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Don’t Open That Door! #37: 'Two Lost Worlds' (1951)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: we sail clear off the edge of the map in Two Lost Worlds.


Two Lost Worlds

Director: Norman Dawn
Cast: James Arness, Kasey Rogers, Bill Kennedy
US release date: 1951-01-05

Alternative titles: One Lost Movie; Attack of the Pirates/Giant Lizards/Cattle Rustlers/Annoying Little Kid

POSITIVES:

Weirdness is almost European in its postmodern blend of sea adventure, cowboy romance, costume drama and very large lizards.

Helpful narrator ensures you don't miss any of the "action".

At just 61 minutes, nothing bad lasts too long.

NEGATIVES:

Kind of dull.

It's only 1951, and there’s already an annoying little kid.

Try not to notice that the "Australians" all have American accents.

Monster lizards onscreen for about two minutes.

At just 61 minutes, nothing good lasts too long.

SYNOPSIS: This pirate movie begins with ship's first mate Kirk Hamilton serving on his dad's oceangoing sloop—this is the 1800s—when the captain says something like, "Gosh, I sure hope we're not attacked by pirates." Seconds later—what are the odds?—they're attacked by pirates! Hamilton fights boldly, sustaining a nasty rip in his trousers which requires urgent medical attention. There's nothing for it but to leave him in the isolated confines of rural Australia, a wild frontier filled with brave men and women who apparently grew up in southern California.

As this western flick continues, the Aussies grow perturbed with Hamilton's presence, because the same outlaws that attacked his ship have raided their farms and rustled their livestock. This doesn't bother the local gals, however, who seem thrilled to have a new, exotic guy around ("exotic" = "doesn't smell like dung.") Before long, Hamilton is taking charge of the town's anti-pirate defense system—these foreigners don't know anything—stepping on a few toes in the process. Some of these toes belong to his new dancing partner Elaine, but some are attached to Elaine's close friend Martin. This romance film adheres to convention, charting a love triangle that grows more tense as Hamilton and Elaine get cuddly.

But just when you think this historical drama is going to turn into Wuthering Heights Down Under, look out! The pirates are back, abducting the women and hightailing it over the bounding main. Hamilton and Martin grab a boat of their own and pursue, and a big sea battle ensues, followed by shipwreck, landfall, burning sun, parching thirst, and—hey, over there!—a couple giant geckos with fins attached. At last, the giant-monster movie that's been struggling to escape during all this is on the verge of breaking out. Unfortunately, our clever heroes figure out that the best thing to do when faced with giant lizards is to run very fast in the other direction so you can't see them anymore, which is exactly what they do. The climax, when it comes, is explosive in its way, but you can't help feeling like you've just sat through a family movie.

Best line of dialogue: "I feel sorry for you, you're nothing but a—gaaagh!"

What buys the farm: A few pirates, ranchers and sailors, but in all the melee it's difficult to keep track. A kindly older gentleman gets it, as does an Australian lassie and a studly rancher dude. The little kid, unfortunately, lives on to smirk another day. Oh and a number of giant lizards take some tumbles, and one gets it bad in the neck.

What gets saved: A man, a woman, a child, a boat. It's almost like the Bible.

Did you know? The giant-lizard sequences, which—though brief—suggest a higher budget than the rest of this movie, were lifted wholesale from the far more entertaining 1940 film One Million B.C.

I'm not sure I like that, mate: This movie is called Two Lost Worlds, but the only worlds we get are a) Australia, and b) the prehistoric desert island of giant lizards. The implication seems to be that Australia is a "lost world." Discuss.

Just so you know: The DVD copy I have of this movie claims, on the back, that the movie features "maddened mastadons," "giant sloths," and "venom-spewing vultures." Need I mention that none of these creatures is in evidence? False advertising alert!

Somehow their careers survived: James Arness (Captain Hamilton) would shortly go on to sci-fi grandeur in the title role of The Thing From Another World (1951) and 1954's giant-ants-on-the-rampage classic Them! He also played Matt Dillon on TV's Gunsmoke (1955-1975) as well as numerous movie roles, mainly westerns and war flicks. Kasey Rogers (Elaine) enjoyed tiny roles in such big movies as Samson and Delilah (1949), alongside Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr, and sci-fi classic When Worlds Collide (1951). Bill Kennedy (Shannon) had a small role in Red Planet Mars (1951), alongside Z-movie stalwart Peter Graves. (This was a truly odd movie in which contact is made with Martians, who then urge Earthlings to—no kidding!—worship God.)


BOTTOM LINE: The giant lizards look okay, but there's not enough of them to make this anything more than tedious.

NEXT WEEK: The Wasp Woman (1959)

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