Lost Continent

Rating: 5 out of 10.

A ragtag team led by Cesar Romero searches for a lost missile and finds a radioactive island filled with dinosaurs in what may be Sam Newfield’s finest film. Despite its MST3K-tarnished reputation and a whole lot of padding, it’s well worth a look. 

Lost Continent. 1951, USA. Directed by Sam Newfield. Written by Carroll Young, Orville Hampton, Richard Landau. Starring: Cesar Romero, Chick Chandler, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell, Sid Melton, Hugh Beaumont, Hillary Brooke, Acquanetta. Produced by Sigmund Neufeld. IMDb: 3.2/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A. 

1951_lost_continent_001I went into Lost Continent with extremely low expectations, due to its abysmal 3.2/10 rating on IMDb, and its spectacularly low 4/100 audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So I was quite surprised some fifteen minutes into the proceedings, when it actually felt like a pretty decent B-movie. Sure, this is no Oscar winner, but for a fifties low-budget lost world movie, it’s not that bad, I thought. It’s not necessarily good — but it’s not completely terrible either. Then it dawned on me: It must be the victim of MST3K. And sure enough: the show featured the movie in its eighth episode of season three.

For those not in the know, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was a US cult show originally running in the late eighties and early nineties, and later revived. It’s premise was to take a “bad” movie and superimpose a gleefully ribbing audio commentary over it while it ran on the TV screen, thus giving birth to the scourge of YouTube, the “critics” who find that video links with “WHY XXX SUCKS” generates far more clicks than “XXX is a decent, if flawed, movie”. Unfortunately, many of the films featured on MST3K are today mainly remembered for being featured on the show — a show which tells its audience that any film they watch is the worst in history, which sends the viewers in droves to sites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes to give said film zero stars. Of course, the show was made out of love for these “bad” movies, and people continue to watch them for their “so bad they’re good” pedigree. But unfortunately, for every Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966) there’s a Rocketship X-M (1950, review), a surprisingly good movie with a reputation that has been badly tarnished by its inclusion on MST3K. That said, Lost Continent ain’t no Rocketship X-M.

1951_lost_continent_012 mst3k 1992

Lost Continent as seen on MST3K in 1992.

A group of scientists working for the military manage to lose an experimental, nuclear-propelled long-range missile somewhere over the Pacific. Enter Maj. Joe Nolan (Cesar Romero) and Lt. Danny Wilson (Chick Chandler), two air force pilots grudgingly assigned to accompany three of the scientists on a rocket hunt. The hunt leads them to an unexplored island, from which they pick up strange readings on the Geiger counter. The strange radiation makes the plane go haywire, and the party manage to make an emergency landing on the wrong side of the island, where they are greeted by one of the film’s marquee names, although she appears in less than 10 minutes of the movie, a native girl played by the mysterious Acquanetta. Like most native girls is B movies, Acquanetta has conveniently been taught English by missionaries, and informs the party that their missile has landed in the forbidden mountains. This leads to an endlessly dragged-out climbing expedition, passing the same styrofoam rocks half a dozen times. This is where my initial excitement slowly started to wane.

1951_lost_continent_007 chick chandler cesar romero sid melton

Chick Chandler, Cesar Romero and Sid Melt

During the climb doubts arise regarding the true motives of the team’s Russian emigré scientist Michael Rostov (John Hoyt). He could, after all, be a Soviet spy who deliberately sabotaged the rocket. None is more suspicious than macho team leader Nolan, who refuses to give Rostov a gun, or even let him out of his sight — especially after Rostov fails to rescue one of the other scientists who falls to his death from a cliff side. However, Rostov soon redeems himself after saving the third scientist, and only then shares with Nolan his hatred for communism.

1951_lost_continent_009

Dinosaurs battle.

After finally reaching the end of the tedious mountain climbing segment, the team, sans one scientist, reaches a plateau with high radiation, which is tinted green, and where the scientists discover, to their amazement, that the natural radiation has kept flora and fauna unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs. And this is where we finally get to the selling point of the movie — the Lost Continent, which means hunting for a rocket through a throng of bloodthirsty herbivores, who have for some reason acquired a taste for human flesh.

1951_lost_continent_011 cesar romero acquanetta

Cesar Romero and Acquaneta in a PR shot.

Made by low-budget outfit Lippert Pictures, Lost Continent was produced by legendary cheapo producer Sigmund Neufeld and directed by his brother Sam Newfield, one of the most infamous low-budget directors of the fifties, often credited as the fastest-shooting director of the decade (there were rivals, though, such as William “One Shot” Beaudine and later Roger Corman). Principal photography took only 11 days, and the movie seems to have been filmed mostly on backlot jungle sets. In an interview with Tom Weaver, actor Sid Melton, who plays the comic relief Sergeant of the movie, claims that the rock sets were 60 feet high and had no safety netting, so the actors really had to cling to the sets. Considering the wealth of re-used rock sets over which the actors climb from different angles, his claim about the height of the set is somewhat doubtful, but on the other hand, they did climb around those rocks for at least 15 minutes in the film.

1936_ghost_patrol_010 sam newfield bernadette ofarrell

Sam Newfield (on the left with actress Bernadette O’Farell in 1952).

For a low-budget Sam Newfield movie, the Lost Continent looks surprisingly good. I’m not saying it looks good, but there are actually a number of different sets and props. Much credit for the reasonably dynamic cinematography and a number of quite striking shots, such as one of the scientists falling off the cliff into a cloud, should go to DP Jack Greenhalgh, an unsung low-budget workhorse and frequent collaborator to Sam Newfield, who has on his conscience some of the zaniest SF movies of the forties and fifties. The rocket footage in Lost Continent is borrowed from Lippert’s own Rocketship X-M, with some intercut stock footage of a V2 rocket, but the airplane interior set is convincing enough, the jungle doesn’t look too much like potted plants and the film even features stop-motion dinosaurs.

The dinosaurs in question are not particularly well animated, and they only appear in he last 15 minutes of the film. But actually having stop-motion animated dinos in a film like this is somewhat remarkable. At least it’s several rungs up from Two Lost Worlds (1951, review), which built an entire lost world scenario on scenes of blown-up monitor lizards and baby alligators ripped from another movie.

1951_lost_continent_003

Lobby card

The acting is what ultimately saves this film. On top of the list is Cesar Romero, an actor with seemingly nine lives. Never quite the brightest marquee name, Romero was at this point past his most lucrative Latin lover phase in the thirties and forties, but with his charisma, good looks, deep voice and serious acting chops had racked up enough serious roles to make him a respected character actor, and still clocked in the odd leading man role in B-movies. Along with another respected character actor, Chick Chandler as the co-pilot, Romero carries the first third of the movie. He and Chandler have great rapport, and his suave, easy-going charm and their light-hearted, naturalistic banter seem to initially elevate the movie above its dirt-cheap background. The movie opens with a rather embarrassing and wholly pointless scene of Romero being called on duty while visiting his girlfriend, played by another somewhat bigger star, Hillary Brooke. The scene seems to have been written into the movie simply to fit Brooke on the marquee.

1951_lost_continent_014 hillary brooke cesar romero

Hillary Brooke and Cesar Romero.

The whole cast is solid, barring Acquanetta, destined to play half-mute jungle women during her short but rather interesting movie career. Future SF staple John Hoyt does a convincing enough job as the suspicious but ultimately gung-ho Russian scientist, and he is well backed up by another genre mainstay, Whit Bissell and Hugh Beaumont, who round up the scientific part of the expedition. Comedian Sid Melton manages not to be too annoying, and his character is actually treated with respect, as he even becomes a hero at the end of the movie.

Lost Continent is one of many low-budget features of the and early fifties playing around with the popular theme of lost and prehistoric worlds. Executive producer Robert Lippert had considered using dinosaurs in his sneak hit movie Rocketship X-M, but eventually go with the theme of nuclear devastation and radioactive mutants instead. There had been fore-runners, most notably The Lost World (1925, review), based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, and King Kong (1933, review). A film that rekindled the interest in prehistorical films was 1940’s One Million B.C., and there were many others that toyed with the idea of lost worlds and primitive societies, including adaptations of Doyle’s Tarzan novels and the works of H. Rider Haggard, to name but two pioneers. The fifties wave of dino and prehistory film was kicked off by Unknown Island (1948, review) and there swiftly followed productions like Two Lost Worlds (1950) and Prehistoric Women (1950), a film that spawned a subgenre of its own. Lost Continent is heavily influenced by The Lost World from 1925, and there are scenes that are almost exact copies of that production, such as when one of the team members is chased up a tree by a brontosaurus. There’s also the cold war theme and threat of nuclear war from Rocketship X-M, even if Lost Continent has a more jingoist slant than the pacifist stance of the former movie.

1951_lost_continent_005

The story comes from Carroll Young, a screenwriter specialising in jungle movies, best known for writing almost a dozen Tarzan and Jungle Jim pictures for Johnny Weissmuller. The screenplay was written by two SF staples and Hugo Award nominees, Orville Hampton and Richard Landau. Still, the screenplay is not a very good one. The dialogue is often cringe-worthy, and saved solely by the actors. The script does nothing new or exciting with the bits and pieces it borrows from other, better, films, and although the two writers try to give some of the characters some distinction, they come off very flat and uninteresting. Hampton and Landau have found no way of inserting a single female character of any weight into the movie. Both Hillary Brooke’s and Acquanetta’s roles are clumsily tacked on in order to get the two minor stars into the film’s marketing.

The less said about the script’s science, the better. Suffice to say that for a plot that revolves around radiation, it’s a feat to cram so much hokum about radiation into a script. Apparently the radiation on the island is so strong that the nuclear-powered rocket is naturally drawn to it, it turns the atmosphere green, halts evolution and will eventually cause a volcanic eruption. But the biologist on the team, with his Geiger counter going up to eleven, happily chirps that the radiation levels are so low, that “there’s no real danger if we don’t stay too long”.

1951_lost_continent_006

Dinos on the loose!

At-A-Glance Film Reviews takes the comedic route to film reviewing, writing the word “climbing” 34 times in a row, giving Lost Continent 1/5 stars. Mark David Welsh is equally unimpressed, advising the viewer to “cut your toenails” instead of watching the movie. Steve Miller at Shades of Gray gives it 3/10 stars, writing “At every turn, this is a movie that lets the viewer down. Heck, even the promo still I used to illustrate this article has nothing to do with anything that happens in the movie. Acquanetta is never menaced by any flying creatures, as she never sets foot outside the village set.” He does praise the cast, though. AllMovie awards Lost Continent 1.5/5 stars, with Craig Butler writing: “The cast does what it can, but the material and the lackluster direction are too much for them to overcome”.

Still, not all critics think the film is a total waste of time. Mitch Lovell at The Video Vacuum gives it a 2/5 rating: “Despite the lifeless pacing, Lost Continent is still sort of watchable, if only to see the actors mingling with the crummy stop-motion dinosaurs. Romero does what he can with such thin material and it’s always fun to see Hugh Beaumont have a chance to get away from the Beaver.” Chris Barsanti in his book The Sci-Fi Movie Guide states: “Not precisely a ‘must-see’, the movie’s sheer audacity makes it worth a look”. Phil Hubbs at Hubbs Movie Reviews deals out a somewhat surprising 6/10 stars, even though his review can be summed up as “Meh”. Film historian Bill Warren in his magnum opus Keep Watching the Skies calls the film a “moderately entertaining but routine hodgepodge of dinosaurs and rockets”. And finally, The Telltale Mind gives Lost Continent a rather positive 3/5 stars, writing: “While it would have been nice to see a lot more come out of this motion picture, it still managed to entertain which is paramount to the viewing experience”.

1951_lost_continent_008 sid melton

One person who did like the movie was comedian/actor Sid Melton, who in his interview with Tom Weaver in his books A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde recounts it as one of his three favourites, along with such classics as The Steel Helmet (1951) and Lady Sings the Blues (1972): “Lost Continent is an epic and was waay ahead of its time”. Melton also calls Sam Newfield and “genius” and his favourite director of all time: “I never work with anyone as kind and as understanding and as inventive … such a great director.”

I suppose in one way or another Sam Newfield, born Samuel Neufeld in New York, was a genius. There’s little other way to explain his monumental output. Between the beginning of the thirties and the mid-fifties he is credited with having directed over 250 films, which averages at 10 movies a year, that’s not accounting for the fact that his pace lessened considerably in the fifties. Newfield started directing shorts in the mid-twenties, and by the late thirties had already made his name as a fast-shooting B-movie specialist, who was able to make quite decent pictures given just a little more time and money than usual. In 1939 he started working for PRC, headed by his brother Sigmund. Working fast was a necessity, as he was only paid 500 dollars a picture. Of PRC’s first 11 movies. Newfield directed 10. Often he had to use pseudonyms to cover up the fact that one man directed nearly all of the studio’s films. He usually didn’t do more than one take, and any mishaps, such as flubbed lines or malfunctioning props, went into the finished movie.

1951_lost_continent_015

The team in the jungle. Left to right: John Hoyt, Cesar Romero, Chick Chandler, Whit Bissell and

Despite the naysayers, Lost Continent is often considered Sam Newfield’s best movie, and it is clear he gave it a lot more effort than most of his output. At Lippert Pictures, he was given 11 shooting days instead of 5 or 6, and probably quadruple his usual budget. Just the fact that the film actually contains stop-motion animation is proof that this is something out of the ordinary for Newfield.

1951_lost_continent_010

A scene more or less lifted from The Lost World.

The animation was supervised by Edward Nassour, an interesting fellow who in the forties owned a studio called Nassour Productions, in which a number of low-budget movies were produced. However, Nassour was also a engineer interested in stop-motion animation, and in the very early forties worked on a concept for a film called “Lost Atlantis”. He sold the studio in the late forties, and it is quite possible that he put up some of the money for Lost Continent, in order to fulfill his dreams of making “Lost Atlantis”. Nassour is perhaps best known for creating the stop-motion animation for the 1956 movie The Beast of Hollow Mountain, which touted the revolutionary method of “Regiscope animation”, which, according to Nassour, was a way of electronically recording all movements of the puppets onto tape, and then by playing the tape making the models move, thus creating the illusion of natural movement. Nassour did hold a patent for something called Regiscope animation and it is possible that he had in theory worked out such a system as he claims, which would make him a pioneer of motion control puppet animation. But the animation for The Beast of Hollow Mountain in fact used traditional replacement animation. That is, for each movement of a character, a new model was made, which replaced the previous one in the shot. This made possible very small and subtle changes, such as muscles moving, ribcages expanding, small changes in facial expressions, without having to fiddle about with complicated armatures. Whether or not replacement animation was used for Lost Continent I’m not sure, or if it was done through ordinary armature puppets.

1951_lost_continent_019 edward nassour

Animator Edward Nassour (second from left), selling Nassour Studios.

Some of the animation was re-used in one of my favourite bad fifties SF movies, Robot Monster (1953). As an interesting aside, Lost Continent was released on DVD in Germany with the extremely misleading title Jules Verne – Die Reise zur geheimnisvollen Insel, or “Jules Verne – Voyage to the mysterious island” — as if this film had anything with Verne’s classic to do. 

1951_lost_continent_016 cesar romero

Latin lover Cesar Romero.

New Yorker Cesar Romero’s Spanish and Cuban heritage, his good looks, charisma and 6’3 (190 cm) stature, made him a staple Latin lover, often in supporting roles, in the thirties and forties, and he even racked up a few B movie leading man roles. He started his career as a dancer in New York in 1926, and entered Hollywood in the early thirties. Never the most celebrated star of the screen, he was, however, a staple of the Hollywood social life, a “confirmed bachelor”, and an actor who, despite often escorting many female movie stars, managed to to stay clear of any scandals. His earnings from Hollywood were soon good enough for him to support his parents who had gone out of business, and he remained steadily employed by studios big and small, and his “ethnic” appearance held him in high demand for roles as Italian gangsters, Indian princes, Latin lovers and other racialised characters. He smoothly transitioned back and forth between TV and feature films from the fifties onward and all in all appeared in over 200 films or TV shows between 1933 and 1985.

1951_lost_continent_017 cesar romero batman 1966

Cesar Romero is perhaps best remembered today for his wacky portrayal of Batman’s arch enemy The Joker in the Batman TV series (1966-1968) and Batman: The Movie (1966). Romero’s Joker was in line with the rest of the series, far removed from the gritty cartoons (which of course weren’t even quite as gritty as they would become in the eighties), his was a campy, over the top performance, just scary enough for the kids and lots of crazy for the adults. Studiobinder points out: “It’s weird to think how method actors gravitate to Joker nowadays. Especially when you consider the first guy who played him couldn’t even be bothered to shave his mustache.” Indeed, Romero refused to remove his trademark ‘tash for the role, and just had the makeup department paint it white. He said in an interview that he had lots of fun playing the role, as it allowed him to do “all the things they tell you that you can’t do as an actor”. Romero was the first on-screen Joker, setting the standards for all to come, and without doubt informed Jack Nicholson’s legendary portrayal in 1989’s Batman. Today Romero is usually ranked as the fifth “best” joker, after the usual suspects: Nicholson, Hamill, Ledger and most recently Phoenix. But to a generation that grew up with the TV show, he is still the ultimate Batman villain. Romero didn’t win many rewards, but he did pick up a Golden Boot for his contribution to westerns in 1986, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for best supporting actor in the 1962 Sandra Dee/Bobby Darin romcom If a Man Answers (1962). He has stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for both film and TV. 

1951_lost_continent_014 cesar romero

Cesar Romero in Lost Continent.

Born John Hoysradt, John Hoyt is hardly a name with much star value today, but the man is something of a sci-fi staple, and was a steadily employed, respected character actor on stage, in radio, film and TV for nearly seven decades, doing Shakespeare on Broadway, as part of Orson Welles’ legendary Mercury Theatre – and appeared in the 1974 porn spoof Flesh Gordon. And did everything in between. He acted in such films as Brute Force (1947) and Spartacus (1960), but was often to be found quite a long way down in the cast list on big A-movies. He is probably best remembered for playing the villainous wheelchair-bound industrialist in a film that came out just months after Lost Continent, namely George Pal’s second venture into SF, When Worlds Collide (1951, review). SF buffs will also remember him as one of the leads in Bert I. Gordon’s “shrinking man” film Attack of the Puppet People (1958). He is also a member of a very small clique of actors who appeared in both the first Star Trek show and the original Battlestar Galactica series. He played the Enterprise’s medical doctor in the original Star Trek episode The Cage in 1966, and had a small role in the 1979 episode Baltar’s Escape in Battlestar Galactica.

1951_lost_continent_020 john hoyt 1974 flesh gordon

John Hoyt (middle) in Flesh Gordon.

Hoyt further had a substantial role in Roger Corman’s X (1963), played one of the leads in Ib Melchior’s The Time Travellers (1964) and had a small role in the spy-fi movie Panic in the City (1968) — he played scientists in all of them. he also appeared in TV shows like Lights Out, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Get Smart, Wild Wild West, Planet of the Apes, The Time Tunnel and The Six Million Dollar Man.

However, the real SF legend of Lost Continent is the biologist on the science team, Whit Bissell, who is one of only four actors I have written about — thus far — on this blog, that have received a special lifetime Saturn Award. The other three are Fay Wray, Elsa Lanchester and Vincent PriceWhit who?, you may ask. And, granted, Whit Bissell is not necessarily the first name that comes to mind when you’re asked to name an SF acting legend. Nevertheless, this prolific character actor appeared in around 30 SF movies of TV shows during his long career, and can be seen in some of the great classics of the Golden Age of science fiction films.

1951_lost_continent_021 whit bissell 1966 teenage frankenstein

Whit Bissell (right) in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957).

Like so many great character actors, Bissell got his start on stage, and played Broadway before his move to Hollywood, where he made his film debut in 1943. Like John Hoyt, Bissell was never a star name, and seldom billed, unless the film was rather cheap. He didn’t quite have the face of a leading man, but his intelligent and clean-cut face made him ideal for playing scientists, doctors and government officials. Lost Continent was his first brush with SF. However, he is best remembered for playing the mad scientist who turns a young Michael Landon into a werewolf in the cult movie I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). And he got one of his very few, if not his only, first billing in the follow-up, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), in which he had the honour of playing Dr. Frankenstein himself. However, before this he also turned up as another scientist in a segment in the beginning of Universal’s classic Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and played another scientist in the surprisingly good low-budget feature Target Earth (1954), along with Creature co-star Richard Denning. He played a Dr. Pangborn in the Mickey Rooney comedy The Atomic Kid (1954), and had an uncredited, but essential, role as the medical professional who interviews Kevin McCarthy in the framing sequence at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Bissell had a small role (again as a scientist) in Jack Arnold’s Monster on Campus (1958), another teenage monster movie, and stepped up a notch for a role as one of the time traveller’s friends in George Pal’s fine SF classic The Time Machine (1960), a role he reprised in a 1978 TV remake. In 1971 he played a Professor Holmes in Irwin Allen’s TV movie City Beneath the Sea, and he made his only SF movie appearance as a non-scientist in small role as Gov. Santini in Soylent Green (1973). Whit Bissell also made numerous appearances in science fiction TV shows, most importantly as one of the main characters in the successful and critically acclaimed The Time Tunnel (1966-1967). Of his numerous guest spots on TV, the most legendary is without doubt his appearance in the original Star Trek’s perhaps most memorable (and wacky) episode, The Trouble with Tribbles (1967).

1951_lost_continent_013

Going green.

Hugh Beaumont stars as the ill-fated scientist falling to his death i Lost Continent. He would later find TV fame as the father of the mischievous The Beaver in the hit show Leave it to Beaver (1957-1962). But he also had big supporting roles in The Mole People (1956) and The Human Duplicators (1965).

1951_lost_continent_022 hillary brooke

Hillary Brooke.

Hillary Brooke, seen as Cesar Romero’s girlfriend in the beginning of the movie, was no stranger to SF either. Although born American, Brooke became a minor star thanks to her faux British accent and aristocratic air, often playing ice queens and femme fatales. A Columbia University graduate, she entered the movie business in the late thirties through her job as a photo and fashion model. Too tall and intelligent-looking to play the damsel in distress or the innocent ingenue, she almost never played the female lead, but made a career out of portraying temptresses, British aristocratic ladies and femme fatales. Such were her roles in movies like Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943) opposite Basil Rathbone, and as the titular villainess in another Sherlock Holmes movie, The Woman in Green (1945), as well as in Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear (1944) and Anthony Mann’s Strange Impersonation (1946). However, in the mid-forties she gave proof of her comedic talent, in particular in a couple of films with Bob Hope and the 1949 Abbott and Costello film Africa Screams.

1951_lost_continent_023 hillary brooke 1953 invaders from mars

Hillary Brooke in Invaders from Mars (1953).

In 1951 Brooke had already embarked on her “second” career in Hollywood, that of the comedienne. She would eventually garner fame for her portrayal of Lou Costello’s girlfriend of sorts in the Abbott and Costello Show (1952-1953) on TV. She never abandoned the movies, though, and kept doing at it during the fifties, mainly on B-movies. She also turned up in a couple of SF movies, apart from Lost Continent. She can be briefly seen as one of the British upper-class ladies, Mrs. Arnold, in the 1941 adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (review). She is memorable as the mother who gets body-snatched in the classic Invaders from Mars (1953) and has a smaller supporting role in the odd, but surprisingly engaging The Maze (1953), both directed by William Cameron Menzies

Acquanetta will be familiar to friends of classic monster movies as one of the few female monsters of the Golden Era of monster flicks, playing a gorilla turned into a beautiful, mysterious woman by John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman (1943, review) and Jungle Woman (1944). She was replaced in the second sequel Jungle Captive (1945, review) with another actress, or more precisely: declined the honour of spending most of the film on a gurney. 

1943_captive_wild_woman_018

Acquanetta with Crash Corrigan in a promo shot for Captive WIld Woman. Middle and right in stills for the sequel Jungle Woman.

The origins of Acquanetta, born Mildred Davenport in Pennsylvania, has always been shrouded in myth. Discovered by Universal Pictures in 1942 when she performed in a dance group, she was first featured in an uncredited bit-part in the John Hall/Maria Montez vehicle Arabian Nights (1942), all while Universal built her up for her first billing, in Roy William Neill’s low-budget island adventure Rythm of the Islands (1943) and as the main attraction in Captive Wild Woman, directed by Edward Dmytryk. Introduced as “Burnu Acquanetta“, Universal used Davenport’s “ethnic” appearance to pass her off as “the Venezuelan Volcano”, despite the fact that she had never set foot in Venezuela, nor did she, presumably, have any Latin heritage. When it soon became clear that she was indeed Mildred Davenport, she admitted that the thing was orchestrated by the studio, but instead maintained that she we actually a removed member of the Arapho tribe in Wyoming, a story she stuck with until her death. Biographers and film historians have found no evidence supporting this claim, but there is evidence to the fact that Mildred Davenport was the daughter of African American parents in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Of course, a black woman couldn’t even dream of reaching the top rungs of Hollywood in the thirties, so Acquanetta’s (presumed) black heritage was kept hushed. Still, the major obstacle in the way of her success probably wasn’t ethnicity, but talent, which became all too clear when her mute ape woman from Captive Wild Woman opened her mouth to speak in Jungle Woman. Always feeling Hollywood underestimated her acting, Acquanetta left Universal after appearing opposite Lon Chaney, Jr. in Dead Man’s Eyes (1944), hoping to get away from the typecasting as jungle girls. Little did it help, as she spent the rest of her short career playing ever diminishing roles as jungle women in low-budget productions, the last ones uncredited bit-parts. And as mentioned, her role in Lost Continent is there solely to add the allure of the Jungle Woman to the film’s marketing. In the poster, Acquanetta is seen as being threatened by a T-Rex type dinosaur, which is doubly false, as 1. no such dinosaur appears in the movie, and 2. Acquanetta never comes near a giant reptile. There’s also press images of her in the embrace of Cesar Romero, and cowering on the ground, Fay Wray style, two more scenes that never take place. 

1951_lost_continent_002 acquanetta

Acquanetta in a PR shot for Lost Continent.

The production crew is full of B-movie stalwarts, including some with the occasional Oscar and Emmy nomination. One worthy of mention is composer Paul Dunlap. Dunlap is best known, perhaps, for his work on numerous B-westerns and many Three Stooges movies, but he did contribute to over a dozen SF films, including the afore-mentioned Target Earth, I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. He also scored, to name a few, Frankenstein 1970 (1958), Invisible Invaders (1959), Ib Melchior’s underrated The Angry Red Planet (1959), Destination Inner Space (1966), Cyborg 2087 (1966) and Panic in the City. Assistant director on Lost Continent was Sigmund Neufeld’s son Stanley Neufeld, who carved out a career of his own as second unit director and production manager. His crowning achievement is perhaps that he was production manager on the Charles Bronson classic Death Wish (1974).

Janne Wass

Lost Continent. 1951, USA. Directed by Sam Newfield. Written by Carroll Young, Orville Hampton, Richard Landau. Starring: Cesar Romero, Chick Chandler, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell, Sid Melton, Hugh Beaumont, Hillary Brooke, Acquanetta, Murray Alper, William Green. Music: Paul Dunlap. Cinematography: Jack Greenhalgh. Editing: Philip Cahn. Art direction: Frank Paul Sylos. Makeup: Harry Ross. Special effects: Augie Lohman. Visual effects: Ray Mercer. Animation supervisor: Edward Nassour. Wardrobe supervisor: Alfred Berke. Produced by Sigmund Neufeld for Sigmund Neufeld productions and distributed by Lippert Pictures. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.