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UNKNOWN WORLD (1951)
[aka To The Center Of The Earth]

"My colleagues and I believe that humanity can escape annihilation - can find a temporary haven, a promise of hope that, come what may, life can be sustained deep within the Earth itself"

Director: Terrell O. Morse
Starring: Victor Kilian, Marilyn Nash, Bruce Kellogg, Otto Waldis, Jim Bannon, Tom Handley, Dick Cogan, George Baxter

Screenplay: Millard Katifinan

Synopsis: Dr Jeremiah Morley (Victor Kilian), believing that the destruction of the world by the atomic bomb is inevitable, founds the Society To Save Civilization, hoping to find a way of preserving the remnants of humanity. His team includes Dr Max Bauer (Otto Waldis), a geophysicist; Dr James Paxton (Tom Handley), a metallurgical engineer; Dr George Coleman (Dick Cogan), an expert on soil conservation; Dr Joan Lindsey (Marilyn Nash), a doctor and biologist; and Andrew Ostergaard (Em Bannon), an ex-Marines explosives expert. The team believes that mankind can be saved by retreating beneath the surface of the Earth, and designs a "cyclotram" capable of drilling down into subterranean caverns. However, they are unable to secure funding for the project. Millionaire Wright Thompson (Bruce Kellogg) offers to fund the construction of the cyclotram on the condition that he can join the expedition; Morley reluctantly agrees. The team begins its journey by entering an inactive volcano. Their early progress is good, but disaster strikes when Paxton and Coleman are killed by toxic gases, and then Thompson accidentally contaminates the water supply. After a desperate search, the team locates more water. Drilling through a wall, they find themselves in an underground lake in a huge cavern. Morley believes that the cavern could support a population, but the others are depressed and vote to go further. While exploring, Thompson almost falls to his death; Ostergaard is killed while rescuing him. The others go on, and suddenly find themselves in an underground world with light, an ocean and land. But can it sustain life?

Comments: This is a depressing little Cold War fable. The message the film conveys, intentionally or otherwise, is that there is no escape from atomic annihilation, so you might as well just sit there and take it. Besides, if the price of continued existence is having to spend it in the company of Jeremiah Morley, I think I'll pass. Rarely has humanity's future prospects looked so dismal as when they're in the hands of Dr Morley. I'm sure he's got our best interests at heart, but he's not really someone you'd want to spend time with in a confined space. Nevertheless, he manages to round up the usual team of "experts" for his expedition. Anyone familiar with science fiction films of the fifties and sixties has seen this crew before, including the inevitable woman, Dr Joan Lindsey. In case any of us are foolish enough to thing she's there to contribute something other than "romantic interest' the script is quick to disabuse us. She's not given her title upon introduction, despite the fact that she's both a medico and a biochemist (what we in the trade call a "Doctor Doctor"), and while she's won an award for her research, it was conferred by the Confederation of Women Scientists. She's also described as "an ardent feminist', which is fifties-speak meaning that by the end of the film she'll have discovered her mistake and chucked science for baby-making. Together, Dr Morley, Dr Lindsey and their colleagues are the "Society To Save Civilization"; unfortunately, civilization doesn't want to pay for its salvation. The expedition is funded by idle millionaire Wright Thompson, played by Bruce Kellogg, who learnt how to gesture with his pipe at acting school and very little else. Thompson is a jerk, and his ungrateful companions aren't backwards in telling him so. Even Dr Lindsey makes bitchy remarks about him in her voice-over diary, briefly raising hopes that what you just know is going to happen isn't going to happen. When Thompson first starts making overtures, she brushes him off. And why not? After all, the man-to-woman ratio on this expedition is 6:1 (pretty much the reverse of Dr Strangelove's plan for humanity). But by the end, the two of them are in lurv. Thompson isn't any less of a jerk at this point, it's just that Dr Lindsey's options have narrowed somewhat due to the script's ruthlessness in disposing of its minor characters. Evidently, the "Society To Save Civilization" can't even save itself. Only four of the crew make it to the apparent utopia that mysteriously exists at the centre of our planet, where they go along cheerfully enough until Dr Lindsey's rabbits have a dead litter. This one experiment with rabbits is sufficient to decide the fate of the entire human race. (Thorough bunch, aren't they? Oh, and by the way, fellas: "death in utero" and "sterility" aren't the same thing.) Convinced that mankind has no future, Gloomy Gus Morley commits suicide, but Dr Lindsey, Dr Batier and Wright Thompson all decide that they've spent their lives running away from reality, that mankind isn't going to destroy itself after all, and that they're going back to try again. I'm sure all of this is meant to be inspiring and life-affirming, but it would be a bit more convincing if (a) they hadn't just discovered their new world couldn't sustain life anyway; and (b) they weren't going to get drowned by a tidal wave if they stayed where they were. Thinking that they're about to die, the three of them indulge in a heavily philosophical conversation, during which Dr Lindsey gets to utter what might be the single most incontrovertible statement in the history of film (see "Immortal Dialogue"). But it all works out, of course: the cyclotram surfaces near a pretty little island, complete with beaches and swaying palms, allowing this gloomy film to end on an upbeat note and proving that its makers had neither imagination nor a sense of humour, because if they had, that island would have been Bikini Atoll....