Saturday, May 25, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Land Unknown (1957) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

When a '50s sci-fi film begins with an official military briefing in Washington, D.C., chances are I'm going to like the movie. That was the case with THE LAND UNKNOWN (1957), released on Blu-ray last month by Kino Lorber.

There's something about the earnest documentary-style attitudes in those military scenes which contrasts nicely with the film's fantasy aspects and reassures me that all will be well. Just as with THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), if some of our brave guys from the U.S. military are on the case, I know it will all work out in the end.

A Navy expedition traveling to Antarctica on an ice-breaking ship sends out an advance chopper with a party of four: Commander Alan Roberts (Jock Mahoney), a geophysicist; pilot Lt. Jack Carmen (William Reynolds); Steve Miller (Phil Harvey); and Margaret "Maggie" Hathaway (Shawn Smith, WORLD WITHOUT END), a science reporter covering the trip. The plan is to hunt for a region with warm water first reported in the late '40s.

Bad weather forces the chopper down through a fog bank, and it lands in a valley deep inside the earth. The team sheds their parkas as the chopper descends and the weather gets warmer and warmer. Once on the ground they find that the area seems to be unchanged since prehistoric times, and that includes the existence of...dinosaurs!

The team also discovers a half-crazed man (Henry Brandon of THE SEARCHERS), the sole survivor of a previous expedition, who's become quite brutal in order to survive. He's willing to lead the team to the site of his own chopper crash and provide them with the part they need to repair their chopper and escape...but only if they agree to leave Maggie with him for company, permanently. Our military guys aren't having it, especially as Alan and Maggie have fallen for each other.

This is a fun movie with a nice cast and an interesting premise. Some of the dinosaur footage, such as the fight when viewers see the dinos for the first time, is terrific. Other scenes, which appear to be a man walking in a dino suit, are...definitely not good, requiring the viewer to suspend more than a little disbelief. Except for that aspect, inherent to the original film, Kino's sharp-looking Blu-ray is a visual treat.

One of the things I like about '50s sci-fi is that there are usually good roles for women; they're often scientists, while in this case she's a spunky science reporter. These characters usually take very active roles in the stories and are more "empowered" than we sometimes see in films of the era, and that's the case here. I also like how Maggie deftly and confidently handles some flirtatious comments along the way without becoming offended.

Actress Shawn Smith was known earlier in her career as Shirley Patterson; a fun bit of trivia for me, as an MGM musicals fan, is that she was one of THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946). As Shirley Patterson she also appeared in "B" Westerns with actors like Eddie Dean and Charles Starrett. Leading man Mahoney, of course, also started out in "B" Westerns as both a stuntman and bit player before moving up to bigger roles.

THE LAND UNKNOWN was directed by Virgil Vogel and filmed in widescreen black and white by Ellis W. Carter. The movie runs a sprightly 78 minutes.

Extras include a commentary track by Tom Weaver and David Schechter, the movie trailer, additional trailers for sci-fi and fantasy films also available from Kino Lorber, and an animated image gallery.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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