ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT (1961)

"There in the sunset is Atlantis, my home – a land of wonders beyond compare…."

Director: George Pal
Starring: Anthony Hall (Sal Ponti), Joyce Taylor, John Dall, Edward Platt, Wolfe Barzell, Edgar Stehli, Jay Novello, Frank De Kova, Berry Kroeger
Screenplay: Daniel Mainwaring, based upon the play by Gerald Hargreaves

Synopsis: Two Greek fishermen, Demetrios (Anthony Hall) and his father, Petros (Wolfe Barzell), rescue a beautiful woman whom they find floating unconscious on a raft. The next morning, Petros is angered when the woman, Antillia (Joyce Taylor), scorns the food and lodging they have provided for her. He speaks to her roughly, and she informs him imperiously that she is a princess, and that her home is beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Petros scoffs, arguing that the Pillars mark the end of the world, and orders Demetrios, who is smitten by the lovely stranger, to leave her and go fishing. Scheming, Antillia makes herself as beautiful as possible and finds Demetrios at his boat. She flirts with him, then tells him that if he will take her to her home, Atlantis, her father will reward him. However, when Demetrios tells her that she all he wants, she is angered and insults him. Waking early the next day, Demetrios discovers that Antillia has stolen his boat. He swims after and catches her. She again tries to convince him to take her home, and finally Demetrios agrees, making Antillia promise that if they do not find Atlantis within a month, she will return with him to Greece and become his wife. Despite violent storms, the two sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules. When a dense fog makes Demetrios want to turn back, Antillia produces a strange device that she insists they can navigate by, as it always points north. When a month has nearly passed, Demetrios reminds Antillia of her promise. She insists on having the full time, and as she speaks, a huge silver object rises from the waters nearby. Demetrios is panicked, believing it to be a monster. To his astonishment, a door opens in the side of the object, and Antillia is greeted by Zaren (John Dall), an Atlantean nobleman. Antillia and Demetrios are taken on board, and the ship submerges again. During the journey, Zaren becomes jealous and angry when he realises that Antillia is falling in love with Demetrios. When the ship reaches Atlantis, Antillia is greeted by cheering crowds, and is driven to the city in a carriage. Following her, Demetrios is suddenly arrested and imprisoned. Antillia is reunited with her father, King Kronas (Edgar Stehli). She tells him that she wants to marry Demetrios, and when he reminds her that such a marriage would be against Atlantean law, she insists he change the law. Meanwhile, Demetrios, who has been made a slave, saves the life of a fellow captive, Xandros (Jay Novello). He learns that Xandros, too, is Greek, and that all of the slaves are foreigners who came to Atlantis by mistake. He also discovers that many of the slaves are subjected to a horrifying process that literally turns men into beasts of burden. Demetrios and the other slaves mine crystals that are the source of Atlantis’ power. While out riding, Antillia is appalled to see Demetrios, whom she was led to believe had returned to Greece, among the slaves. Believing her responsible for his situation, Demetrios throws mud at her and is savagely beaten. Antillia pleads with her father for Demetrios, but finds that Kronas is no more than Zaren’s lackey. Antillia prays in the temple for Demetrios and her father, but is interrupted by the High Priest, Azor (Edward Platt), who tells her that she should pray to the one true God. With increasing frequency, Atlantis is wracked by violent storms and earthquakes. Azor has Demetrios brought to the temple. There he finds Antillia, who tries to convince him that she loves him. He spurns her angrily. Shortly afterwards, Demetrios is taken to "The House Of Fear", where he watches in horror as a fellow slave is converted into a boar. As Demetrios is about to undergo the same process, two guards arrive and announce that he is to be given a chance at freedom by undergoing the Ordeal of Fire and Water….

Comments: Based upon Gerald Hargreaves’ play of 1949, Atlantis, The Lost Continent posits the legendary land as the cradle of all human knowledge. It further contends that fragments of this knowledge were carried all over the world by those who survived the destruction of Atlantis, which occurred either as a result of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, or of Divine Wrath, however you choose to interpret it. The play itself was a serious work, examining the way that genius and cruelty, soaring aspiration and miserable pettiness, can exist side by side in the human nature; and there is no doubt that this film – like most of George Pal’s production – was intended seriously also. But - well, we all know that line about good intentions, don't we? This is supposed to be a tragic story, that of a nation which, having reached the very pinnacles of knowledge in science, medicine, engineering and art, brought about its own destruction by the abuse of its power and the hubris of its people. There are some interesting ideas in the film, and some of the visuals are impressive; but for every positive moment there are at least two silly ones to tip the scales back the other way. The acting is, upon the whole, indifferent, but the real problem is the script, which is both heavy-handed and full of gaping plot holes (the film was produced during a writers' strike). In keeping with the solemnity of its story (and its stage origins), the film is full of flowery, mock-classical dialogue and characters who make speeches rather than simply talk to one another. This is compounded in the case of the film's Bad Guys, who in the very best Bad Guy tradition are incapable of saying anything with adding an evil "Mwoo-ha-ha!" But what really drives the final nail into the coffin of Atlantis, The Lost Continent is - believe it or not - the hats! Nowhere in the world - not even in Melbourne on the first Tuesday in November - will you ever see a bigger collection of ludicrous headgear. Now, you may think it unfair of me to condemn a film on the strength of the actions of a misguided milliner, but the fact is that the hats worn by the characters in this film make it next to impossible to take their actions seriously. It's bad enough that everyone is stuck with dialogue that sounds like what Shakespeare might have written while he was in kindergarten; having all this fruity oratory emanating from beneath bizarre concoctions of fur, feathers, cardboard and spangles makes the whole thing irresistibly risible.

Atlantis, The Lost Continent opens with one of its plot holes, as Demetrios and his father, Petros, rescue Antillia from her raft. Why she left Atlantis, how long she was away, and how she ended up on the raft unconscious are points that are never addressed, even though the things that happened in Atlantis during her absence are of considerable importance to the story. When Antillia awakens the next morning to find herself in a fisherman’s cottage and clad in his robes, she is less than pleased. Marching up to her two rescuers, she demands, "Where is this miserable hovel and why do I wear the garb of slaves?" (Hmm....unprovoked rudeness, a complete lack of consideration for others....I could suggest which nation on earth received this attitude as their Atlantean legacy, but being a polite Australian, I won’t.) Petros and Demetrios are, as you might imagine, a little taken aback by this response to their rescue efforts, but being uneducated peasants rather than royalty, they turn the other cheek and invite Antillia to have breakfast with them. Her Royal Highness, however, isn’t through bitching, and launches into a string of complaints about the clothes they have lent her ("They offend my skin!"), the standard of the food ("It tempts me not!") and the ambience of the cottage ("It smells of fish!"). This is more than enough for Petros, who sets about taking his ungracious guest down a few pegs, finally suggesting that if she isn’t happy where she is, she can "bestow the honour of your presence on someone else". With this parting shot, Petros leaves for work, dragging along Demetrios, who is clearly smitten despite their reluctant guest’s atrocious manners. (Personally, I think any man who falls for a woman this rude and selfish just because she’s pretty deserves anything he gets.) Antillia does not miss the effect her looks have had on Demetrios, and starts plotting how best to use her womanly wiles to get her own way. After dressing in her own robes, fixing her hair and making up her face (in a nice scene, we see Antillia using flour for face powder and cherry juice as lip stain), Her Highness swans off down to the shore. After encountering Petros (who, bless him, takes one look at her artificial complexion and asks her if she’s sick), she finds Demetrios at his boat and flirts with him, encouraging him to chase her up the beach. When he corners her, she gazes out to sea, telling him about Atlantis, and how her father will shower riches on him if he takes her home. Demetrios responds that there is only one thing he wants (how long has he known this woman?) and despite the fact that she’s been coming onto him with all the subtlety of an atomic explosion, Antillia takes offence. "Fisherman!" she hisses at him, and storms off up the beach. (Yeesh! - and some people want to hang onto the monarchy!?)

The next morning, Demetrios is woken by Petros’s hearty snoring, and looks outside to find Antillia stealing the boat. Swimming after her, he climbs in and insists on her turning back, as no-one has ever sailed beyond the Pillars of Hercules and survived. "I would rather risk it and die than live in your village another day!" responds Miss Manners, adding sniffily that "braver men" than he would "beg for the privilege of doing my bidding!" Instead of taking a cue from his father and suggesting she go find one of them, Demetrios makes her a deal: he will sail with her as she desires, but if they do not find Atlantis within a month, she will return with him and become his wife - "My dutiful wife," he adds, proving that he’s not entirely stupid. Antillia agrees, and Demetrios takes the rudder. He does pause for a moment and look over his shoulder before turning the boat away from the shore, but it’s only for a moment. Thus Our Hero, calmly depriving his elderly father of both companionship and his only means of support, and proving, if there were really any doubt about it, just how richly he and Antillia deserve one another.

The voyage is a fairly dull one, enlivened only by Antillia’s charming home-made compass, and a vision of a blue-skinned Neptune that never does get explained. (A question: since Demetrios is Greek, shouldn’t he be having visions of Poseidon rather than Neptune?) The best scene in the film follows, however, as the end of Antillia’s month draws near and Demetrios starts making plans for a domestic future. Looking smug, Antillia promises him that they will be in Atlantis before nightfall. As she speaks, a mysterious silver thing rises up out of the waters some distance behind the boat. Antillia and Demetrios, who have gotten all cosy by this stage, continue to make smoochy talk while what looks like a gigantic fish swims up behind their boat. Antillia finally points it out to the less-than-observant Demetrios, who freaks out. She, however, merely laughs and prepares to disembark. A door on the "fish" swings open, and several guards appear followed by Zaren, who greets Antillia and gives Demetrios a sneering glance. Everyone re-embarks, and the submarine dives. During the trip to Atlantis, it becomes clear to Zaren that Antillia is falling for Demetrios, and he gives the newcomer a look that bodes very ill for him.

Atlanteans must like their royalty uppity, as Antillia's return is received with wild cheers. As the princess is whisked away, Demetrios is seized by some of Zaren’s henchmen, and soon finds himself a slave. Antillia is reunited with King Kronas, and confesses to him that she loves Demetrios. Her father reminds her that it would be against Atlantean law for her to marry an outsider, and in her usual fair-minded and unselfish way, Antillia demands that the law be changed to accommodate her. Demetrios, meanwhile, is being forced to mine for the crystals that are the source of Atlantis’s power. In the middle of the mining area is a chasm, and the slaves are transported from one side of it to the other by dangling from a rope and being slowly and jerkily winched across. As you might imagine, the attrition rate is fairly high; and we see one slave plunge to his death as the guards all stand around going "Mwoo-ha-ha!" A second slave nearly falls, but Demetrios manages to hold onto him until they reach the other side. ("Mwoo-ha-ha!" says one guard as they reach safety.) The man rescued introduces himself as Xandros, another Greek, and tells Demetrios that the slaves are people from many lands who arrived in Atlantis by accident and were held against their will. Screams come from nearby. Demetrios is horrified to see men that appear to be part animal. Xandros tells him that these unfortunates were created in "The House Of Fear". (Not "Of Pain". Definitely not.) The next day, while Antillia is out riding, she encounters a group of slaves. "They’ll have the filth cleared out of your way in a moment," promises her bodyguard apologetically. As the guards apply the whip to the slaves, Antillia’s expression changes, suggesting that loving Demetrios has softened her heart and that she’s beginning to have doubts about the whole "slavery" thing. Well – that, or she’s wondering whether she left the iron on. In any case, her Deep Thoughts are interrupted when she sees Demetrios in the group. He flings a handful of mud all over her, and is beaten for his trouble. Antillia rushes to the king, demanding to know why he told her that Demetrios had chosen to leave Atlantis. Kronas ums and ahs and finally reveals himself to be nothing more than Zaren’s puppet. (Zaren’s power over Kronas is never explained. However, considering the brief glimpse we are given of Kronas receiving a full body massage from two male slaves, I’m willing to hazard a guess: the Atlanteans invented photography, and Zaren has the negatives.) In distress, Antillia goes to the temple to pray, but is interrupted by Azor, Atlantis’s High Priest, who arrives clad in full-length robes and wearing what appears to be an ice cream cake upon his head (poor Edward Platt has easily the most embarrassing role in the film). Azor tells Antillia that she is praying to the wrong gods. He takes her out to show her the night sky, explaining that that is where she will find The One True God. "The One True God is the moon?" says Antillia obtusely. Azor explains a little more clearly, and suggests that she redirect her prayers for Demetrios.

That night, an earth tremor shakes Atlantis, knocking over many of the sculptures and monuments around the palace grounds, including a sundial. (It’s Later Than You Think.) Seeing Demetrios in the clean-up squad, Azor takes him into the temple, where Antillia is waiting. She tries to explain, but Demetrios isn’t in a very forgiving mood. "You did not think beyond your own selfish desires!" he tells her (attaboy!), suggesting that the princess take her "love" to Zaren and "buy back my freedom!" "Even your words smell of fish!" hisses Antillia (zing!) and storms off. The next thing we know, Demetrios is chained up in The House Of Fear, watching as a fellow slave is animalised. The camera gives us a good look at the advanced science of the superior Atlanteans – we see retorts, beakers, bubbling liquids, and – yes! Atlantis’s eternal gift to all scientists down through the ages – conical flasks full of mysterious coloured fluids! The House Of Fear is run by a surgeon who, as evil scientists are wont to do, really enjoys his work. We see him adding the finishing touches to a former slave who already sports cute little horns, pointy ears and a snubby nose. As he forces something down his victim’s throat and hypnotises him with a crystal, the surgeon intones, "You will be a boar! Strong – strong – strong!" (Shouldn’t the victim have tusks rather than horns? Oh, well….) The surgeon then turns his attentions to Demetrios, leaning in with a big smile and wondering whether to turn Demetrios into a mule "with long foolish ears – here" or a buffalo "with great horns – here and here". Two of the mad scientist’s underlings then drag in a real pig on a leash, but whether as a model or as an example of the surgeon’s handiwork is unclear. The surgeon announces he will "let the Princess see you as you really are – a filthy pig! Mwoo-ha-ha!" At that moment, two guards arrive with orders for Demetrios to be taken away. "Why do they always take my best specimens away from me?" huffs the surgeon. However, he becomes reconciled upon learning that Demetrios will undergo "The Ordeal Of Fire And Water". "I will enjoy seeing you slowly roasted alive!" the surgeon tells Demetrios. "Mwoo-ha-ha!"

A big crowd has gathered at the local coliseum – so big, that we are led to infer that, despite the superiority of their culture, there is precious little to do in Atlantis. Antillia enters with King Kronas, who seems to have an inverted waste paper basket on his head. (Wicker? Rattan?) Zaren arrives with Sonoy, the Evil Astrologer, and the games begin. Before the Royal Box is a sunken triangular pit studded with spot fires. A door opens, and Demetrios appears. Horrified, Antillia tries to leave, but Zaren’s guards block her way. The next moment we see Demetrios’s opponent, and he is freaking huge. The enormous crowd cheers wildly, which is odd considering that given the size and shape of the arena, about 98% of them couldn’t see a damn thing. (The big surprise here is that the Atlanteans don’t seem to have invented the Giant Screen.) The contest begins, with Demetrios surviving being tossed onto one of the fires (ouch! and some nice gruesome close-ups of his burns here) and managing to set his opponent’s hair on fire. Ticked off, Zaren calls for the "Water" part of the Ordeal, and huge jets begin to fill the pit. As the water level rises, Demetrios fails utterly to take advantage of the fact that he can swim and his opponent can’t, and insists on actually trying to fight him, rather than just elude him, at one time diving under the water and helpfully sticking his head right between the other guy’s knees. (All through this sequence, I couldn’t help thinking about the gladiatorial "contest" in The Life Of Brian, but obviously, Demetrios doesn’t have a tenth of the brains of that little bloke.) Finally, the rising waters engulf both fighters. There is a hush until the big guy floats to the surface, dead, and Demetrios climbs from the pit. Then the crowd, which had cheered enthusiastically at the prospect of Demetrios’s demise, cheers even more enthusiastically as he is granted his freedom. Antillia and Azor exchange happy looks, and Zaren, Sonoy and the surgeon sulky ones.

We now cut to a Council of the Governors of Atlantis, and oh, my Lord! The hats! The hats!! Zaren tries to convince the others that Atlantis can conquer the whole world, courtesy of a new and deadly crystal-based weapon he is building. Azor (ice cream cake in place) appeals for sanity, but to no avail: the Governor of the Mountains (wearing a metal cake tin) agrees with Azor, as do the Governors of the Seas (a tea cosy), the Rivers (a crown out of a Christmas cracker), Science (another ice cream cake) and the Animals (who himself sports a dead animal). Later, Azor finds Demetrios looking in a puzzled manner into Azor’s empty bee hives. Azor tells him that all the insects and birds have fled Atlantis (cue footage from The Naked Jungle), heeding the warning signs that mankind alone is oblivious to. (As my colleague Mr Begg would doubtless say – Animals: they always know, don’t they?) Antillia comes to tell Demetrios that she has arranged for a boat to take him away from Atlantis. The two part without reconciling. Azor tells Demetrios that volcanic forces will soon destroy Atlantis. Demetrios asks why Azor chooses to stay. Azor explains that he was not always a priest. He was once "well versed in the sciences" (all of them?), and "hid my eyes when Atlantis began to use her great knowledge for evil" (if only she’d used it for niceness, instead!). Considering himself guilty, Azor plans to go down with his ship---er, island. Telling Demetrios that Zaren’s weapon will be ready by the next full moon, Azor urges Demetrios to escape and "tell the world". But Demetrios has other plans. He goes to Zaren and, explaining that he has developed a taste for luxury, offers to draw him an accurate map of "the outside world" in exchange for a nice cash settlement. Suspicious, Zaren brings Xandros in. The slave takes one look at Demetrios’s handiwork and shrieks that he is a "stinking traitor!" (Hmm, more rude remarks about Demetrios’s personal hygiene! And they say your best friends won’t tell you….) As Xandros is hauled away, Demetrios sees to his horror that the old man has begun to be animalised.

More earthquakes occur, damaging some of Zaren’s constructions. Desperate, Zaren allows Demetrios to convince him that the slaves will work better if he will "remove their chains, discard the whip, give them decent food" (yeah, real likely). The next thing we see, the formally abused slaves are refusing seconds and patting their tummies as they have a nice after-lunch nap. None of which would seem to be getting Zaren’s weapon built. One night, Xandros sneaks into Demetrios’s tent, telling him that he didn’t really think he was a stinking traitor (well – a traitor, anyway) and that a small band of slaves is working to sabotage Zaren. Demetrios goes with them to an underground location where---well, to be honest, I’m not sure what exactly is going on here. As far as I can tell, the slaves have built a drill with which to bore into the lava underlying Atlantis, to help trigger the pending eruption. Why Xandros wanted Demetrios there is a mystery, as he doesn’t do any work. He simply stands back with a goofy smile as the other slaves operate the drill, all the while intoning an odd little work chant led by – surprise! – a funky black slave ("Hurry, hurry/Come up lava/Soon, soon/Crystal be damned/Damned, damned/Zaren shall not conquer/No, no!"). Demetrios returns to his tent, and is again disturbed, this time by Antillia. The chastened princess asks Demetrios to marry her and take her away. Demetrios must tell her that he can’t, and asks her to trust him. As she leaves him, Sonoy sees her. Shortly afterwards, while the revolting slaves are leaving after another drill session, a squad of Zaren’s guards descends upon them. During the fight, Xandros is killed, some of the others are captured, and Demetrios escapes. Furious, Zaren has his weapon dragged to the steps of the palace, re-instituting his "whip and chain" slave managing policy (which, to be perfectly honest, does seem to work better). A huge crowd (the mob from the coliseum, presumably) gathers to cheer Zaren’s weapon (I’m telling you, superior civilisations are really boring!). Meanwhile, Demetrios goes to free his imprisoned fellow rebels, killing one guard to secure the keys to their dungeon. As a second guard attacks, he cries, "Free yourselves!" and tosses the keys so they land out of reach of the prisoners. As they strain to reach them, the battling Demetrios kicks them even further away. Despite this, the prison door immediately swings open and one of the slaves kills Demetrios’s opponent just as he is about to triumph. The whole group then crowds together and has a hearty laugh about that key business, and the guard killing, and the rest of it. Suddenly, the skies darken, and the destruction of Atlantis begins. (Most of the special effects footage here is lifted from The Last Days Of Pompeii, but I think I recognised some scenes from Quo Vadis? as well.) At the site of the slaves’ drill, a huge explosion occurs, followed by Azor’s predicted eruption. As the prison walls crumble, Zaren’s slaves flee to ships in the harbour. At the palace, the gathered mob finally doesn’t react to something with wild cheers. Instead, they scream and run. "Insolent rabble!" grumps Zaren, and decides to give his weapon a try out while he still can. Spotting the escaping slaves with his telescope, Zaren lets rip, frying them and their boats. Mwoo-ha-ha! Meanwhile, the animal-men turn on the screaming surgeon and give him what is not a Dr Moreau-style comeuppance, not at all; and Demetrios forces his way into the crumbling palace to rescue Antillia. Also in the palace, Azor stands still, gazing up into the sky in calm approval of The One True God and His Divine Butt-Kicking. Demetrios and Antillia make it to a boat, but as they near safety, Zaren sees them. He is training his weapon upon them when Azor stabs him fatally with his own dagger. Despite his wound, Zaren fights with Azor, managing to strangle him to death as they roll down the palace stairs together. The weapon, left unattended, swings about wildly, and to no-one’s surprise, Zaren is neatly fried by his own petard. And Mwoo-ha-ha! to you too, buddy.

Ships bearing survivors sail away from Atlantis, watching from a distance as the eruption turns into a series of massive explosions, until finally the continent of Atlantis sinks beneath the waves. As Demetrios comforts Antillia, the narrator explains that the survivors of this catastrophe took Atlantean knowledge to all corners of the globe (which seems odd, considering that all the survivors appear to be slaves, rather than actual Atlanteans). The film ends here, with Demetrios and Antillia setting sail for Greece, so we never do get to see how Antillia likes being the wife of a Greek fisherman – nor indeed how she likes having Petros for a father-in-law. Pity.