The Land Unknown (1957)


USA. 1957.


Director – Virgil Vogel, Screenplay – Laszlo Gorog, Adaptation – William N. Robson, Story – Charles Palmer, Producer – William Alland, Photography (b&w) – Ellis W. Carter, Music Supervisor – Joseph Gershenson, Special Photography – R.O. Binger & Clifford Stine, Special Effects – Roswell A. Hoffman, Special Effects Created by Darren Ernest, Jack Kevan & Fred Knoth, Makeup Supervisor – Bud Westmore, Art Direction – Alexander Golitzen & Richard H. Riedel. Production Company – Universal-International


Jock Mahoney (Commander Harold Roberts), Shawn Smith (Margaret Hathaway), Henry Brandon (Dr Carl Hunter), William Reynolds (Lieutenant Jack Carmen), Phil Harvey (Steve Miller), Douglas B. Kennedy (Captain Burnham)


A US Navy expedition, joined by marine journalist Margaret Hathaway, goes to explore a mysterious temperate region discovered in the Antarctic. A storm causes the helicopter to crash and the party find themselves in a tropical valley where dinosaurs from prehistory still roam. As they try to repair the helicopter and fly out before the ship departs, they face a survivor from a previous crashed flight who is living as a wild man. He offers their only hope to get out but wants Margaret to stay and be his woman as the price of his aid.

The Land Unknown was one of several dinosaur films made in the 1950s. Most of these fall into the atomically enlarged dinosaur variety that were all the thing after The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). There are a lesser number belong to this lost world variety, a genre that began much earlier back in the silent era. The Land Unknown was a modest effort. It was produced by William Alland, the producer of a number of genre classics such as It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), This Island Earth (1955) and Tarantula (1955), and directed by Virgil Vogel who also made The Mole People (1956).

The film starts promisingly. It realistically roots itself amid stock footage of The Antarctic and details of the actual Admiral Byrd expeditions of the 1930s and 40s. The escalation of the situation as the expedition goes down – the cloud cover preventing searches, the battery failing on the radio, the rod on the helicopter blades snapping – are well dramatically compounded. The film is even convincingly anthropologically rooted.

If The Land Unknown were a film made today with say Jurassic Park (1993)-styled effects it could be a fine film. Alas, it befalls the same problem endemic to most 1950s dinosaur films – poor effects. The T-Rex is a thoroughly unconvincing man in a rubber suit and the sea monster laughably shabby, with the best effects being the good old standby of photographically enlarged lizards. It is these unfortunately that the film stands or falls upon.

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