The People that Time Forgot (1977)
Today Nate and I will be mining Edgar Rice Burroughs territory again for our latest review (we've been down that shaft before). Although he was by no means a great writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs was quite a storyteller, inventing new worlds with nonstop action for the principal characters. Not as easy as you might think if you've never tried writing fiction. None of his works are likely to win any awards for writing, but they do keep the reader's attention, so they're good choices for making into movies. Nate went looking for another Edgar Rice Burroughs movie in the public domain, and this is what he found. Not only could we (and you) watch it for free, it stars Doug McClure, almost a guarantee of the sort of cheesiness MMT loves in a movie. And without further ado, on to the show!
True to its source, the movie starts off fast and never slows down. We see a ship sailing in icy waters, and within the first few minutes, we learn that an Antarctic expedition is being led by Major McBride to rescue a friend of his who is stranded on an island in the Antarctic. The expedition is being financed by The Times of London, and the Royal Navy is assisting. Now just why, you may be asking, does a lone castaway rate such attention? Well, it's not so much who he is, but where he is. His message requesting help (found in a bottle, as per traditional castaway communication) informed the world that the island he is stranded on isn't the desolate stretch of snow and ice you'd expect to find in the Antarctic, but is actually a verdant oasis with a thriving human population. Not only that, but it also has a lot of dinosaurs living on it. No wonder Major McBride got all this help! In fact, I'm surprised that all the members of the expedition can fit onto a smallish ship. I'd expect every paleontologist in the world to fight his or her way aboard.
Nice model, just ignore the fact that the sails are blowing towards the bow and the funnel smoke is blowing aft.
See the canister on the table? That ties in with this movie's prequel, The Land that Time Forgot, where...oh, just read the book, ok?
We not only learn the purpose of the expedition, we learn about some stress among its personnel. The Times insisted that the expedition's photographer be none other than Lady Charlotte Cunningham, who is, as you've probably figured out, a woman. She seems to be the only woman on the expedition, and Major McBride isn't at all happy to have a woman along. The Major is played by Patrick Wayne, son of The Duke, and his father's attitude seems to have carried over to the character his son is playing. (For the younger readers, I may have to say that in the early 1970s John Wayne was famous for saying, "Sure I'll let my wife work, as long as she has dinner on the table when I get home.")
McBride (his teeth are perfect!).
I'll point out that this movie was made in 1977, when women were beginning to make real inroads into jobs once considered to belong exclusively to men, and I'm sure the Major's unpleasant attitude was echoed by some of his audience. Or maybe the Major's just in a snit because Lady Charlotte isn't very pretty, although she'd look a lot better if she took her hair out of those unflattering Princess Leia buns.
Lady Charlotte (it is 1977, after all, and all the cool kids wanted Carrie Fisher's hairdo from Star Wars).
The ship has now arrived at the island where the Major's friend is stranded, and the expedition finds that the island is encircled by ice-covered mountains which look impossible to climb. Fortunately they've come prepared. The movie is set shortly after World War I, and the Major, Lady Charlotte, and a couple of other men prepare to fly over the mountains in an open-cockpit amphibious biplane, which is not something you'd ever get me to do.
The back-projection work is pretty nice throughout this movie, even if the color match is usually off.
Oh, yeah and McBride is also an ace pilot. And probably a porn star ninja particle physicist, too.
They make it, but their troubles are just starting, because once they're over the mountains and into the warm part of the island, their plane is attacked by a pterodactyl. The pterodactyl dives on the airplane and pecks at it, apparently thinking it's another bird. Neither the plane nor the pterodactyl survive the encounter, although the plane manages to land safely. The pterodactyl's movement isn't entirely convincing, but if you squint a little it doesn't look too bad, certainly much better than Rodan's or Mothra's flying. This movie had a small budget which obviously didn't have much allotted for special effects. Incidentally, the first view of the pterodactyl didn't produce much excitement among the fliers, about as much as though it was any large bird, but then again they already knew there were dinosaurs here.
Certainly a better throwback bird than The Giant Claw, but not as cool as Dinosaur Train on PBS Kids.
Some nice work with multiple element layers here. See, I can be positive, mom.
Once on the ground, Lady Charlotte proves her usefulness. The airplane is caught in a hollow place in the ground, and even working together, the four of them aren't strong enough to pull it out. However, the resourceful Lady Charlotte spots a stegosaurus (!) nearby and ingeniously suggests that they tie a rope around its tail and let it pull the airplane out. The matter-of-factness with which they react to the stegosaurus is amazing. I'd expect at least a "Gee whiz, look at that, a stegosaurus," but they act as though they found a horse wandering by. Anyway, the stegosaurus docilely drags the airplane to a better location, although they have some trouble getting it to stop (stegosauruses aren't that bright, you know). The motion of the stegosaurus is unconvincing, about the level of theme-park animatronics and worse than the pterodactyl, but about what you'd expect in a low-budget movie.
Actually had a full-scale plane! Looks like an early British Supermarine type, maybe a Seal or a Seagull.
That Stegalumposaurus needs to see a dermatologist.
Once the plane is free, Hogan the mechanic announces that it will be several days before the airplane will be back in flying condition. The Major is worried about his friend's safety, although after all this time, I can't see what harm a few more days will do. He insists that he and the other two will start hiking to try to find him. He, Lady Charlotte, and the other man, who is called Dr. Norfolk and seems to be some sort of scientist, set out.
They walk a lot.
It's been quite a while since the excitement with the pterodactyl, but Edgar Rice Burroughs was never one to let his readers get bored, and very soon they're stopped by a screaming young woman bursting out of the woods into their midst. At first she's not friendly; she draws a knife on the Major as soon as she sees him, but the approach of a couple of dinosaurs improves her attitude rapidly, and once the Major throws a smoke grenade and drives off the dinosaurs, she's at least willing to speak to them. These dinosaurs are yet another step down in realism, since all we see are a couple of brief shots of their heads moving slowly. The special-effects budget must have been blown on the pterodactyl.
One Snaggletoothosaurus shot through the jaws of another, that's a nice composition shot.
The girl turns out to be able to speak English, which she says the Major's friend, Bowen Tyler, taught her. Her name is Ajor, and like most primitive wilderness-dwelling women in B-movies, she's wearing an artfully-tattered fake leather outfit, and has a mass of impeccably curled and styled hair and access to large amounts of eye makeup. However, she has less than usual of something else: the supply of fake leather must be limited in her village, because most of the front of her blouse is missing. A wardrobe malfunction could occur at any moment. I seriously do not see how she keeps what little of it there is in place, it must have been glued on. Her short skirt is slit almost to her waist on both sides, and it too must have been glued on her to prevent an exposure that would make this movie X-rated, unless her primitive tribe has invented underpants. She's also wearing a bracelet which seems surprisingly well-made for a primitive tribeswoman to have, and I wonder if her people are more advanced than you'd think from looking at her clothing, or if somebody in Wardrobe found something at a flea market that looked pretty.
Ajor. She must get chilly.
Eyes up here, boys. Charlotte, you can peek if you want to.
History shows that an outsider coming to a less-advanced culture and meddling as he sees fit usually causes more harm than good, and sadly this is the case here. Tyler probably thought he was being helpful when he taught Ajor's Stone Age tribe Iron-Age-level farming and metal-working techniques, but the Naga, another, more-advanced tribe that lived nearby, took violent exception to the new competition. In a move modern businesses would envy, they massacred Ajor's people, and she says sorrowfully that only a few members of her tribe escaped. They inquire after Tyler, and Ajor thinks he might still be alive, since the Naga like to sacrifice prisoners to their volcano god. The Major thinks it's worth a try to find him, and Ajor leads them to where she thinks Tyler might be. By the way, from Ajor's attitude when Tyler is mentioned, I think he was more to her than just a teacher, and she doesn't need much persuasion to lead the rescue party. So they set forth, and at this point, I'm going to stop and let Nate take over. I'm sure he has a lot to say about Ajor's outfit.
Said before, said always, said now, Raquel Welch set the gold standard in buckskin-bikini fantasies, even in b-cups.
Thanks, Pam. Well, I am not opposed to cleavage persay (in fact, I'm a staunch supporter of all cleavage and boob-related issues), and I've seen enough b-movies to know that a pretty girl with a great rack is almost a prerequisite if you want to recoup your budget at the box office. I'm actually more surprised with Ajor's slit-up-to-wowza miniskirt, which shows off enough buttcheek and thigh to make you completely forget about the dinosaurs. Are all the females on this island dressed this way? Not sure, because, to my surprise, Ajor is the only female we see in the entire movie (who is not Charlotte, that is). Is it just Ajor's personal choice to dress like a twenty-dollar Tulsa airport hooker, or is this an established fashion trend on this island? If everyone there dresses this way, then I'm totally buying a plane ticket...
Since Ajor frustratingly refuses to stay still on screen long enough for me to get a decent snapshot, here's a nice promotional shot from the movie for you to leer at instead.
E.R. Burrough's books are chock full of scantily-clad overly-buxom women, so I guess that it's not really a surprise that Ajor looks like she just stepped out of a 15-year old boy's wet dream, but I do wonder if the director had the cleavage monster look in mind during preproduction, or if he just saw Dana Gillespie's boobs when casting and wrote her revealing outfit into the script. Either way, this is exploitation cinema in its finest and I am pleased to be a part of it! Now that I've written 400 words on Ajor's breasts, let's return to the actual movie. And our heroes ar...ok, ok, fine, let's look at Dana Gillispe's boobs one more time...
She was a semi-famous singer, dontchaknow.
Ok, are you done? Good, because while you were ogling her love pillows our intrepid adventurers are wasting valuable time in their quest to find their long-lost comrade Bowen. They head off in search of the Nagas, led by Ajor, who seems rather willing to risk her life to help some strangers who she just met ten minutes ago. A word on the landscape of thick pine forests and towering snow capped mountains, which is really quite pretty. At first I thought this was Southern California, along the Sierras, but then I read that they filmed this on the Canary Islands and I see that the authentic volcanic ash fields do lend a nice touch to the visuals. As they trek along we have a few pleasant character moments (few and far between before now). Charlotte gets a spider down her blouse and finally (finally!) shows some frazzled edges to her cool-as-ice demeanor. This, in turn, allows her to see McBride for something other than the misogynist asshole that he is and the warming rays of first love brighten the land. You all saw that coming, right? I thought so. However, the old guy in the waistcoat and cummerbund remains just that (he's the very definition of the "extraneous ancillary character") and Ajor can't be bothered to pay attention over the excruciating pain of the gaffer's tape used to hold her bare breasts to the inside of her costume.
Too bad neither of them have had a shower since they left Portsmouth...
Our next action set-piece is our explorers failing miserably to save some of Ajor's people from the grubby hands of a band of Neanderthalish natives. These buckskin-and-headband angry locals seem to exist at around the same developmental level as Ajor's people (bows and flint and grunts and aversion to washrags) but judging by that one guy who has strapped an antelope skull on his forehead, they are animists who worship ground squirrels (or something else, probably dinosaurs). McBride drives them off with his flare gun (least efficient use of his dwindling supply of flare cartridges ever) but not before Ajor's people are riddled with arrows and she has a chance to emote about something other than the pain of the director having her run in open-toe sandals over broken skree.
Maybe they should look into sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry instead, maybe a more steady supply of calories would get them into cotton and polyester faster.
Soon, however, the natives regroup and get the drop on them and the three Brits are captured. Ajor, using her cunning evasion skills (and distracting bouncy-ness) escapes with some of their kit. McBride, Charlotte and the old guy are staked down on a hillside to be dino food (a sacrifice to the beast deities, of course). That night, as a hungry Hippopotomosaurus approaches and things start to look dicey, Ajor saves them in the nick of time. So far we've seen at least five different species of megafauna on this island, all co-existing with the humans and competing for the same territory and access to food. You'd think that with their comparatively high level of technology (fire and iron), the people of this land would have long ago hunted/trapped all the competing megafauna into extinction. We humans are good at that.
Imagine having to scratch your nose when staked down. Hell.
Chased by torch-wielding ratty-haired natives, they flee to a mysterious cave into which the superstitious natives fear to tread. The amazingly clean and uncluttered mountain cave, like all caverns in b-movies, is backlit with colored kleig lights and filled with dry ice fog (nice effort, prop guys). Surprisingly, nothing toothy or scaly jumps out at them from the shadows and they emerge on the other side of the mountain to freedom.
I think this "cave" is 95% Styrofoam.
Short-lived freedom, that is. They are quickly surrounded and captured by the dreaded Nagas, the volcano god-worshipping Visigoth-like warrior tribe who ride Spanish horses and dress like Japanese samurai. Yes, I'm not making that up, they are straight out of a period kung fu movie, right down to the samurai swords and blood red banners. I know the East Asian motif is from Burrough's source material, but it still seems so unexplainably incongruous that it kinda ruins the tension for me. I suppose, if you stretch it, this island might have been visited by Shogun-era Japanese explorers centuries ago, they were pretty good seafarers, and they left their cultural imprint on the Nagas. Our heroes are led away along a ridge-top path to the Naga citadel, which is a skull-themed chiseled-stone monstrosity that would make Skeletor melt with envy.
Sure, let's go with that.
Imposing, yes, but a bitch to heat in the winter and the school district is quite sub-par according to the latest WSJ.
Here they meet the Naga's king, an obese Tor Johnson-lookalike with green-tinted skin and a thing for oversized costume jewelry and pelt loincloths. When we first see him he's lounging on a fur and bone-covered Chesterfield, a scary Gimla Wormtounge-ish henchman at his side, a very Burroughisian image that just begs to be airbrushed on the side of a Chevy van. This movie moves too quick for any explanation of the Naga culture's hierarchy or governmental system, but one can postulate that this guy assumed the throne because he back-alley shanked every one else who wanted the job. Either that or this is a representative democracy and this guy just happened to win a couple of primaries and then get most of the Latino vote in the general election.
The Naga's Barsoomian leader.
Ajor has managed to keep her hair looking nice through all of this mess.
The two men are taken away to a cell to await their (surely gristly) fate. In the cell next door is Bowen, the lost explorer that McBride came to this land to find (imagine the odds!). Once he breaks through the way-too-fragile wall, Bowen and McBride share a quick hug and a gentlemanly back-slap. The Bowen character was the star of this movie's prequel, The Land that Time Forgot from 1975, but since I haven't seen that one yet, to me he's just some scraggly, lice-infested old guy with suspiciously white teeth. The bad guys come to get them and because all Englishmen are experts in swordplay and melee combat, they best the guards with relative ease. The big reveal is that the Naga foot soldiers are all hideously deformed mutants! Rah!
Bowen (or Nick Nolte at his worst).
They better hurry up because Ajor and Charlotte are slotted to become Brides of the Volcano! As in, sacrificed in a quite bloody way to appease the Lava God so he will continue to bring good harvests of plunder and loot. It strikes me odd that the Naga leader is choosing to kill these two smoking hot babes (including one exotic foreign girl) instead of keeping them as his harem love-slaves (ala Jabba the Hut and Leia). Such sacrifice is usually reserved for captured soldiers and virgins...wait, are Ajor and Charlotte virgins? I seriously doubt it. Anyway, the girls are dressed in snazzy Syracuse orange satin robes and Charlotte has let her hair down (and flat-ironed it, not for nothing). They are both strangely calm, serene even, about their impending demise (downright complacent). I'd be fighting and clawing and spitting like a rabid cornered badger if I knew I was going to die anyway, but then again I'm not a girl in a 1970s b-movie. The executioner approaches with his head-chopping sword, Ajor is laid upon the sacrificial alter, the blade rises...Pam, I can't bear to watch, what happens???!!!
They look like backup singers in a Southern Baptist Gospel Revival band.
Well, Nate, Ajor gets her head cut off, then Charlotte is next on the chopping block, how could they possibly escape...Oops, my mistake. Something totally unexpected (she says sarcastically) happens. Anybody want to guess what? Oh, you people are too clever! Yes, just as the sword is descending on Ajor's fair neck, in burst the guys, who have used that hoary old trick of making their way through the enemy by wearing the uniforms they took off the men (?) they killed. By the way, I'm no expert, but to me it looks as though the executioner is aiming the wrong side of the sword blade at Ajor. How about it? Did the actor make a mistake, or is there really some kind of sword where the sharp edge isn't on the convex side?
In addition to the king and the executioner, there are some samurai-looking soldiers in the execution room, so we get a sort of Robin Hood-like sword fight. McBride even swings from a conveniently-located chandelier. Again, to my inexpert eyes something seems off about the sword fight. It seems too slow and too clumsy, but since my knowledge of sword fights comes only from Robin Hood movies, I don't know if I'm right or not. Is this the way real sword fights are? Is there an SCA Knight in the audience?
Old guy must fought the Zulus back in '98.
To no one's surprise, McBride, Tyler, and Dr. Norfolk beat the samurai handily. The green-skinned king is the only one left standing, and he's hanging on to Ajor, holding her hostage. In true plucky heroine fashion, she bites his hand and he lets her go. Then, reeling from agony I guess, he falls into the volcano, easy enough since there's an opening to it in the execution room (highly unsafe, there's no barricade at all around it, the samurai should make a complaint to OSHA). For reasons not explained, Wormtongue either falls or jumps into the volcano after him. (Two more things that will never be explained: why the samurai are mutants, and why the king is green.)
"Ug, pretty girl all mine! Ug!"
Wow, that dayglo, pulsating "volcano" looks like a Star Trek set.
Okay, so all the bad guys in the execution room are now dead. Naturally McBride, Tyler, and Dr. Norfolk are still wearing their samurai armor, so they tell Ajor and Charlotte to strip the armor off a couple of the smaller samurai and put it on, and they all casually walk out of the castle...of course not. For who knows what reason, they decide it's safer to edge down the side of the crater, which has a trail that leads to an opening in the wall of the crater, which leads to a tunnel that goes out of the castle. And they know this how?
Doug McClure's piercing slate eyes will lead the way to safety.
They make it safely into the tunnel, although a couple of samurai who try to follow them aren't so lucky and end up as cinders. However, their troubles are far from over, because as they're walking down the tunnel, giant snakes poke their heads out of some holes and try to attack them. These snakes look like giant hand puppets, but the actors do a good job of feigning fear. Charlotte and McBride make it past the snakes without much trouble, and Ajor manages to work her way past, but the snakes are now riled and determined to snack on some humans, and Tyler and Dr. Norfolk are trapped. Charlotte displays more resourcefulness when she pulls out the flash from her camera and sets it off, blinding the snakes long enough for Tyler and Dr. Norfolk to get past them. They've all had a very rough day so far, and the scriptwriter is kind enough to give them a quiet walk through the rest of the tunnel and out of the castle. There are two samurai standing guard outside the entrance, but the guys sneak up on them with no trouble (the helmets probably limit their peripheral vision and may make it hard for them to hear anything) and overcome them.
Hisss! This could not be any lamer.
Charlotte's looking a little rough here, doesn't she have a hairbrush in that bag?
Our intrepid group is outside the castle now, going back to the airplane, but they're not going to get a peaceful stroll. As they stumble along the broken ground and through the underbrush, they're menaced by small ground explosions, probably signifying that the volcano is about to erupt. See, the king was right, he really did need to sacrifice Ajor and Charlotte! Now the whole island is doomed because of their selfishness! Not only that, the samurai are now on horseback and are coming after them. The quartet sit down to rest, but very shortly see the samurai approaching rapidly. The always-prepared Charlotte not only produces a pistol from her camera bag, she also has a spare clip of ammunition for it. The samurai don't seem to have any firearms but do have bows and arrows. Here's something else I suspect but am not sure about: wouldn't a good bow and arrow have a much greater effective range than a pistol?
Such dainty little ponies!
Whether or not I'm right about the respective ranges of bows and pistols, the samurai don't seem to know either, and they insist on charging the group. I guess it's possible the original Japanese came to the island before firearms existed, so they may really not know what the pistol can do. Tyler bravely offers to stand them off while the others escape, and they accept without much argument. Maybe his long captivity on the island has depressed him, because he states positively that he might as well stay there and fight, because the island won't let anybody off it. I guess the volcanic eruptions all over the place are its attempt to keep them on it, but in the first place, why would it care if they leave, and in the second place, why is it damaging itself so much to prevent them from leaving? I can't believe I'm worrying about the motivations of a piece of ground.
Tyler picks noble death over the hot chick. Real smart, guy.
Anyway, Tyler continues to fire the pistol at the samurai, hitting and killing them at greater distances than seem reasonable, although the way the scene is edited makes it hard to know for sure how far away they are from him. Unfortunately the samurai fire back with their arrows, and one of them hits Tyler square in the stomach. He lingers on long enough to tell McBride how much he misses the days of their childhood, and with his last breath he points out that see, he was right after all, the island isn't going to let them leave. With that he expires in McBride's arms.
"Take care of my woman, because, you know, I'm dying and all."
The others aren't giving up as easily as Tyler. The samurai have vanished, probably scared away by the volcanic eruptions that are happening nonstop, and the others leave Tyler's body there and start back to the airplane. They go through a cave, probably the one they went through before, since it has the same smooth floor, colored lights, and dry ice fog. However, this time something toothy and scaly does jump out at them. Or to be more accurate, something toothy and scaly ambles out slowly and clumsily blocks their path. It's so slow that I can't see why they can't just run around it and get away, but maybe it's blocking the colored lights so they can't see their way out. The only damage it actually does is to grab and eat the bag in which Dr. Norfolk was carrying his notes. McBride shoots at it and Ajor breaks off a stalactite and hits it, but nothing does any good until one of the constant earthquakes causes another stalactite to break off, fall, and impale it. Fortunately it seems to be the only one in the cave, so they're able to get out without any more trouble. I will say here that although the creature's movement is as unconvincing as that of the stegosaurus and the giant snakes, at least it looks pretty good, much better than Angilius, for instance.
They're not safe yet, though. On their trek back to the airplane, they're menaced by some primitive tribespeople, probably the same ones that captured them before, and the volcano is still shooting out fire and smoke in random spots. To make matters worse, although they don't know it, is that the earthquakes produced by the volcano are shaking up the airplane enough to damage it, and are also endangering the ship to the point where it's going to have to leave. Is everybody doomed? Fortunately, with only ten minutes left, whoever wrote the screenplay decided to give them a break, so they escape from the tribespeople with no trouble, get back to the airplane before it's damaged too badly, make it over the mountains even though they now have another person with them, and get back to the ship with a couple of minutes to spare.
Run, white people! Run!
Meanwhile, Hogan decides to paint the plane a jaunty red to match the local flora.
Once they're aboard, there's a general air of congratulation, even though the person they came to get is dead and all their photographs and notes are gone, since the cave creature ate the notes and they had to throw the camera off the airplane to lighten it enough to get over the mountains. Incidentally, Ajor's costume gets some appreciative notice from the Captain, who up until now has been so deadpan as to give the impression he was suffering from serious depression and/or his face was paralyzed. Not surprisingly, Charlotte and McBride are acting like a couple. Quite surprisingly, so are Hogan and Ajor, and Hogan seems to be planning to take her home with him. I have no idea where that came from, since they didn't even know the other one existed until the would-be rescue party got back to the airplane.
Hogan is leering like a pervy old man in a strip club in every single frame of this scene. Ajor seems to be enjoying it, however.
Wow, Charlotte sure cleans up nice. Too bad her paper isn't going to pay her now that she lost the film negatives.
All in all, not too bad a movie. It doesn't set forth any great ideas or illuminate aspects of the human condition, but it's entertaining, just like Edgar Rice Burroughs' books, most of which, including the one this movie is based on, are in the public domain and available on the Internet, if you want to take a look at the source material for this movie. The special effects weren't very special, but this movie didn't have much of a budget. I think it might have originally been longer but was edited down to a shorter runtime, which would account for the unexplained oddities such as the mutant samurai, the green king, and Hogan's and Ajor's lightning-quick romance. What did you think of it, Nate?
Well, Pam, I thought it was pretty good overall. Its greatest strength was that it never, ever stopped moving forward at a breakneck pace (even when it really should have slowed down in places to allow for some character development). It's hard to dwell on the negatives when you never have time to think about them before the next dinosaur attack/samurai swordfight. Oh, and Dana Gillespie's boobs. Those were nice.
Guess who teenage Gillespie's creepy stalkerish boyfriend was...David Bowie. Can't make this shit up.
Written in February 2012 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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