Film

Don't Open That Door! #7: The Mole People (1956)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950's horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: we go digging in the dirt with The Mole People


Director: Virgil W. Vogel
Cast: John Agar, Hugh Beaumont, Nestor Paiva, Cynthia Patrick
US theatrical: December 1956

Alternative titles: Subterranean Homesick Blues; Notes From Underground

POSITIVES:

Hilarious introduction from USC "English Professor"

Effectively claustrophobic setting, with good underground lighting effects

Snappy dialogue (at times) and truly bizarre dance sequence

Two non- or semi-human civilizations/species for the price of one! (Three, if you count the French guy)

High Priest has weird, four-stranded facial hair

NEGATIVES:

There are sheep. Living underground. What do they eat?

Pointless ending

SYNOPSIS: Doctors Bentley, Jud and Lafarge are out digging in the mountains one day—the audience is informed by a helpful caption that this is in "ASIA"—when they come across an ancient stone tablet. Showing off his academic chops, Bentley reads the cuneiform, a form of writing some 4,000 years old, like it's his mom's shopping list. There are also Egyptian heiroglyphics mixed up in the text, but that doesn't seem to confuse the scientists much. Next thing you know, a local lad (presumably from "ASIA") brings the eggheads a nifty oil lantern found way up in the mountains. It seems to be from the same civilization that spawned the tablet, and this is all the encouragement our boys need to hike into them thar hills and do a little snooping.

In short order they find an ancient temple—recently unearthed by a landslide—and in even shorter order an earthquake opens up a crevice to swallow one of the expedition. Being intrepid, hand-on types, our scientist heroes waste no time rapelling (or is it spelunking?) into the caverns thus exposed. By the time they've got feet on terra firma once more, the score is: living scientists 3, dead scientists 2. Also another landslide has cut off their escape route. Boy, when it rains, it pours! Rocks, in this case. That's how it is sometimes, in "ASIA."

Showing the same intestinal fortitude that made Louis XIV famous (or was it Louis XVI?), French scientist Lafarge immediately begins whining, but the two stalwart Americans stay calm. Soon they come across an enormous underground city, in which they entertain their scientific curiosity by going to sleep. When the men are awakened by an attack of long-fingered burrowing man-creatures, Lafarge demonstrates the kind of martial prowess that served his nation so well against the Germans in 1871, 1914 and 1940.

With the help of this capitulation, the scientists are brought before a underground race of albinos led by a High Priest, an old hippie who worships the goddess Ishtar, while his people use the semi-human man-creatures as manual labor. A happy accident convinces the priests that our scientist heroes are in fact Ishtar's emissaries, at least until they start spreading seditious ideas about the prevailing class system (or is it caste system?) such as, "Her merciful holiness the goddess Ishtar would like you better if you didn't pound your semi-human mole-laborers into paste." The High Priest grows testy at this challenge to his authority, even as alluring slave girl Adad seems to like it. Tension mounts, as it is wont to do, and when the final showdown comes, Doc had better hang onto that flashlight. It'll be crucial to getting out of this place. Comes in handy as a weapon too.

What gets brought to permanent underground rest: Three scientists; an albino guard (by report); another guard; an entire underground civilization (or two); a happy ending.

What gets saved: Very little, although the scientists might collaborate on a research paper or two. But with no relics or even photos, they're unlikely to get funding for their next trip.

Best line of dialogue: "You ever heard of anyone smoking dried mushrooms?"

Party game: Play "Jailer." Half the players are prison wardens; the other half are inmates. Inmates have to do everything wardens say, while wardens get to beat the inmates with whips whenever they disobey. You're right, this isn't a very fun game. (But some people love to play.)

Moral of the story: Bring extra batteries.

Somehow their careers survived: John Agar (Bentley)'s credits include Tarantula and Revenge of the Creature (both 1955), The Brain From Planet Arous and Daughter of Dr. Jeckyll (both 1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958) and Invisible Invaders (1959). Later years saw Zontar, the Thing From Venus (1966), Night Fright (1967), Fear (1990), and much much more. This was the only credited movie role for Cynthia Patrick (Adad), but Hugh Beaumont (Jud) would gain fame as Wally Cleaver on TV's Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963). British-born Alan Napier (High Priest) would appear in 1959's Journey to the Center of the Earth, and later enjoy a role as Alfred the butler in the original Batman TV series (1966-68). Nestor Paiva (Lafarge) was a reliable character actor who had appeared in Mighty Joe Young (1949), Killer Ape (1953), Tarantula (1955), and countless westerns.

BOTTOM LINE: Laugh-out-loud silly at times, but surprisingly entertaining.

NEXT WEEK: Prehistoric Women (1950)

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