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Atlantis, the Lost Continent

Atlantis, the Lost Continent(1961)


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According to popular myth and the writings of Plato, Atlantis had once been a powerful and wealthy island kingdom whose ruler set out to conquer and acquire the lands belonging to his Mediterranean neighbors. His forces were eventually defeated by the Athenians and, as punishment, the gods destroyed Atlantis in a single day through earthquakes and raging floods. At least producer-director George Pal got the last part right in his 1961 fantasy, Atlantis, the Lost Continent. The apocalyptic climax, complete with exploding volcano and a massive tidal wave, was typical of Pal's specialty -- a sense of the fantastic enhanced by colorful special effects. Granted, Pal added his own variations to the myth; Atlantis was a utopian civilization in the beginning, but in Pal's version, it's a society that breaks down into a simple caste system -- masters and slaves. Pal also borrows liberally from H.G. Wells' novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, sword-and-scandal epics and the sci-fi genre to create a universe where the working class become guinea pigs in hideous experiments and giant crystals are used as weapons of mass destruction. If all of this wasn't enough, Pal also adds a love story featuring Anthony Hall as a Greek sailor who rescues a princess (Joyce Taylor) from drowning, then accompanies her back to Atlantis where he is enslaved by the evil Zaren (John Dall).

As escapist entertainment for juvenile audiences, Atlantis, the Lost Continent delivers the goods and thrilled the kiddie matinee crowds of its era but Pal faced numerous challenges while making the film. Initially, he had cast Italian actor Fabrizio Mioni in the role of Demetrios the fisherman but when the actor's work visa expired, he was forced to return to Italy. Pal then turned to his leading lady, Joyce Taylor (it was her first starring role under her recent MGM contract), for assistance in casting the male lead. "Bill Shatner I did a test with," Taylor revealed in an interview with Tom Weaver (in his book, Monsters, Mutants and Heavenly Creatures), "we kind of laughed through it, because Bill thought it was like a joke. He said, 'You can't be serious. I'm just not the Greek god type!' I did a bunch of tests with different actors and Mr. Pal said to me, 'Why don't you pick your own leading man? Who do you want?' I really wanted Dick [Richard] Chamberlain." But Taylor's agents at MCA pressured her to choose Anthony Hall instead. Another disappointment for Taylor, who began her entertainment career as a singer, was seeing her musical number dropped from the film -- she was slated to perform the title song.

Most of the exteriors for Atlantis, the Lost Continent were shot in and around Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles. The interiors were filmed at MGM soundstages and for one scene in a boat Taylor recalled (in Tom Weaver's book), "...there were wind machines, and we were up very high. As a matter of fact, I nearly fell off the was on some sort of 'legs' that made it rock. They were tilting it from one side to the other and the wind machine was going, and at one point I lost my balance. I came so close to falling off that the whole crew gasped -- in particular, Mr. Pal!" Despite her earlier reservations about her co-star, Taylor enjoyed working with Hall but he had his limitations, "poor Anthony did not know how to swim. He was from, what? Philadelphia or something, and he had never been in the water, so that was a problem! If you'll notice, he only did the breast stroke, and even that was in shallow water. Another thing I remember is that he had a vaccination mark on his shoulder, and it shows in one of the scenes. At one of the first premieres, people broke up laughing when that showed."

Unlike several of George Pal's other fantasy films such as Destination Moon (1950), The Time Machine (1960) and Tom Thumb (1958), Atlantis, the Lost Continent didn't win an Oscar for its special effects. Yet, for its time, the scenes of the death-ray crystals zapping buildings and humans and the final destruction of Atlantis were quite impressive and most critical notices were positive. Particularly memorable was this review of the film by Bosley Crowther in the New York Times: " adult may find some wry amusement in spotting a couple of noticeable little things such as the fact that Greeks and Atlantans all speak English and use underarm deodorants. For our taste, the most rewarding moment comes when Berry Kroeger in the role of the hypnotizing wizard who turns slaves into pigs, fixes the eye of one of his victims and says, 'Repeat after me: every day in every way I'm getting to be a boar.' "

Producer/Director: George Pal
Screenplay: Gerald Hargreaves (play), Daniel Mainwaring
Cinematography: Harold E. Wellman
Film Editing: Ben Lewis
Art Direction: George W. Davis, William Ferrari
Music: Russell Garcia
Principal Cast: Anthony Hall (Demetrios), Joyce Taylor (Princess Antillia), John Dall (Zaren), William Smith (Captain of the Guard), Edward Platt (Azor), Frank DeKova (Sonoy).

by Jeff Stafford

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