Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Silent Movie Week - Day Two - The Lost World (1925)

Poor Professor Challenger - though he may very well be as intelligent, his temper, I fear, made him always destined be live in the shadow of his literary step-brother Shelock Holmes. Unfortunately for the professor, this secondary creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never was able to burst into the limelight or gain the popularity of the famed detective. Even in today's feature, the second in our look at silent films, he is truly upstaged by a pack of dinosaurs.

Of course, these were not your ordinary dinosaurs, to be sure. Instead they were the work of stop-motion pioneer Willis O'Brien, who would go on to also create a certain Empire-State-Building-climbing, Fay-Wray-loving giant ape. By then, the creations of O'Brien would be truly spectacular, but even in this early effort they are quite amazing. How amazing? Well according to a report published in the New York Times the day after Conan Doyle himself showed some of the test footage to the Society of American Magicians, "(Conan Doyle’s) monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which he has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces"

Actually, the Lost World is notable in a number of ways. It was made with the full cooperation of Conan Doyle, who actually appears in the introduction of the film. It was the first feature length film to employ stop-motion animation as its main source of special effects. It contains on of the first examples of what we call today "product placement" (look for the Corona typewriters being used). And it was the first film shown to passengers on an airplane. (It was shown on a London to Paris Imperial Airlines flight in April 1925).

But more than all of that, it's simply a ripping good adventure yarn. Young reporter Edward Malone is drawn to a speech being given by Professor Challenger who claims that his friend, disappeared explorer Maple White, has discovered a plateua in South America where beasts from another time still live. Ridiculed for his claims, Challenger gathers a group to return to the plateau, see if they can rescue White, and also prove his fanciful claims. The group includes Challenger and Malone, hunter John Roxton, White's daughter Paula, and an Indian manservant and Challenger's butler. Yeah, seriously, his butler.

After days of exploring and travelling the Amazon, the party finally find themselves at the base of the plateau. The only problem is that it is only approachable by climbing one side of a mountain and then walking across a log crossing a deep chasm to the actual plain. They consider turning back, as they have seen no evidence that the mythical beasts for which they are searching are even up there. No evidence, that is, until a pterodactyl comes flying onto the screen and lands upon the prominence they are considering climbing. This sighting is quickly followed by the appearance of a brontosaur and then a number of other prehistoric creatures, all of whom seem to delight in fighting and killing each other. To make matters worse, once the group has made it to the plateua, one of the ornery critters tosses their log bridge down into the crevasse, seemingly trapping them there forever.

How about a trailer spotlighting some of the great effects scenes?

And the Skinny:
Title: The Lost World
Release Date: 1925
Running Time: Varies (various sequences have been lost over time, some have been restored - the original release time is 106 minutes, most available versions run between 85-100 minutes)
Black and White
Starring: Wallace Beery
Directed by: Harry Hoyt
Produced by: Jamie White, Earl Hudson
Distributed by: First National Pictures

The Lost World is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: The Lost World (Restored Edition).

It's also available to watch or rent from Netflix: The Lost World.

Until next time, Happy (Silent) Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


silentfilm said...

There are three different version of this film available. The most common version is the shortened Kodascope home movie version that was sold to collectors in the 1920s and 1930s. About 10 years ago, both the George Eastman House archive and film restorer David Shepard restored the film using extra scenes and outtakes. The David Shepard version is available on DVD from Image/Film Preservation Associates. The Shepard DVD version has two different music scores, a traditional one by Robert Israel, and a modern one by the Alloy Orchestra.

Professor Damian said...

Hey, silentfilm! Thaks for reading and thanks for the info. Much appreciated!

-Professor D

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