for a lot of us at impressionable age when dinosaurs ruled a youngster's earth. I wasn't blessed by wherewithal to see it theatrically, but had enjoyed accounts by friends who did. NBC's Monday Night At The Movies came to albeit black-and-white, panned/scanned rescue in 1963, the network lending gravitas for mere fact they drew The Lost World for prime time placement, a rare honor accorded lowly genre pics and an event this nine-year-old called noteworthy. Was it perfect alignment of ideal childhood circumstance that put The Lost World's broadcast on a snow night with impossibility of next day school-going? We went sledding afterward on a hill among thirty kids and a warming barrel bonfire, a scene Currier and Ives might have drawn. So am I going to renounce a picture that calls up memories like that? Not likely.
The Lost World was absolutely made-to-order for 1960 kids as Fox envisioned them, which is to say they weren't flattering us. Still, it was very early on for dinosaurs in scope with color (at least advertised as such ... never mind contempo reptilian casting). 1956 had seen a Beast Of Hollow Mountain in wide rainbow format, but this was a singular dino, seen but briefly. A larger goal had been approached by 1957's The Land Unknown, but Universal stopped short of color and aroused ire of showmen (This was spoiled by black-and-white Cinemascope, which makes a good picture look like a rose on a manure pile, said one). What Fox gave patrons was a candy-coated thrill circus minus rings 1959's Journey To The Center Of The Earth had boasted, The Lost World being filmic equivalent of limitless concession refills, with a bellyache to follow upon reasoned reflection (was there any youth dumb to the fact they were being royally ripped by the film's lizard stand-ins?). Fox had laid pipe with much better Journey from the holiday period previous and hot grossing The Fly of a year before that. Those suggested potential of annual lease on fantastic subjects, so long as costs stayed minimal. Journey To The Center Of The Earth had run up a negative cost of $3.4 million, an astronomical flyer on fanciful fare (never were so many chips put on sci-fi), but a worldwide $7.5 million in return rentals endorsed the gamble, and so, cheap as it ended up looking, The Lost World got a $1.5 million sand pile to play in, still considerably more than majors generally staked on kid fodder, but short enough of the previous investment to leave Irwin Allen sweeping behind the elephant that was Journey To The Center Of The Earth.
Still and all, The Lost World ended with a loss. Nearly everything Fox released in 1960 bled red (television's grip was solid and tightening). Losses of $285,000 would be recorded for this one. Sure, a lot of youngsters went ... just not enough to cover the negative plus considerable prints and advertising ... also which fact of The Lost World's larger public getting in for mere change (the Liberty was then charging under-12's a dime). To sell movies by 1960 meant spending much more than before, vid saturation being a must and by no means cheap. It surely was fun, though, to sit in crowded matinees with juve mobs free to laugh at The Lost World rather than with it. Here may have been birth of post-modernism among show-going youth. TLW's blown-up lizards were a slothful lot, no more committed than Fox players who'd suffered similar indignity (were lethargic iguanas thinking of Alice Faye's disillusionment toward the end of her tenure there?). Irwin Allen pushed matched pairs onto soundstage arenas without even a hint as to their motivation. At least Monty Clift got that much consideration from Elia Kazan doing Wild River on a neighboring stage. Here it was just director Allen yelling, Let's you and him fight!, with stagehands dangling incentive of beetles and horse-flies just off-camera. And where's a lizard's pride decked out like a customized hot rod, all fins and hood ornamented, lurching about as though having blown a tire? Never mind Claude Rains mis-identifying varied species with Encyclopedia Brittanicish pomp. If these are Brontosauruses and T-Rexs, then I've got problems in the woods behind my house that need immediate attention.
There was a penalty Fox paid for short-changing its Lost World and entrusting same to Irwin Allen. Word of mouth can't have been good, certainly not in comparison with Journey To The Center Of The Earth, which earned far more than TLW (the trade ad here being a deceptive one). Considering The Lost World was a property defined by its special effects (with a lot more patrons around in 1960 to remember sensation of the original), why deliver such lackluster visuals here? Willis O'Brien had been brought aboard early (and got a credit) for technical consulting --- one can imagine his enthusiasm over prospects of remaking a previous triumph with sound and color --- but at the bitter end, this grand veteran would be benched yet again in favor of hands (far) less gifted (the list of frustrated O'Brien projects after King Kong was sadly a long one). Another participant signing on who might have known better was Claude Rains. He'd just railed in a late 1959 interview about the unabashed appeal (of horror filmmaking) to the sick tendencies in modern society, which they (scare merchants) hope to titillate at a profit. Rains lodged forceful protest over debauchery of entertainment mediums in this crude manner. Imagine then, the distinguished actor's reaction upon delivery of The Lost World's script wherein fellow cast members are snacked on by dinosaurs. Convictions melt fastest when paychecks are dangled, and a slipping Rains had greater need of these than less tangible reward of artistic integrity. Many parents forbid children to see this junk on TV, said the proud thesp, perhaps not aware he'd be headlining a taller heap of refuse in theatres.