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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When Moles Were More Meaningful

My Own Distressed Copy of Warren's Mole People Tie-In Mag From 1964

Joy Still To Be Had in The Mole People (1956)

By any reasonable standard, The Mole People is a bad picture, but standards among so-called "monster boomers" are not reasonable. We are driven by sentiment and nostalgia same as ones who grew up a generation before on cowboy Saturdays. While these sat home wondering when westerns might come back, we were in seats they'd once occupied looking at sci-fi and horror that at least shared common ground of occasional black-and-whiteness. Soon enough we'd endure with elders a larger public's dismiss of cherished totems. A next group of youngsters would sneer at our Mole People same as we had at Hoot and Hoppy. I got that hard lesson doing early 2000's college shows of meaningful-to-me Kiss Of The Vampire, Tales Of Terror, and others from a childhood the latter generation seemed disinclined to share with me. Said oldies died death of a hundred walk-outs and sour react (not a last occasion for the cold splash, as there would come bitter tide of showing Ann my "scariest of all" Black Sabbath). So what is takeaway from this? To watch The Mole People and ones like it alone for a start, or at most with friends (just one if you can locate him) who understands. The gather of long-term monster fanship is a lot like old-timers I used to see at 16mm western screenings during the 70/early 80's, reaching back decades, but eternally optimistic that somehow youth would wake up and realize there was nothing better than Saturdays spent astride with serial accompany.

A Monsterpiece Among Don Post Masks
So here comes The Mole People on Blu-Ray from Region Two to make me realize how long ago fifty years is. I was lucky enough to see it theatrically in 1964. Otherwise, I'd not care any more than vast majority who came to first Mole sightings on TV or cassette. For likes of The Mole People, there has to be first exposure at impressionable age, as in vicinity of age ten, and even then it's not the movie that matters, but being ten and going to the show for a thing you've anticipated with much excitement. What made The Mole People a joy for some of us, even eight years after it was first released, was a magazine (in fact, "A New Kind Of Magazine") '64-issued by Warren Publications, this being stills and frame enlargements that told the film's whole story in comic book format. It seemed an odd device, even if tried previous with Black Zoo (Charlton Publishing) and again by Warren for The Horror Of Party Beach. Universal did reissue The Mole People in 1964, along with others of its "weirdie" cycle from the 50's, a last go at theatre revenue before release of the lot to television the following year.

Gagging Cynthia Patrick and John Agar Making The Best of a "B" Situation

I wondered at the time if Aurora might issue a plastic model so we might build our own Mole Man. That didn't happen, though there was a Don Post mask, which like all of his, I couldn't begin to afford. By time of seeing The Mole People, I had read the magazine so many times as to render the movie anti-climactic, though this too contributed to novelty. Between the mag and the mask, had there ever been such synergy for a monster pic long played out by the mid-60's? That question lingered as I watched the Blu-Ray, which, by the way, looks great despite somewhat severe cropping to 2:1 (should be 1:85, says expert Bob Furmanek). There is much recorded lore on The Mole People. Everyone who survived the shoot by thirty years or more was interviewed, mostly by Dean-in-that-field Tom Weaver. Thanks to unceasing fan research, we probably know more MP background than for ninety percent of Classic Era output. Just one tidbit I'll repeat: Rock Hudson dropped by the messy Mole pit where the pic was being filmed and asked John Agar, How'd you get into this thing?. Rock was probably doing Never Say Goodbye at the time, or maybe gearing up for Written On The Wind, these the sort of pictures Agar would have preferred working in. Posterity, of course, bestowed the greater gift upon Jack for his endure of The Mole People, for who'd have chased him through convention halls afterward to ask about Never Say Goodbye?


Blogger Dave K said...

Wow! You hit the nail on the head this time, John! I had the mag, didn't see it in a theater but watching it on the tube was HUGE! Oddly, I think even as a kid you kinda knew, objectively, this was not exactly a classic. Hell, even by the very lenient standards of Universal 50's Sci-Fi this one doesn't rate high (today, I'd put it below MONOLITH MONSTERS and MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS!)

Didn't matter! Humpback critters were SO cool, Cynthia Patrick was really cute and this one had John Agar, Beaver's dad and the guy from the Bell Telephone movies we saw in school! Like you, I didn't understand why Aurora and Marx didn't have models/toys of the monsters... I loved the design of those guys (and I quickly identified their recycled claws when they popped up on THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS.)

Probably will not spring for the Blue-ray. I have the DVD around here some place... I don't need to be disillusioned again, even if it's in high definition.

10:14 AM  
Blogger opticalguy said...

There are "tent-pole" moments in films. Bits that are so good that you will forgive the inconsistencies in the rest of the film. BRIDES OF DRACULA is a film that is loved in spite of strange narrative errors and character stupidities. In THE MOLE PEOPLE there are some amazingly evocative images. The "pit of hell" in which the albino humans flog the Mole People while stem rises from the ground and the Mole People submerge in the ground as if it were water. The badly-executed matte paintings don't convince for a second BUT they look cool as all get-out. Those images hod on long after the silliness of the rest of the movie fades.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

My mother took me to a combo of THE MOLE PEOPLE and VOODOO ISLAND in July 1957 while visiting her home town of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The theater we attended was the movie house my mom often frequented when she was growing up in the 1920s and 1930s.

11:38 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer recalls "The Mole People" from Philadelphia's "Double Chiller Theatre":

Actually, "The Mole People" would have been pretty entertaining fare as a sort of kiddie matinee version of "She." It was competently produced and acted, and if it's not really thrilling or scary, it's not "bad," in the sense an Edward D. Wood or Dwain Esper movie is.

I could have seen it myself at a theater around then, just as I saw "Kronos" and "20 Million Miles to Earth" one summer, but my first acquaintance with it was years later, on the second half of "Double Chiller Theater," the late night life saver Channel 6 in Philadelphia provided every Saturday during the early 60s. And I liked it. Or maybe I was lulled into accepting it by the appearance of Dr. Frank Baxter, the science guy in the films Frank Capra made for Bell Laboratories, like "Hemo the Magnificent" and "Our Mr. Sun." The schools I went to showed them at assembly, so Dr. Baxter was a well-known and trusted figure. If he didn't mind a story about ancient Sumerians living underground with their "This Island Earth"-type "mole people," I was good with it, too.

And probably I could sit down with the boy I was and still enjoy it.

2:35 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

The film got a spirited ribbing from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew, when they were on the Sci-Fi Channel and had access to the Universal library. In an earlier episode, where they riffed "The Wild World of Batwoman," they spotted some borrowed "Mole People" footage.

5:03 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

John, I can't remember exactly where I read it, but someone gave a terrific explanation of why these films mean so much to generations of "monster movie" fans; kids of all ages, and it went something like this: Those people who were children in the 1950's and 60's are those who are now determining which films have classic status. Many, if not all, movies in all genres which were hits and/or critically acclaimed when released, in all periods, are now virtually forgotten. But people such as John Agar, Richard Carlson, Ray Harryhausen and others are remembered with love and affection by us, our children (whom we "forced" to watch these pictures) and now, our grandchildren. "Written On The Wind" and other "big films" of the day (as the explanation says)
are now virtually forgotten.


8:35 PM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

So nice to see a little sis boom bah for "The Mole People". I don't recall exactly when I first saw it. Probably on TV in the 60's. But it won me over immediately. For all the budget constrictions etc, it still manages to convey some of that irresistible Haggard-ish "Lost Civilization" vibe. And I always found it engaging and even a little bit poignant, somehow carrying more actual resonance than many a more reputable sci-fi title. I remember showing it to my nephew when he was seven or eight. He's a grownup now - and still has a soft spot for it. So the ripple effect continues.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I dearly wish I'd seen THE MOLE PEOPLE at a theater, indoor or out. It surely would have helped.

There is no more fervent "monster boomer"/Monster Kid than myself, so when folks start blissfully recalling their introduction to THE MOLE PEOPLE, it makes me sad. I completely understand this monster nostalgia. Myself, I have way, way too much fondness for the likes of KILLERS FROM SPACE, THE GIANT GILA MONSTER, THE DEADLY MANTIS, and even THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER. On the other hand, I never felt the love for MOLE PEOPLE, THE LAND UNKNOWN, THE FLY or a few others.

Certainly much of this was due to when I saw the movie and through which medium. I was 19 years old when I finally caught up with THE MOLE PEOPLE on the 4 pm movie. By that time, I'd read the Warren mag (still have it), and seen dozens of photos in Famous Monsters, and probably a few other monster mags. I was expecting some good ol' monster fun -- and didn't get it.

I've seen THE MOLE PEOPLE a couple more times, always on TV, and am always bored. I will give it one more chance though.

So I'm envious of the monster love on display here. Just wish I could join in.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Stewart McKissick said...

Another great entry John!
As a hard-core Monster Kid I love ALL these things, and you describe why perfectly.

I STILL have that Warren magazine. I saw most all these on TV in the early/mid 60's, and it's the whole dark sweaty setting and cool monster suits that make MP work for me.

Sure, the adult in me sees the flaws, and there are a few of these old genre faves I now find a bit sleep inducing (probably DEADLY MANTIS is my lest favorite of the bunch), but often the highlight of my week is my usual Friday and Saturday night trips to my basement bijou to watch something along these lines.

Yes, you do have to accept that they are best viewed alone or with one or two (and sadly, dwindling) similarly imprinted friends. But that doesn't really bother me. I know each generation has their versions of nostalgia, and I'm happy and comfortable to be the age I am and have these cultural touchstones.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Jerry Kovar said...

I don't recall the 60s re-release in NYC. Was it double billed with another U-I flic?

4:20 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

"By any reasonable standard, The Mole People is a bad picture, but standards among so-called "monster boomers" are not reasonable."

Nothing more to be said.


The Warren mag is another reminder of attempts, in the pre-VCR days, to recreate the movie experience on demand, whether comic adaptations, flipbooks, trading cards, novelizations, LPs, even the Richard Anoble books. All to hang on waiting for the best-case: commercial-cut-up broadcast TV.

Hard to believe now.

11:07 AM  

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