Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time Forgotten! Classic Pulp from the 1970s’!

The 1970s’ saw a resurgence of the pulp/scifi genre. Movies heavily influenced by the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan fame and Arthur Conan Doyle. Most movies of this sort were low budget and frankly bad enough to make you cringe. But that is why they are classics in my mind. One of the actors that found work in these films with Doug McClure; he starred in The Land that Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, The People that Time Forgot (as a guest star), and Warlords of Atlantis. Unfortunately this rugged actor died in 1995 at the age of 59.
The movies he starred in were some great examples of pulp science fiction and pulp adventure in general. The Land that Time Forgot and The People that Time Forgot are two films I just had the pleasure of watching again recently, thanks to a good friend of mine. Knowing my love of the genre he picked up the duo on one DVD and sent them on to me as a gift—thanks Ashy!
The Land that Time Forgot (1975), stared Doug McClure and John McEnery, with the screen play written by Michael Moorcock. Those of us that are fantasy novel readers know Moorcock from his creation of the Eternal Champion, and his most famous character Elric. Moorcock also wrote a series of “Mars” books in the Burroughs vein that I may have review in the blog. So for me, there is a lot of geeky goodness before the film even starts.
The movie is based on a novel by the aforementioned Edgar Rice Burroughs. The movie takes place in 1916 at the height of the Great War. The ocean liner that McClure is a passenger on is torpedoed by a German U-boat. He and a few survivors are lost at sea until they come upon the sub that sank them on the surface. McClure’s character, Bowen Tyler, is from a family of submariners, so he understand the vessel and convinces the surviving ship’s crew to aid him in taking the sub for their own use to reach a safe port. The above elements are staples in pulp fiction: the coincidence of running on the U-boat in vastness of the ocean to the one man to survive is the right man with the skills needed for the job.
The U-Boat is taken by force and guile, but the Germans are not willing to go easy, the executive officer Dietz, smashes the radio which makes it impossible for Tyler to contact friendly forces, and then sabotages the compass, so they become lost.
Lost in the south near Antarctica, the sub is low on fuel and supplies, the group come across a mythical land called Caprona, that the German captain recognizes from the writings of a 17th century explorer. Through expert navigation the sub is threaded through an underground river to the interior of Caprona. There, the ship’s crew discovers dinosaurs and cave men. So the crews both English and German agree to work together to refine crude oil so they can refuel and escape Caprona. During the refining process the German captain and Bowen’s love interest (Susan Penhaligon), both biologists try to puzzle out the mysteries of Caprona, with its dinosaurs of different epochs and cave men from Neanderthal to Cro-Magnon, the evolutionary track seeming to follow the river inland becoming more advanced as the one goes deeper into the land.
The mystery is basically solved when the head waters of the river is discovered, where it appears all life originates within its waters. The girl is of course kidnapped by savages and Bowen fights to rescue her. Meanwhile the volcanoes decided that is the perfect time to erupt to destroy the island. McClure’s and Penhaligon’s characters race back but the U-Boat has all ready started to sail, with Dietz taking over. The couple of left stranded and the sub is crushed beneath rocks in its attempt to escape. So the movie ends with the couple heading north in to find a new life, with McClure’s character throwing a canister in the sea with the narrative of the events that had taken place.
The People that Time Forgot (1977) takes place a few years later, starring Patrick Wayne and Sara Douglas (Conan the Destroyer) with Wayne’s character searching for Bowen, a childhood friend. He is accompanied by Douglas’ character who is a strong willed reporter, Wayne’s war buddy, a mechanic, and a British scientist, making up the adventurous group. Once on the island they encounter a native woman who knows English because Bowen has taught her. So the group enlists her aid to find Bowen.
The film is filled with pulp daring do, with cave men taking the heroes to make a sacrifice out of them, to the discovery of a war-like, slightly more advanced race of men. Even the pudgy scientist turns out to be capable in battle, his cane concealing a sword, as any good British adventurer should have! There are daring rescues and fist-fights, with a guest appearance by Doug McClure. The escape from the island is sped up by the volcanoes that are once again erupting to destroy the land.
Both films fall under “low-budget”, models and matte painting supply much of the scenery and vessels used. Puppet dinosaurs make you wish for Ray Harryhausen claymation. (I love Harryhausen just in case one gets the wrong impression.) The stories are what make the films though, lost lands, exploring the unknown despite the dangers; the pulpy goodness of dinosaurs and sword wielding mutant types. The Kaiser’s boys standing in for Nazi’s, with beautiful, smart, tough women and the square-jawed men who love them, are what the best pulp fiction has to offer. The tales revolve around the characters placed in this situation, not the special effect monsters, as I have lamented about so many modern films. In The Land that Time Forgot, there is Captain Von Schoenvorts, played by John McEnery, who has a keen interest in biology. When challenged by Miss Clayton, Susan Penhaligon’s character, and McClure’s love interest, about his service and destruction of a British vessel carrying women and children, when he is such a student of life. The German replies that it is because of his study that his actions are justified, he understands the kill or be killed of survival. He tells her that the vessel would not have blown up as it had if it were not carrying war munitions; munitions that would be used to kill woman and children in his own homeland. The exchange is great—great story telling. In a conversation the German’s motivations are explained, without explanation and he becomes sympathetic, leaving villainy to Dietz the XO.
The action is cliff-hanger style without the fade to black, but the heroes are placed in precarious spots continuously, whether fighting the monsters, the cave men, or the island itself.
To say that I enjoyed these films is an understatement. I would recommend them, but I would caution the viewer: watch the story. Don’t worry about the implausibility of the tale that is part of the fun of pulp science fiction. Ignore the special effects value—or if you must at least laugh at it. This is pure Saturday afternoon entertainment.

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