Classic movie site with rare images (no web grabs!), original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Thursday, August 12, 2010

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.


Blogger Dugan said...

I saw "The Lost World" as a kid on some afternoon movie show where they jammed it into 90 minutes which included commercials, probably cutting it that much helped it. I remember watching Allen's "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" TV show either one of the most inept shows put on the tube or a masterpiece of dadaist entertainment. Sure enough they featured an episode where Captain Crane and Admiral Nelson got stuck in a "Lost World" complete with the magnified lizards. My standards weren't that high as a kid but even that was a little much for a ripoff.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Scoundrel said...

The only incentive for my purchase of this version on DVD was the inclusion of the Eastman House restoration of the original as a bonus disc.
Its sad to see Claude Rains and Michael Rennie in this's such a dog.

9:50 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Received the following via e-mail from reader Griff:

Dear John:

Great article. Lovely story about watching Monday Night at the Movies. It's somehow reassuring to hear that LOST WORLD was a flop even at $1.5 million. Fox wasn't (sadly) going to let Allen go, not on the basis of a single failure; I assume VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA fared somewhat better at the till.

A lot of people's memories have been awakened by this week's posts. A spectral silent epic with expressive giant beasts and a crass Deluxe color cheesefest with discomfited iguanas are linked within the collective consciousness of many. Thanks to you, I feel refreshed and somehow educated.


3:05 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers "The Lost World" and wonders what "Bobbikins" is ...

I didn't see this version all the way through until the DVD, but even so it had a definite nostalgic vibe. There's something comforting and familiar about big, silly soundstage sets, beasties that were safely fake, and other cool eye candy. Better than Westerns on too-familiar backlots or "thrillers" in boringly real buildings.
Disney briefly perfected this particular type of film, but there were others who did it well. Harryhausen's period films consistently got it right; George Pal usually (but not always) delivered. The 1966 Batman film & Doctor Who and the Dalaks, both puffed-up TV shows, actually fit nicely into this genre.
20,000 Leagues and Journey to the Center of the Earth were the apex of the form. For all their family-friendly Classics Illustrated trimmings, they offered solid storytelling. Here, unless you were old enough to appreciate Jill St. John in her nicely fitted outfits, the non-action scenes all but flashed a sign saying "Get More Popcorn, Kids."
In fact, with a better script and the replacement of Miss St. John with Hayley Mills, you'd have a follow-up to In Search of the Castaways. Up until he discovered disaster movies, I suspect Irwin Allen really wanted to be Walt Disney.
I remember Captain Nemo and the Underwater City & Disney's Island at the Top of the World as last gasp attempts to bring the genre back. Fantasy films became a much different breed, tending towards big budget epics and away from kiddie matinees.

Question: What the ---- was Bobbikins, the Los Angeles co-feature? That doesn't look like anything a self-respecting preteen would sit through. Maybe something to keep kids from staying for a second showing?

As to Bobbikins, Donald, your guess is as good as mine. Has anyone ever seen this??

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BOBBIKINS is a British film, starring import Shirley Jones and has to do with a talking baby. I saw it a few years back on TV, probably one of Ted Turner's stations. It's nothing to concern yourself with.
Another great entry, John. I never begrudge anyone a childhood favorite, no matter how stinky it really is (and this one is).
Somewhere I still have the comic and the paperback you pictured.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

As one of those kids who did have the wherewithal to see it theatrically in 1960, I can attest that word of mouth was not good, at least within earshot of me. Getting the Fox DVD was the first time I'd laid eyes on it in half a century, and it was not a happy reunion. There's a reason my friend Vince would one day dub Allen "Irwin the Terrible." However, the DVD was money well-spent to get the other Lost World.

And speaking of which, I'm confused here. Silent tells us the GEH restoration "totalled more than 8000 of its original 9200 feet," and that the original running time was 104 to 108 minutes, depending on the projectionist. The silent version in the Fox release runs 75 min. 35 sec., not counting restoration credits. This compares to 63 min. 7 sec. for my 1991 Lumivision laserdisc, which (except for the tinting and music track) is identical to my 8mm Griggs print.

The 2001 Image/Serge Bromberg/David Shepard DVD runs 91 min. 39 sec., and even in the scenes it has in common with the GEH version, there are significant variations. To my eye, the Fox release even includes duplicate shots and alternate takes of the same shot, spaced out to be less noticeable. Each version has its pluses (e.g., the image quality on the Fox release), but it seems to me that if any DVD of TLW represents "8000 of its original 9200 feet," it's the Bromberg/Shepard version. Am I missing something?

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consider another "lost world" picture--ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT. Remember the minotaur?

9:50 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Ah..bobbykins..those obscure little movies you had to endure before the main feature..
Some I remember seeing in the theatre then and have heard hide no hair of since?..Zebra in The Kitchen with SHE.
Nashville Rebel(actually would like to have a copy)with THE DEADLY BEES.Sammy goes south with CARRY ON JACK..

11:32 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks folks, for clearing up BOBBIKINS. That one must have quite the companion with "The Lost World" in first-run LA.

Jim, I really like that name ..."Irwin The Terrible." I'll have to remember it for future postings. As to running times on "The Lost World," I haven't gone in and compared the versions carefully, but I believe there is an excellent "Video Watchdog" article that did just that.

ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT --- there's another one I saw first on NBC's Saturday Night At The Movies, and not since ...

8:38 AM  
Blogger The Great Bolo said...

It looks like someone needs to step forward to post some support for the 1960 version of THE LOST WORLD, so I'll throw myself under the bus and become the subject for ridicule.

I saw it as a new picture in 1960 at the PLAYHOUSE THEATRE, and as a nine or ten-year old moppet, I liked it. At the time, I didn't know an earlier version existed, thus, comparisons with the 1925 feature were not made at that time.

It looked GREAT on the giant scope screen (the PLAYHOUSE had a big one) and the color was great as well. An-all star cast for its day, even though at the time, I didn't know who Rains and Rennie were (I didn't see THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL until NBC ran it the following year).

But I knew Jill St. John and Fernando Lamas (had seen Lamas in a LUCY-DESI COMEDY HOUR).

The story held my interest for the duration (something JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH didn't do the previous year - - it does today, however), and for the lizards instead of stop animation, the performance of the lizard at the film's climax is better than any performance Ashton Kutcher or Jennifer Aniston have given us to date.

I saw THE LOST WORLD again when it hit the local drive-in, then again a couple more times when it re-played the PLAYHOUSE as a Kiddie matinee.

I saw it when NBC ran it (as did our blog moderator) but don't remember the snow that covered the ground at the time (and we lived in close proximity). Then a few more viewings on local TV airings.

My DVD viewing of it a few years back when first released on disc was also enjoyable. It was great to finally see it again (as well as JOURNEY) in its original wide-screen format. Very nostagic.

I'll never claim the film to be in the class of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL or THE SEARCHERS, but I have always felt that movies can be "good movies" for a variety of reasons.

I've certainly seen many movies worse than THE LOST WORLD, even as a nine or ten-year old. All the kids in my neighborhood were mad for a week after we saw GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER, billed in the PLAYHOUSE THEATRE ad as "Godzilla's cousin is on the loose!"

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Well, there you have it: Bolo was nine or ten when he liked the 1960 TLW, and I was twelve when I didn't; actually, that sounds about right. Neither of us, of course, knew or cared about some silent version from 1925, but I had seen King Kong on its theatrical reissue only four years before. Maybe that made a difference too.

1:38 PM  
Blogger The Great Bolo said...

I had the chance to see KING KONG theatrically in 1957, when one of my family's drive-ins played the eighth wonder of the world as part of a four-picture monster-thon.

Sadly, it ran as the final movie and I had fallen asleep near the end of the second picture.

I remember my father waking me up to go to the car. I looked at the screen to see Carl Denham explaining that "Twas beauty killed the beast," and wondering what that meant.

I later found out.

6:53 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Well, I am with "Bolo" on this one! I can WEll remember sitting in the Wardman theater in Whittier, CA. right around the 4th of July in 1960 with some of my friends (I can even remember who they were...) for the Saturday afternoon matinee of "The Lost World." We had all bought the comic book some weeks prior to the release of the film and we had all seen the ads for it on TV and at the cinema and we were all geared-up for it. My Mom had dropped us all off at the theater at about 12:30 (these were the days when parents didn't worry about that...) and said she'd pick us up at about 5:00.....and when that 20th Century-Fox CinemaScope logo opened up, followed by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter's music over the flaming title: "The Lost World" this 8 year-old kid it was pure heaven. The gigantic (at least to an 8 year-old)CinemaScope screen was filled with Winton Hoch's gorgeous Cinematography and day-glo Deluxe Colors (those of us who remember 1960 know that most people still had 19" B&W TV sets). What more could a kid ask for? We all ADORED "The Lost World" and we still do. Now,....looking at it from the perspective of an "older" person, is "The Lost World" a good movie? No. But is it a FUN movie? One to sit and watch with my Grandkids and tell them about those "ancient times" (the 1960's that is!)most definitely YES. And, now that I think about it, would I, as a person approaching my 60's rather watch something like "The Lost World" for enjoyment and nostalgia or would I rather watch Sly Stallone and his ilk blow the hell out of some 3rd-world Country and graphically slaughter hundreds of people? I'll take "The Lost World" and "Irwin The Terrible" any day, thank-you......


11:29 AM  
Blogger "T.V. Barnum" said...

The episode of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA "Turn Back The Clock" (using loads of "The Lost World" Footage) was actually a back-door pilot to an unsold series-spin off Irwin Allen was trying to sell to ABC! The episode is up on HULU.

4:10 AM  
Anonymous Len - Australia said...

I had a unique experience with this movie, paying to see it at the movies but not actually seeing it until it turned up on TV some years later! As a 10 year old in 1960, I went with a group of friends to see it at the enormous 2300 seat Regent picture palace in Adelaide, South Australia We sat in the back row of the balcony (or dress circle as they called it here). These were cheap seats as even Cinemascope looked tiny from up there and there was no carpet on the floor(see for a view of the auditorium from about where I was sitting at the time). At interval, I bought a box of Jaffas - a famous Australian ball-shaped chocolate-centred sweet with a hard orange-flavored candy coating. Children loved dropping them on hard floors at Saturday matinees as you could hear them roll all the way down to the screen or front of the balcony. As the lights went down at the end of interval and a trailer started, my friend Robert (think Australia's Eddie Haskell) told me to drop a Jaffa and I refused. He made a grab for the box and in the ensuing fight, the entire box spilled and went off like a bomb on the hard floor, delighting the audience who screamed with laughter. An usher appeared with a torch demanding to know who dropped the Jaffas and I stayed silent, a picture of innocence. My friend Robert, of course, pointed at me and said 'He did!' I was dragged down to the Manager's office where he screamed at me so much I almost went to the toilet on the spot. I was thrown out of the theatre and wasn't even allowed to wait for my friends in the entrance. He made me go and stand in front of Griff's Furnishings two shops away from his precious cinema (you did as you were told by adults in those days.) Afterwards, my friend, Robert, who was merciless, insisted I go shoplifting with him all the next week or he'd tell my mother I had been thrown out of the Regent. Ah, the joys of childhood! When I finally saw 'The Lost World' on TV in black and white, I remember thinking it had not been worth all the trouble I'd gone through.... I still bought the double DVD, though, and enjoyed showing it to my grandchildren and telling them the story of 'The Lost World' and their naughty grandpa.

11:58 PM  
Blogger Lou Lumenick said...

Another great post, John. Do you know whether resident Fox grouch Clifton Webb turned down Rains' role?

8:19 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That's a good question, Lou. The part does suggest Clifton Webb in a way, and he'd have at the least put an interesting spin on it. In a way, Professor Challenger reminds me of Webb's character in "Boy On A Dolphin."

8:52 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon e-mails some neat observations about "The Lost World" ...

Dear John,

Uh...I meant the John Lennon lyric (in case you were curious!) And the reference is to your wonderful blog about "The Lost World". It seems on the evidence of the comments that everybody thinks this movie stinks out loud, and yet it has its proud boosters who love it for all the right reasons----scarce though they may be! I can halfway identify. No, I did not have the dubious pleasure of seeing "The Lost World" in 1960, but----I certainly do remember, aged 7, spreading wide the Sunday funnies and seeing the selfsame cartoon layout you show in one of your illustrations. It very much stretched the truth, of course---but lots of ballyhoo did. You have to hand the booby prize to Columbia, who followed suit in 1963 for "Jason and the Argonauts", running their own cartoon ad for the kiddies, and incredibly neglecting to properly plug almost ANY of Ray Harryhausen's truly astounding scenes from the film! Now, that's gotta take the cake. Anyway, back to "The Lost World". When you take on a subject like this one, you're one of the most genuinely funny people on the Internet, I think. Not only that, you manage it without being unduly cruel or nasty. The captions alone caused me to chuckle out loud (anything to avoid the increasingly wince-worthy 'LOL', here!), especially the one for the two portraits of the made-up lizards. Reptiles have no expression, they? These two look embarrassed, to me! Your digs in the text are also extremely funny but never really draw blood in a mean sense. I was going to say, I missed "The Lost World", but I assure you that based on the Sunday Funnies teaser alone, I certainly would've been up for it. The very next year, my Mom took my brother and I to Playa del Rey, a beach not far from Inglewood, CA, and we watched a biplane fly over pulling a sky banner that declared, "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea! Thursday citywide!" That was IT! A voyage to the bottom of the SEA? Gotta SEE it! I begged my poor mother, and by heaven she caved in and took me to see this masterpiece, where I was first exposed to the wonders of Irwin. No----that's not true. I cannot tell a lie: I'd previously been taken to see Allen's "The Big Circus", his cheesefest for Allied Artists, with the family at the Century Drive-In in 1959.

12:21 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon ...

"Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea" was the first sci-fi Twinkie by Irwin Allen I'd ever seen. As we all know, there followed a virtual onslaught of Irwinalia from Fox in the '60s, each one redefining the word "worst". Yet my pal "James Corry" makes a very good point. They were colorful, fascinating, always cast with some of the most charismatic stars or almost-stars Allen could afford, and were no worse for us than the junk food we all doted on in those days. I'm content never to see any of it ever again, but it had its inscrutable allure when we were young and less discriminating. When Irwin hit paydirt with "The Poseidon Adventure" and followed up with "The Towering Inferno", it was the s.o.s., but a LOT more of it. He had a BUDGET! Years and years later, shortly after his death, I had a business meeting over at Warner Bros., his final 'home', and I remember seeing his name still stencil-painted on one of those white, cast concrete bumpers like you see in many supermarket parking lots. It went with a standard-issue production office in a kind of barracks there in the middle of the backlot. Ironically, my meeting was in a similar sort of building that contained many independent production company offices, with a young guy who'd made only one film and was planning his next one. That'd be Tim Burton. So, one travels up, and one checks out. I remember thinking of the brevity of life and careers as I drove home that day.


I'm surprised that in spite of the obvious, Fox didn't manage to get themselves another special effects nomination for THIS film, even in the same year as "The Three Worlds of Gulliver", to name one. (Of course, Ray Harryhausen never did have a chance with the Academy.)

12:22 PM  
Blogger Bill Reichert said...

I stumbled onto this site when I recognized that Sunday funnies ad which I have Never Forgotten! The article is pitch-perfect and the comments spot-on. I was 8 when I saw this on a big screen in 1960 - a big deal, because nobody made fantasy films for kids except Disney. (The others actually are counted on one hand: Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Time Machine, Gorgo, Atlantis, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.) My friends and I were starving for something like this. Yeah we knew they were lizards but who cared, when they sounded fierce in Stereophonic sound and came wrapped in a grownup-looking color Cinemascope package. I watch it today through the same eyes I had then, only a tad disturbed by the treatment possibly imposed on the reptiles. I do think the lengthy fire cave sequence justifies the slow start and meager thrills that precede it. And Jill St. John registered strongly enough for me to root for her throughout her career. My final analysis: had O'Brien been allowed a budget for stop-motion, we'd be going a lot easier on this film today.

7:42 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016