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10 November 2015 @ 04:11 pm
Movie Reviewed: The Mole People (post I of II)  
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The Mole People
(1956)

Starring: John Agar, Hugh Beaumont, Cynthia Patrick
DIR: Virgil Vogel





Blurb: Deep below the surface of the earth, three scientists stumble upon a tyrannical tribe of albinos who have enslaved a mutant - and dangerous - race of mole people.


Scene 01: We open, even before the credits, in the office of one Dr. Frank C. Baxter. This gentleman is apparently an English professor, so why he’s gearing up to tell us about underground mole people, I’m sure I can’t guess.

Let’s see if he gives us a clue. His major deal is to tell us about how little of the surface of the Earth has not been explored as compared to our ignorance about what is below the surface [again though… AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR is giving us this insight].

Our professor warms to the subject of ancient man traversing deep caves, only to flee in terror at the strange noises and sighs within the earth that he encountered. He tells us that Gilgamesh traveled to the underworld, and yet we still know so little, but mankind - all the way to our ancient ancestors dreamed of a world within the world we’re familiar with [hmmm… can I have a geologist tell me how likely that would be, please].

We hear about Mr. Simms and his Hollow Earth Theory.

We next hear about Mr. Teed’s theories of humanity actually living within a planet, not on the outside of it, and the Sun being a huge battery of some sort… or something… Mr. Teed also believed he was a messiah of the Lord, so….

And then we have the theory of Karl Neupert [and now I’m thinking our English professor is actually a Professor of Philosophy and the Humanities, the way he’s going on and on… can I please get a geologist up in here]. Who was also a devotee of the idea that the Earth was hollow-ish and that heretofore undiscovered humans lived in the vast reaches under our feet.

Our English Professor tells us of man’s ongoing desire to find a world within the world and that the picture we’re about to see is a fable… or a story beyond a fable… he seems to dither on that point. But the point is, this movie isn’t just a picture, but a fable with a meaning and significance for all of us.


Commentary: Oh, for shit’s sake… it’s a B-Movie - Embrace it! Stop trying to get philosophical and pompous about it, especially after the crap that gets pulled with the ending, which we’ll speak of anon. For right now, let’s get on with the mysterious hidden world beneath the crust of the Earth we know… after the credits and usual bombastic, horn heavy theme of course. And holy crap, did that professor really talk for 5 whole minutes about wild theories regarding mole people?

Ooh! Make-up by Bud Westmore… I’ve come to always appreciate it when I see his name in the credits.



Scene 02: We rejoin our film in Asia. We join a pair of our exploring scientists as they draw up plans and consult maps. A local assistant comes rushing up to our pair and calls for them to come immediately. With the excitement of the summons, Drs. Bellamin and Lafarge are also summoned. Our original two scientists/explorers are Drs. Bentley and Stuart.

The cause of the excitement is the partial excavation of a stone tablet with unknown writing buried in a strata of rock where it shouldn’t be. After yanking the tablet out without a care in the world about damaging it, we fade cut….


Commentary: Of course, this is John Agar and Nestor Paiva we’re talking about so we shouldn’t really be shocked that as scientists - they suck.


Scene 03: We fade cut on over to the main work tent where one of our other scientists is carefully brushing away the sand from the carvings that Roger Bentley and Etienne Lafarge didn’t manage to dislodge with their brute force claiming of the tablet from the rock.

We find out now why the tablet is an unexpected find. It was in strata of rock that was before the great flood, making the tablet on the order of 5,000 years old. Thankfully, Etienne and Roger didn’t bust it into pieces yanking on it. [Yes, I’m annoyed and I’m going to grumble about it… what frickin’ type of archeologists are these fools?]





Bentley identifies the language as Sumerian and the tablet as some sort of dedication to a temple or other public building. Paul Stuart asks for a translation. It’s a commandment from an old King that the seal not be removed on threat of a mighty curse against the people who so dishonor his proclamation. The King’s name is recognized from the tablets of Gilgamesh by Lafarge. The scientists are interrupted by an explosive concussive sound from very close by.


Scene 04: This turns out to be the preamble to an earth trembler which shakes the dig site. It lasts exactly long enough to collapse the table and smash the tablet into pieces.

[Mr. Soundtrack is very sure to imply that this is a dreadful omen. Thank You, Mr. Soundtrack -- I do so like it when you point out the obvious to me.]


Scene 05: Later, the scientists say they’ve been put behind in their work now because so many of their trenches were caved in by the quake. They joke about it maybe being the work of Ishtar punishing them, but Lafarge smilingly says that the tablet translation said “he who removes this tablet with malicious intent” and argues that they’re not malicious and are actually going to save the King’s name from the sands of time.

The scientists receive another visitor in the form of a shepherd boy, who has something wrapped in cloth. At first he’s reluctant to give up his prize, but Dr. Bentley good naturedly pays him for the object and shrugs it off as “you buy your ticket and takes your chances” as he unwraps whatever the item turns out to be.

The item turns out looking somewhat like an Aladdin’s Lamp, but is crusted in rock. Bentley asks where the boy found it, and he points up at a high peak nearby, which also happened to be the epicenter of the recent quake.


Commentary: John Agar had a really nice little moment here when he was interacting with the boy, and I liked his line delivery on telling the other scientists that he’s willing to “buy the ticket” to see what they won. Often, John’s cheezetastic grinning gets on my nerves, but here he’s playing a more prickly sort - someone who seems to be regretting his choice of fields. So this light moment was actually welcomed, and he was… *gasp* … charming.


Scene 06: When the rock is removed, they find a gold objects with more script across it.





The figures on the oil lamp seem to be a Sumerian version of the Noah’s ark myth.

The translation tells the story as if a historical fact, confirming that the Great Flood did happen at some point and that the Great King loaded up his family, slaves and field animals onto an ark to ride out the flood. The science team realize that if they can take the King’s testament as truth, then there must be a sign of this ancient tribe on the top of the nearby mountain where nobody would’ve thought to look before now.


Scene 07: An expedition is organized to the top of the nearby mountain, despite everyone repeating how treacherous it will be to reach the summit. The guide explains that they’ll be establishing a series of base camps on their way to the top, but that the real test will come after base camp two has been reached and the real climbing of the flank toward the summit begins.

Dr. Bellamin intimates they’re all crazy for doing this based on one vague inscription on an old oil lamp. He and Dr. Bentley share some banter.

With this all decided now… y’know, AFTER all of the supplies have already been delivered, so it’s a good thing that the Sherpa could actually find them a path at the last minute… Dr. Stuart decrees they’ll start the first climb the next morning.


Commentary: None of this scene is actually necessary, but at the same time I like how the climb was described, and the emphasis on having to establish base camps along the way. With the men climbing 20,000 feet, there will be acclimation necessary and it was a nice touch that they don’t just throw on some backpacks and *poof* are at the summit.

But this scene is really a time eater-upper and that was basically our start already for the film. And even though we’re only 12min, 45seconds into things -- it’s feeling like 25min.



Scene 08: Shots of load carriers with heavy packs on their backs proceeding through mountain paths.

Our men follow by way of back-projection route.

Our carriers carry heavy packs across rickety one person bridges over mountain river.

Our guys are behind them on the back-projection route.

Sherpa points out Tuatara… our mountain of interest. Which we see now.

More stock and back-projection hiking.


Scene 09: Now, we’re up on the snow covered, frozen face of the Tuatara.

They cross treacherous crevasses, where Dr. Lafarge nearly tumbles to his death.

[Maybe if he was wearing appropriately heavy and insulated snow pants, instead of a pair of sweats, he wouldn’t be freezing solid at the moment? That would’ve helped.]

Climb, climb, chutes and ladders, climb.


Commentary: Holy, moley. How much stock footage are we going to see completely not mixing with our actors on set in front of Styrofoam snow walls, or uneasy back-projection for cripe’s sake?

I mean, isn’t a movie like this designed to have the action stuff taking place in the Lost Kingdom… why the hell are we spending so much time watching figures climbing around -- if they wanted to make a Mt. Everest Expedition documentary, they should’ve just done that!

I’m getting annoyed.



Scene 10: Eventually, they reach one of the sites for their base camp [which I’m hoping is base camp three and “the next day” they’ll be going for the summit… PLEASE…].

Sherpa and Dr. Bentley ponder the beauty of the mountain peak above them. Roger mentions how quiet it is that high, but the Sherpa assures him that when the mountain wishes, she can scream loud enough to turn men deaf. He says with a smile that perhaps that evening, they’ll get a chance to hear her roar.


Scene 11: As evening descends, the storm winds pick up [well, they’re roaring, but the cloud cover around Tuatara are wind resistant so everything still looks quite placid in another establishing shot].

For some reason, Dr. Lafarge stands outside in the roaring gale.

Meanwhile in a tiny tent, Drs. Bentley, Bellamin and Stuart are huddled around an electric lantern and what I’ll assume is some type of mountain tent appropriate space heater thingie.

Lafarge crawls into the tent, which looks barely large enough to accommodate our original three, bringing in his soon to be melting snow water. Bentley expresses hope that by the next evening they’ll have reached the summit and can get down to finding their long lost tribe of relocated ark survivors.

In the mid-distance, they hear the unwelcome sounds of an avalanche rumbling.

The men are left to wait wide eyed as the rumbling grows uncomfortably loud, as the snow collapse gets closer to their camp. When they’re not all buried and crushed by tons of snow, Roger tells them they’re all safer there than they’d be crossing time square.


Scene 12: The following day is bright and beautiful and our men [or their stock footage stand ins] continue their climbing.

It’s snowing! Climb, climb, climb.

Oh NO! Avalanche!!





Oh, *whew!* Our men are safe [except for freezing to death because they’re dressed in slacks, instead of heavy snow pants and right now their legs are turning frost bit and blackened].


Scene 13: Dr. Bellamin jokes that Ishtar isn’t smiling on them that morning.

Dr. Bentley [very bored-soundingly] “exclaims” for them to look at something - which turns out to be a plastic arm brought down from the plateau above them.

But we’ve no time to ponder, we have to watch more climbing footage!


Scene 14: When our intrepid explorers reach the plateau, they find something wholly unexpected: the ruins of a city built into the mountain face!





Dr. Bentley immediately identifies it as a Sumerian temple.


Commentary: It took us 19min, 30 sec to actually reach where our real story is to begin. I hate you, “The Mole People” … you have a lot of making up to me to do. Start by giving me a gruesome death, and not of the obvious Sherpa-choice, but one of our scientists.


Scene 15: Roger and Jud discuss the lack of city ruins to go with the temple, and Rog suggests that Nazar should be sent back to collect the load bearers, so the scientists can set up their permanent camp right here outside the ruins. They’re interrupted by Etienne, who finds a statue head in the snow and is excited.

Rog can’t wait to show the head to Paul, who is several feet away engrossed in his own observations of the site. He fails to notice the ground shifting under his weight.

Dr. Stuart is sent into a plunge as a void below the earth opens up underneath him. Roger yells down to him, but all is dark, and echoed. Nazar comes up with a flashlight, but Roger can’t see the bottom. He orders climbing ropes.


Scene 16: For some reason, everyone strips out of their winter gear because climbing means the severe thin air and cold won’t affect them, now?

Roger Bentley descends after the unfortunate Paul Stuart.

When he safely reaches a natural resting point, Etienne Lafarge follows behind.

We focus on Bentley’s hammering in a piton and tying a rope for the next leg of the descent after Dr. Stuart… who surely would be ground into hamburger by a fall of this magnitude, bouncing off rock the entire way down.

Our scientists continue their way down the rock face, Roger ahead of Etienne.


Commentary: And yes, this part is a bit slow, too. But I’m going to give it some props anyway -- the soundtrack wasn’t obtrusively placed over this sequence, so we only have the sounds of the men’s boots on the rock and their panting for breath. It’s a very nice touch. As well, the cave does look appropriately [Hollywood] dark and easy to buy that the actors are surrounded by rock cave walls in this sequence [if you ignore that it would of course be pitch black and we wouldn’t actually be able to see an inch in front of our face at this point].

The sequence is nicely filmed, giving a sense of the claustrophobic darkness and the closeness of the rock walls. I’m just hoping they don’t find Paul alive, or I’ll have screech ‘bullshit!’.



Scene 17: As we see Etienne joining Roger, above them Jud is making his way down as well. But there is still no sign of Paul’s remains, and Etienne and Rog are too far down for Dr. Stuart to have survived.

Roger mentions that it’s getting really warm and Etienne tells him they must’ve descended 200 feet. Roger worries after Etienne’s making it further, but the older gentleman assures him that he’s fine.


Commentary: I’m gonna go ahead and admit my ignorance here about protocol in this situation: Would these scientists really continue to descend after Paul when it’s clear that he can’t be alive? Is body retrieval a priority if it can be managed in this extreme climbing situation?

I could see it either way, so I really don’t know if it’s realistic for the guys to continue down far enough to run into our lost city, or if they should’ve returned to the surface instead.



Scene 18: Our climbers continue downward & downward, while one piton seems shaky at best.

Once at the bottom, Roger discovers the unfortunate Dr. Stuart on the ground through the light of his flashlight.


Commentary: I’m liking this set, because it does really look dirty, closed in, very much like a rock passage that would be a bear trying to scale down. The set decorators, the actors, and the cameramen did a great job of making this all seem like they’re filming where the scene is set and it’s all good.

The problem is with the amount of time that we had to spend watching our men climbing down. It was practically in real time, and it was boring as hell after the first five minutes. C’mon! We don’t need every footfall for every one of our scientists [along with a quick flash to the guide, Nazar, to remind us he’s there too].



Scene 19: We watch our three surviving scientists gather around the doomed Paul, as above them Nazar reaches the wobbly piton. But Nazar notices the loose rope hold and before making his way down as well, he stops to hammer the rope ring deeper into the rock.

Alas for him, the piton was only part of the problem… from above a small rock slide lets loose from the hammering. Poor Nazar is beamed in the head!



Commentary: Okay, that was pretty okay. The scenes had set up Nazar or maybe even Dr. Bellamin for a fall, only to then have Nazar find the loose piton before anything could happen. But then in a sudden fake out, it turns out that Nazar isn’t safe after all. And, I liked the [no doubt, light foam] rock actually being shown hitting him in the forehead in its fall. That was surprising, and even such a small surprise is welcome right about now.


Scene 20: Nazar, alas, falls to the cavern floor, and is then buried in the rock slide that he inadvertently caused.

[Well, being “the help”, of course he was…. We can’t risk the white men not being the big heroes, after all.]


Commentary: This was another nicely filmed scene, if predictable. I’ll give the crew their props for this sequence for some very nice technical work being done to convince us that our scientists are trapped in a underground world.


Scene 21: Etienne tells the others that they’re trapped down here, as he sways in shock at the cavern wall. After Roger and Jud confirm that their way back up isn’t anymore - Roger takes a look around.

He notices that the “cavern” they now find themselves in doesn’t appear to be a natural formation at all. He points out to Jud that it looks like they’ve found themselves into an excavated tunnel, instead!

In the meantime, Etienne is nearing a despair breakdown as their situation crowds in on him: trapped inside a mountain, without food or water… left as Khan left Kirk… buried alive, buried alive….

But then Roger notices that he can feel a draft, which indicates that there must be another opening. He tells the others that they should look for it.


Commentary: And among my chief complaints, next to the pacing that we’ve already heard about, is going to be our actors, I’m afraid. Right now, Paiva is the only one who seems to be trying to put in some effort. Beaumont looks like he doesn’t really know what his character is doing here at all, and - I can’t believe I’m saying this but - Agar sounds absolutely bored to death. [What?! No cheezy-grinning??]

Even a near death cave in, and the loss of two of his colleagues aren’t breaking through his dull shell of “Can I go home now?” It’s just making all of this feel even slower in pacing than had already been accomplished without their help.

I do want to mention the lighting though for another nice job. We have a light focused on our actors so we can see what is going on, but the lighting has been arranged to leave the space around the actors in total darkness, which is a wonderful effect to suggest that our characters are actually within the deep earth and adding a claustrophobic feel to these scenes as our men wander down the odd tunnel that shouldn’t be here. The behind-the-scenes crew were obviously working very hard to try to cover for the very clear lack of scripted action. It’s not really their job to keep the audience on board while we’re waiting for the story proper in the hidden kingdom to actually start, but it’s clear that someone wanted to do their best which is much more than many other films show, so “kudos, you guys… I noticed your efforts and appreciated them”.



Scene 22: Our trio find another tunnel, but as Roger Bentley continues, Jud Bellamin and Etienne Lafarge fall behind due to the latter’s mental and physical exhaustion [he appears much more impacted by the heat, than his younger colleagues].

Behind Roger, [with a zoom and a Horn Blare of Warning, to ensure we’re awake enough to see it] a set of claws dig through the tunnel wall unnoticed by our scientists.





A set of inhuman eyes peer through….


Scene 23: Bellamin comes up behind Bentley for a cheap scare by doing the “hand-on-shoulder-without-saying-anything-first” thing, that I find so annoying. He tells Bentley that Lafarge isn’t looking good.


Scene 24: Lafarge complains of the air being hard to breathe and the other two have to assist him in walking.


Scene 25: Dark Tunnel Wandering.

To Lafarge’s relief they come to a square of light at the end of the current tunnel that they’re wandering. They proceed toward it with cautious curiosity.


Scene 26: The tunnel leads to a large underground city.

Lafarge brings up the amazing level of light in this underground cavern and Bentley states [with dull anti-wonder] that it is probably some sort of chemical reaction in the rocks.

They soon find a replica of the head bust that they’d found in the outside world, confirming that their recent finds are connected to this vast, ancient city.





Scene 27: Our men, on their feet for the past 15 hours decide that they need to lay down for a rest before they attempt to locate another exit.

Nearby, another of the tunneling claws comes up through the ground. Lafarge hears it, but is convinced that it’s nothing by Bentley despite it the tunneling appearing almost under their heads.


Scene 28:  Some time later, our men are joined by more inhuman figures. They’re quickly subdued with sacks over their heads and dragged away from their resting spot for the city across a gorge.

This involves being dragged down through the holes in the dirt, which our presumed Mole Men dig.


Commentary: This scene did, at least, have the frisson that comes with the thought of being dragged below the smothering ground, and with a bag over your head so that you can’t even see what is happening or why… well, creepy….


Scene 29: Again, sometime later, and apparently coming to from unconsciousness with a start - our trio struggle to remove their hoods, to find themselves in another tunnel.

Lafarge is quickly discovered to have suffered a ragged claw mark huge in size across his torso from his abduction.

A quick look around reveals they’ve been brought to a dungeon cell, where some skeletons of previous tenants are still in residence. But these bones only look somewhat human… the finger bones [somehow still attached, as are all of the bones despite no connective tissue] are supremely long, pointing the audience to Mole Men locked away in here for some reason, and left to die.

Inspection of the skeletons is interrupted by a wall swinging open.


Scene 30: They’re confronted by a pair of mute guards who use their short sword to point that they should come with them. Jud doesn’t want to go, but there aren’t really any good choices here.


Commentary: And all of it is… dull, dull, dull… this film is so slow in anything really happening. For those looking for some distraction though, Guards where short shifts that show off their skinny, white legs.

[Yeah, I got nuthin’.]



Scene 31: Our Pasty-Faced Guards lead our prisoners to a large temple nearby a bridge over a river of running water.

Meanwhile at the temple, figures in white robes gather.





They’re casually marched toward the temple.


Scene 32: At the temple, a High Priest intones ominously about the Rods of the Secrets of Death in his hands.

The High Priest immediately informs the King that our scientists are evil ones.

Our trio are ordered brought before the throne.

Bentley implies here that we’re hearing English, but that we’re speaking Sumerian so… sure… why not.

The Ishtarians are told of our scientists’ travels from the outside world, but our King and High Priest don’t believe in any outside worlds. They tell our trio that only the heavens are beyond their underground world. He questions whether they’d claim godhood, but doesn’t give them a chance to answer. It doesn’t matter -- if they’re gods, they’re false and must be destroyed. If they’re mortals, they don’t belong among the Istar people and must be destroyed. Either way, the Fires of Ishtar is the answer.

Well, Bentley isn’t about to put up with that nonsense. Our two able bodied scientists break free to go on the run, while Lafarge continues to act like an imminent collapse is in his immediate future.

With the Guard on their heels, the trio make a run for it through another side tunnel leading from the temple.


Commentary: All of this is coming across as rote, really. There just isn’t anything magnetic happening and neither John Agar nor Hugh Beaumont are doing anything with their roles to keep our interests. Nestor Paiva continues acting his little heart out, but he’s stuck in the role of the weak, sickly one so he doesn’t get anything meaty to work with.

It’s just all so by-the-book, that you can tell even the screenwriters were kind of bored with it all. The Mutant Mole People are of some interest, just because they’re different looking and hopefully our story will be focusing more on them now that our characters are breaking free from the Ishtarians, but this has taken 30 whole minutes to reach anything actually happening and our interest has precipitously flagged by this point. We need something much more than racing down anonymous tunnels to save this film.

I think this is the worst sort of bad movie… one in which nothing shines, but nothing is so horribly and incompetently done that it draws attention to itself and gives us something to snark about, either. It’s just there - going through the motions, and dragging our yawning selves behind it.



Scene 33: As they race away, Lafarge cries out for Bentley, as he’s fallen to the ground. He’s just about to take a short sword into the torso, when Roger’s flashlight causes blindness and pain to the Ishtar Guards.

They’re driven away from the stricken Lafarge and forced to retreat… even those who weren’t actually taking any direct light to the face are forced to shield their eyes with cries of discomfort.


Scene 34: Our trio rushes behind the guards, chasing them back to the temple where our King is incensed and our Priest throws a hissy fit over the running guards. But though the High Priest continues to yell at them to stop running, he and the King are also forced back by the flashlight’s power in Rog’s hand.

As the Ishtarian’s melt back into the city beyond the temple, our trio examine one of the fallen Ishtar Guards, finding them to be pigment free, due to their non-exposure of the sun for millennia.

The Guard however is soon carried away from underneath by one of the Mole People to the astonishment of our trio. Lafarge, in a panic, retreats back into the dark tunnel blindly.


Commentary: Why the “chemical reaction rock” of the cavern isn’t found in the tunnel is a question not asked or considered. It’s also interesting to consider that for humanoids to be traveling under the Ishtarians, there has to be a “world within a world within a world”, implied by our opening geology lesson by our visiting professor. It’d be interesting if we get to see this secondary internal world, if the Mole People have a culture going on of their own….


Scene 35: Our duo soon catch up to the exhausted Lafarge who warn them that they have to find a way out before the Ishtarians return to finish that whole “you must be destroyed” plan. Bentley reluctantly agrees.

Some more wandering of pitch black tunnels.

Some time later, Jud complains that they’ve been headed downward in the dark as the air is getting even hotter than before. This is something that Lafarge isn’t taking on so well, as he’s continuing to have problems breathing with all of the exertion. From somewhere in front of them, they hear unearthly screeches, causing looks of concern.

Bellamin and Bentley settle Lafarge down, so they can scout ahead for the source of the sounds.


Scene 36: The sounds intensify as Jud and Rog reach another cavern made of the same glowing rock as above the Ishtarians’ heads. In this cavern, they spy on Ishtarian Guards whipping on Mole People with seemingly little provocation.

The Mole People are herded into shallow pits, where they’re thrown the minimal level of food in the form of large mushrooms.

Our duo are seen by the Guards who go in pursuit, while Roger complains that the flashlight’s button has become jammed.


Scene 37: As the Istharians whip the Mole People in acting as their tracking dogs, Lafarge panics in the tunnel that the scientists try to hide in. He takes off with a cry of panic, with Roger going after him as Jud decides whether to follow or stay hidden.

He finally chooses to pursue his colleagues.


Scene 38: In the meantime, Lafarge - despite stumbling around - gets ahead of Bentley. He falls to the dirt, running into one of the Mole People. He gives a shout as the Mole Person lunges at him.


Scene 39: When Roger catches up, he finds the Mole Person kneeling at Lafarge’s side. He whacks him in the head, which has the lucky effect of turning the flashlight back on in time to drive the Mole Person away from Lafarge’s fallen form.

Alas for Lafarge, he’s got a rake mark across the face and lies with his eyes wide open… dead [finally… the guy was doomed from the moment he started the climb down].



TBC for some reason