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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

THE LOST WORLD (1925; 1960)

The first version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fantastic adventure story about a remote corner in the Amazon still inhabited by prehistoric wonders is hardly a good movie, just an irresistible one. There’s a lux cast for one of these things (Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, Lloyd Hughes, saucer-eyed Bessie Love) and story beats so sturdy & tempting they were polished up and largely reused for KING KONG/’33. A fitting connection since that pop classic refines on the legendary stop-motion animation techniques Willis O’Brien’s gave rise to here. Truly special effects; and not nearly as primitive as you might expect, marvels even when they don’t convince, like bedtime toys magically come to life. (The pterodactyls are particularly lovely creations, and check out the little Humphrey Bogart snarls on the dueling dinosaurs.) The DVD edition packaged with the 1960 remake is in decent physical condition, sometimes better than that, though longer running times exist elsewhere. (More material or just different running speeds?) As for the 1960 remake . . . well, it’s an Irwin Allen production. As producer, Allen could make dumb fun (like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE/’72). But when he produced and directed, you got something like BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE/’79. Plenty dumb . . . not much fun. Aimed at the kiddie matinee crowd, these dinosaurs are costumed lizards in backscreen projection, blown up & cavorting in terrariums next to plastic bonsai trees. (Can a lizard look embarrassed?) In the original prints, lenser Winton Hoch’s color scheme was incredibly vivid, nearly hallucinatory in the ‘fire walk,’ all tamed in the DVD transfer. Happily, they couldn’t delete the pet poodle Jill St. John’s totes along on the trip or keep Claude Rains seguing from this schlocky thing to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA/’62 as his next feature.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The remake has Mayan Native types as its threatening cannibals, taking the place of the first film’s bizarre Monkey Men, a missing evolutionary link. Worse, you also get Jules Cowles in modified blackface, the same character make-up he used in Buster Keaton’s SEVEN CHANCES/’25. And, speaking of Buster, surely ‘Jocko,’ the film’s heroic little Capuchin monkey is the same fellow who saves the day in Keaton’s THE CAMERAMAN/’28 and in Harold Lloyd’s masterpiece, THE KID BROTHER/’28.

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