Tonight’s feature is called Unknown World, and it is black and
white. Our stars are Bruce
Kellogg, Otto Waldis, Jim Bannon, Tom Handley, Dick Cogan, George Baxter
and…someone who’s credit has been chopped off at the bottom of the screen.
Guess we will have to guess! Who
wants to guess Fred MacMurray? No?
The thing was written by Millard Kaufman (the aspect ratio of the print is way off), and Ernest Gold wrote the music. Great. Production Design and Special Photographic Effects by “I.A. Block and J.R. Rabin”! Wow, that’s Irving Block and Jack Rabin, who did some effects for some cool old sci-fi pictures, and Irving wrote the story for Forbidden Planet. Cool!
Terrell O. Morse (hello, Godzilla fans) is our editor, Jack and Irving were the producers, and Terrell directed it all. Great! I hope.
The whole thing has the air of something made back in the thirties or so. Here’s hoping I’m kind of wrong. (Fun fact: it was actually made in the early fifties.)
First thing we see of the actual movie, is some folks watching a newsreel called “The Newsreel Magazine.” This starts with an atomic explosion, and the caption, “Civilization Vs. The Atom!” And hello to visitors from you-know-where. You know what you’re looking at!
”What the future will bring, no man can say,” says a narrator as more mushroom clouds appear. “But one fact is certain. Mankind stands at the crucial crossroads of history, the threshold of a new era, the atomic age.” Actually, to be strictly fair, there was a splice, so the narrator actually said we were heading into the “At-mic Age.”
We cut to some stock footage of a power plant. “But for the people of the US, skilled in the usage of science and technology, the atomic age is profoundly significant.” Footage of farming machines, farming. “Across a continent, enormous in its agricultural potential, Americans have drawn from the earth a rich [splice] city.” Footage of what looks like New York City. “Have reared towers into the sky. Have spun intricate networks of highways across the land.” Footage of said highways, and them some smokestacks. “By the application of science, industry has grown increasingly productive,” footage of forges, then automobiles, “making possible a good way of life.” Cut to a church. “With assurance, Americans look with an abiding faith to the future.” Cut to a dam. “For many, citizen and scientist alike, atomic energy means the promise of a more abundant life, but for many another,” crowds of folks walking along, “the atom is a threat, an evil promise, the paralyzing panic of our times. Thus,” footage of the UN, “to answer the perplexing question of the atom and its implications, the people have turned their attention to the forum of public affairs, have sought to search out realities,” shot of a poster reading “University Adult Education Program, Lecture Series, The ABCs of the Atom, Admission Free!”
”To find the facts,” our narrator continues, as we see a shot of a math prof being all mathy, “or to listen to men of science, like Dr. Jeremiah Morley.” The good doctor is suddenly beset by female fans. The narrator tells us that he is a “famed geologist, the embattled founder of the now defunct Society to Save Civilization.” Some males appear too, and he shakes their hands as well, before we cut to a gigantic coliseum like structure with a huge neon sign that says, “Dr. Morley Speaks Tonight.” A sell out crowd! Damn, when is his next single coming out?
”It was Morley who told a Los Angeles audience that—“
And we hear the Dr himself speak. ”A series of atomic explosions, either accidental or deliberate, could set off a chain reaction to annihilate every man, woman and child on the face of the Earth.” Dr. Morley gets a zoom into his face as he continues. “It could cause the death of every living thing!” Then we get a newspaper story, “Morley labeled prophet of doom” and then a pamphlet called “The Morley Report.”
”In a gloomy report,” the narrator says, “Morley took a dim view of history, recalled the tragically repetitious story of the decline and fall of all past civilizations. Said Morley, modern civilization could, by the phenomenon of atomic fission, be brought to dust and ashes. For example, if an a bomb were detonated at the Empire State Building,” and we see an animated dot appear on same, “ the area of total destruction would cover an area of two miles.”
We zoom out, and see that this doesn’t seem to be much, as far as NYC and devastation is concerned. It’s confined to the middle of Manhattan. “Now, since the A bomb is,” our narrator resumes, but we’re too tired right now. See you soon!
Okay, we’ve had some rest and are back. “Now, since the A bomb is already obsolete, consider the area of total destruction of an H bomb!” And we zoom out of our NYC map and see a much wider circle, which takes in pretty much all of NYC.
We cut back to Morley, gesturing and speaking. “Science has promised us bombs a thousand times more powerful! Poisoning with radioactivity all the air and water of this Earth!” He looks around. “This could mean, not only the end of our own civilization, but the very possibility of any future civilization!” We get a shot of the lecture hall, which is filled with thousands. I hope the live album conveys some of the excitement of being there, because I forgot to get tickets.
”But what are we going to do about it?” Morley asks. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do about it. I have a plan! A plan to preserve human life on this planet. I hope you will join with me in carrying it out.” He gets a lot of applause, and we cut to some of the letters he’s gotten. The narrator tells us that the “response to Dr. Morley’s plan was immediate and enthusiastic.” Which is odd, because he sure didn’t tell anyone what it was, only that he had one.
The Society to Save Civilization is set up, and “amateur do-gooders” and “professional scientists” were just clamoring to join. We’re introduced to some of these scientists, but I’m tired of typing up the narrator’s wheezings so we’ll come back to them if they turn out to be important. We do hear that the one lady is an “ardent feminist” so watch the sparks fly when the men ask her to make coffee!
Everyone has won awards and stuff. This hand-picked team comes up with a plan which Morley then presents to the board of directors of the Carlyle Foundation, three months later. We cut inside, and it seems Morley’s plan is to move humanity under the surface of the Earth. I’m not sure how that helps escape radioactivity, to be honest, and it sure wouldn’t help transport of goods and services, but heck, he’s a scientist, I’m sure he has it all figured out so that everyone will be happy, even babies.
Anyway, he winds up his pitch with an appeal for funds. The lead chair of the Foundation has a few questions, first. One: isn’t the interior of the Earth solid?
Morley says, “The interior of the Earth is made up of vast caverns and air pockets, joined by natural avenues.” Luckily, he has a giant chart that shows this all set up and ready. The Lead Chair asks about “natural avenues” and Morley says they are “tunnels” and that they go down hundreds of miles, “to the very core of the earth.” They want to start at Mount Neleh, the biggest extinct volcano ever.
Well, Lead Chair asks another question, “Isn’t the core of the Earth a fiery mass?” One of the other scientists answers that current theory says the interior of the Earth is actually cooler than the surface. Uh, so why is lava so hot?
Lead Chair asks how the team would “traverse” these tunnels, and we see a drawing of a “Cyclotran,” which is an underground vehicle. The cutaway drawing shows all the interior bits. Lead Chair is flummoxed by this arcane device, and it is explained that it’s “like a submarine.” At the front, it has a very tiny little drill, about the size of an equivalent hood ornament. I don’t know how that’s supposed to clear enough earth for the ship to go through, but then as previously pointed out, I’m not a scientist.
Lead Chair thinks the Cyclotran is all well and good, but how (he asks) do these doubledomes know they’re going to find this underground haven?
Morley admits they don’t know they’ll find it, but he goes on and says that living underground is mankind’s last hope. Damn, that sounds harsh. Anyway, Lead Chair asks for the cost, and he’s handed a folder.
He hmm-hmms over the number, and says it’s a lot of money, “Surely you don’t expect us to—“
”But we do!” interrupts Morley.
”I know you and your committee mean well—“ Lead Chair says.
Dr. Woman leaps up. “Mean well! Next you’ll be calling us starry-eyed idealists!”
”Dr. Lindsay,” Lead Chair says, “you’re out of order!”
”The whole world is out of order.”
”I suppose you and your associates can set it right?”
”We couldn’t have set it wrong if we tried,” she says, then leaves in a huff. Women, eh? Even ardent feminist ones.
Our narrator returns and tells us the funding was denied, and even though Dr. Morley made repeated appeals to others, he got no money. (We see a hand open an envelope and take a single dime out of it.)
So, the Society to Save Civilization is disbanded, and Dr. Morley says, “We have no plans. We have no hope.” And the words The End appear! Hooray! But it’s only the end of the newsreel part of our feature. Sorry.
Cut to some house somewhere, where the members of the Society are watching the film. When the lights are brought up, someone tells the projectionist they “may want to see that again.” Not on my dime, you don’t.
Well, this Someone asks the assembled folks what they thought of the newsreel, and Morley says it was like reading his own obituary. Someone, the producer of the newsreel, thought they might feel this way, so that’s why they’re getting a preview. Morley tells the producer (Mr. Thompson) that he’s been making fun of the Society for over a year now, and Thompson says that’s not him, that’s his father.
He and his father frequently come to loggerheads over the issues, but Thompson Jr likes spending money…so he’s going to fund the Cyclotran expedition. (There’s a very unflattering shot of Dr. Woman, she looks like Miss Jane from the Beverley Hillbillies.)
The only stipulation is that he wants to come along, and the scientists immediately go from “Woo hoo!” to “Oh damn it.” You’d have thought he’d told them they would have to go naked or something. But he gets his way: a newspaper headline proves it. Among the other stories, we learn that “Britain Urges Ban on Oil.” Also, Dr. Max A. Bauer (the Aubrey Morris looking member of the Society) “Solves Fuel Problem—Concentrated Sub-Atomic By-Product to be Used in Morley Cyclotram.” Not sure why this is important to know, but you can imagine all the real scientists in the audience sputtering away about how impossible it all was, before this little bit put them in their place.
Dr. Woman narrates progress as we see the food and water to be loaded on board, photos of the nearly completed Cyclotram, and other information that is important for someone to know (not you or me though). She puts a bunny in a cage, because they have to discover how underground environs will affect bunnies. You just have to do this! Finally, the Cyclotram is completed and loaded aboard a big freighter, bound for Mount Neleh. Apparently this is in Hawaii?
Cut to a rocky shore, where the assembled explorers are watching the freighter on the horizon. I guess it’s going away, since the Cyclotram is right next to them. “Well, let’s go,” someone says, and they put all their bags and things in the Cyclotram. (The miniature work is pretty good here.) Everyone gets on board and peers through the front window at the “extinct” volcano (it’s belching smoke). Someone, I think it’s Thompson, says this might be their last night on Earth. And they all take their seats.
The volcano belches more smoke (a bit of flame this time, too), and Dr. Morley orders Ernie to take the controls and get us into the volcano. Something’s wrong, it won’t start, but Dr. Morley flicks a switch and it’s all right, and they start moving. Hey, thanks for the pointless waste of half a minute.
We see the Cyclotram going up the mountain, and people talk about this. It goes on for a while—one of the scientists says it will take four hours to reach the summit. The scientists talk and read and talk about readings. The miniature goes up the hill then stops on the summit, so the scientists can check some more readings and read some checks and stuff like that. So everyone gets out of the Cyclotram and wanders a bit. The night photography here is pretty good, the shots of the Cyclotram in near silhouette are impressive.
After looking at the landscape for a bit, everyone gets back inside the Cyclotram and they proceed downward. Dr. Woman and Thompson Jr take a last look at the surface, as what I guess is A DIFFERENT UNRELATED volcano belches some more fire and smoke.
Inside, well, it’s just as exciting as readings and stuff are discussed. Finally, the Cyclotram goes forward but we don’t get to see it fall down (we cut to it already going down inside the mountain). We cut to the meter showing how deep they are. It has a maximum range of 2500 miles, so no jaunting off for cigarettes or magazines. They’re currently three miles down. For some reason, the depth indicator is like a seismograph, the kind that measures earth tremors. This doesn’t really make any sense, since the way the needle moves, it wouldn’t measure variations in depth (based on the layout of the chart). I guess it measure how sure they are?
Anyway, Dr. Woman narrates some notes about how she hasn’t observed any behavior changes in the crew at this depth. She mentions how Thompson is a huge annoyance, so anyone who behaves with a short temper is understandable. Are she and Thompson going to become An Item? The lines on the Cliché Meter seem to think so.
Ernie thinks they’re near “section 18” or something, and Dr. Morley consults his volcano map and says that they sure are. So they halt the machine and decide to have breakfast, which consists of pills. Who wants to bet Thompson complains about this? Well, he does only mildly. He and Dr. Woman get into some mild sparring. (“You don’t like my kind of guy, do you?” “Not very much, but I’ll make an exception in your case—you, I don’t like a lot.”)
Dr. Morley and some others are going outside so they can help guide the Cyclotram along some of the narrower passages. I sure hope this doesn’t happen a lot. This film doesn’t need to have its running time padded.
We see some of the folks walking along with mining hats, etc. Dr. Aubrey Morris and some other Science Chap discuss Thompson; Science Chap avers how much he hates the guy and how useless he is and so on, while Dr. Aubrey Morris notes that without him, there’d be no expedition.
You know, considering this film is exploring a huge unknown world, never before seen by the eye of man, it is pretty boring, and I’m not talking about drilling-through-rock boring, either. Oh well.
Thompson goes to the front of the line, having failed to engage any of the scientists in idle chit-chat (they’re too busy being scientific). He meets up with Ernie, the pilot, who is not a scientist but manages to make himself useful (his words). Ernie thinks that Thompson can be useful too, if he leads for a while. Equipment is exchanged. They find a big cave, and they also find a big slab with some words carved on it. It says that the Engstran expedition got this far and couldn’t go any farther, and they wish anyone who tries to go farther good luck. This happened some years prior to today.
This is discussed for a while, but nothing comes of it (thanks again, movie) and everyone moves on. Dr. Woman finds some flaming rocks, and Dr. Morley says that’s from the other volcano, “we’ll have to work this side.” And they go to the opposite wall. Whew, that was…too close!
They find a thin patch on another wall, and call the Cyclotram that this is the place to go through. So, they all go back to the Cyclotram, strap in, start the drilling hood ornament, and break through the thin wall. It takes a lot longer for this to happen than what you just read.
On the other side there’s a tunnel. And DAMN IT, they all have to get out again to lead the way while the Cyclotram follows. This is going to take at least two eternities at this pace. They discover that the air is “fresh and clear” by the scientific method of removing their masks. And then they continue on through the stalagmites and stalactites. Remember, “stalactite” has the letter “c” in it, which stands for “ceiling”!
The troupe finds a bit of the cavern where water is dripping from the stalactites, and Thompson asks about the process and it is explained that this sort of thing, taking place over thousands of years, forms the stalactites and stalagmites.
But never mind that, we’re all back aboard the Cyclotram and we’re a hundred miles down! At the rate they’re traveling, it must be, like, seventy years later. But it isn’t, as none of them are old and dead yet. But they talk about how depressed they are, even though the air is fine and stuff. Thompson susses it out. He says it’s from loneliness, from being isolated from the rest of humanity, a hundred miles down. Dr. Woman actually agrees with this, while some other scientist thinks this is all nonsense.
This talk goes on for a long time, with the whole men versus nature thing being the theme. The mean scientist (Dr. Mean) says that they’re all fools for listening to Thompson, so he’s going out to get some fresh air and hopes the rest of them will have recovered their senses when he gets back. Some other guy goes out to keep an eye on Dr. Mean.
A litter later, the Cyclotram is back on the good foot, watching for the two missing guys. Suddenly, a blinking light that says “Toxic Gas” starts blinking. Good thing they installed that! “Gas, gas!” Ernie shouts as the music rouses itself to try to convey some excitement. Good luck with that. It’s noted that Dr. Mean and Dr. Whocares didn’t bring their gas masks when they left, so everyone else puts their on and goes out to find the lost duo.
They do find them, but they’re dead so everyone is sad for a rather long moment. They dig graves for them, noting how odd it is to dig graves “a hundred and ten miles” below the surface.
Then they go back inside the Cyclotram, and there seems to be something happening with the oxygen system. But I guess it isn’t anything serious, as they’re going to continue on anyway and no one makes any mention of oxygen problems.
And we cut to later, when everyone is eating their meal pill. Thompson says he’d give a thousand dollars for a hamburger, “and another thousand for onions on it!” This is treated in good humor by all except Dr. Woman, who leaves (somehow). Actually, she’s just going to get some water, but she notes that the level seems alarmingly low. She calls out to Dr. Morley, who instantly intuits that her news means the switches should be cut. So he orders this done, and goes to see what she’s so appalled about.
Apparently, Thompson left some valve open and lots of water has evaporated. Well, some of the scientists are ready to give some severe punches to Thompson, but they are stayed by the fact that they need to find water, and fast.
So they all…oh DAMN IT…go outside again, so they can wander around in the caverns and be surrounded by various tites and mites, and also some splices. Dr. Woman notes Ernie climbing down a rock face, and starts calling to him over and over. He says everything is all right, and continues going down. Finally, at the bottom, he finds a lot of dust and no water at all. Damn, this movie loves to waste time. He’s hauled back up.
This hauling up takes a long time, by the way, and it looks pretty difficult all around, and we get to watch EVERY THRILLING INSTANT before he’s brought back up. It is mentioned that they are now two hundred and forty miles down. Dr. Woman has a flask that she’s been saving for the rabbits, and this is passed all around. Thompson looks at his glass, and Ernie notes how he should go ahead and drink it as it doesn’t cost a thing. Thompson throws the water in Ernie’s face and a brief fight breaks out, but the film would not want us to get too excited and injure ourselves so the fight is broken up. And everyone goes back to the Cyclotram.
Then, still later, they find a giant pool of liquid, but this turns out to be oil. But they hear running water (somehow they know it isn’t running oil) and try to find the source. They do. The noise is coming from behind a rock wall. They ask for hammers to be brought, since if they just drilled through it might be an underground sea. The hammers are, then, brought. Ernie slams the wall with a sledge hammer but can’t do much. He strips off his shirt, tells Thompson, “I brought two hammers, you know,” and Thompson grins, strips off HIS shirt, and they start whacking together. They break something, and steam pours out, and everyone runs back to the Cyclotram.
Once inside, Dr. Woman wants to tend to Thompson’s wound, while the others note that the outside temperature has risen two hundred and eighty degrees. Wow! I guess that means no water, eh? (That is so hot that water is just steam.)
Dr. Woman is wrapping Thompson’s arm in bandages, so he can be a mummy for Halloween, while in the cockpit, the others note the falling temperature (and pressure) so that water will soon be around and they can grab it. Thompson compliments Dr. Woman’s doctoring, and she compliments his patient-ness. The others all wait for water to condense.
Sure enough, it condenses on the windshield and everyone goes out and drinks in the most ridiculous positions imaginable. Dr. Woman starts having blurry vision (I guess she will NOT be posed ridiculously). Thompson gives her water from a cloth, and she is okay.
While she dabs her eyes with the cloth, the others go off and discuss what should be next. Thompson thinks they should go back, Ernie thinks they should go on, Dr. Aubrey Morris says they’ve gotten nowhere, no matter how deep they’ve gone, and Dr. Morley thinks they owe it to the world to keep on going.
So it’s two against two. They actually take a vote, and it’s just like I said. Just then, Dr. Woman shows up and wonders if “woman’s suffrage” counts down at this depth. Her vote is to go on, and she’s against wasting any more time. And we fade to black.
Fade in on the newest depth reading. Wow, we’re over eight hundred fifty miles in! Sure only feels like 790, though, doesn’t it. Dr. Woman goes into the other room for some reason, and Thompson follows after her. Everyone knows he’s going in there.
She’s tending the animals and they chat a bit. He gives her his “good luck” ring. She asks why, and it turns out this is his attempt to “romance” her. He’d pick flowers if there were any around (there aren’t). She thinks this is part of some “castaway” theory about isolated people falling in love, and their lips get really close. She denies feelings for him, though. She keeps the ring, on the other hand (ha), and puts it on, looking wistful.
Fade to more trundling through rocks. We’re at 960 miles. Thompson wants to get out and stretch, but whoever’s driving (must be Dr. Aubrey Morris) starts up the drill and they tunnel through another wall. Thompson thinks it’s pointless to go on (me too), and he and Ernie get into a brief fight.
Just then, though, the Cyclotram bursts through the rock wall into an underground ocean. They surface inside a vast cavern, and decide to get to dry land and look around. Fade to them sitting on shore. Thompson runs up to Dr. Morley, holding some stuff he’s all excited about. They look like, respectively, pearls and a flower. Dr. Morley pronounces them “worthless” though. Thompson gives them to Dr. Woman (they were intended as a gift), and she’s pleased. But Dr. Aubrey Morris says that in the sunlight they’ll turn drab or disintegrate.
Ernie runs up with some fish he caught. Dr. Morley says they’re edible, and Thompson notes they have no eyes. “They lost their eyes millions of years ago,” says Dr. Morley.
”What kind of a place is this?” Thompson asks. He crumbles the flower and throws down the pearls. “Nature sure is a practical joker.”
”I suppose you could have done better?” Ernie asks.
”In ten million years,” Thompson says, before striding off, “I couldn’t have done worse.” Fade to black.
Fade in as Dr. Woman is writing in her diary, saying how Morley believes this cave is the shelter they’ve been looking for, but “morale is very low. What are we looking for?” Well, everyone is just sitting around looking morose, but one guy is looking through a periscope. Dr. Woman goes on to list (in narration) some of the things they’re missing, and continues, “in this graveyard, Morley thinks—“
”We can build a new life, right here,” Morley finishes.
”You mean this is what we’re looking for?” Thompson asks.
”You’ll get used to it,” Morley counters. But the consensus seems to be that this place sucks, so they should go further. Fade out, then fade in as the Cyclotram trundles further downward. They have a minor bump and come to a stop, outside a pair of giant cave mouths.
”Well?” asks Dr. Aubrey Morris.
”Which way do we go?” asks Dr. Woman.
”I suppose we’ll have to explore both channels,” Morley finally says. Ernie says he’ll take one cavern and he assigns Thompson the other. This leads to inconsequential bickering between the two. They suit up and go out to explore.
I suppose this will lead to Ernie’s self-sacrifice. Just as well, his constant bad attitude is getting very wearisome. Sorry to toss his character aside like that, but this thing is damned boring (and I don’t mean drilling). A death might liven things up.
Of course, the whole scene is so dim that when one of the guys does slip on a slope and begin to slide down, we can’t tell who the hell it is. Even his yelling “Help!” doesn’t help us identify him. The other guy goes running off to assist.
I think it’s Ernie who has fallen. So, instead of a colorful death, Thompson gets to prove himself to Ernie so the stupid fighting will stop. Thompson shows up, ties his rope around a boulder, and lowers himself down to where Ernie is. Why Ernie can’t grab the rope I dunno, but Thompson gets behind him and hands the rope to him.
Ernie starts clambering up, but the rope is frayed! Not much, but I’m sure it will snap dramatically. It sure does, just as Ernie reaches the top, and he plummets to his death like a tossed manikin.
At any rate, I guess you should never mind about who was where in that scene. I guess it was Thompson who fell and Ernie who rescued him. Whatever. Any way, Thompson has a good cry and we cut back inside the Cyclotram, as Thompson is pacing and smoking. He talks about how he and Ernie hated one another, but Ernie saved his life.
”It doesn’t help brooding over it,” Dr. Woman says.
”He died saving my life!”
”He did what he believed was right.”
More pacing. “My trouble was, I never believed in anything.”
She turns him around to face her. “You can start now.”
They smile at each other, and Dr. Aubrey Morris and Dr. Morley come inside. “Morley wants to go back to that Valley of the Shadows he liked so much.”
”Well, it’s better than this,” Morley says.
”But it isn’t good enough!” Dr. Aubrey Morris counters.
”What do you want to do?” asks Dr. Woman.
”I too want to go back,” Dr. Aubrey Morris says, “but all the way back.”
Say, that’s an idea. Instead of hiding your heads in the dirt, why not try to help people on the surface control atomic power, instead of assuming it’s a runaway monster waiting to escape? I thought they were looking for shelter for humanity, but it seems they’re just looking to save their own skins! Not to mention, living in any of the places they’ve discovered would be hell on, er, under earth for anyone who wasn’t a superhuman.
Well, back to this. ”Now, that Ernie’s dead…” Dr. Aubrey Morris says.
”Now that Ernie’s dead, we’ve got to go on,” Thompson says, as everyone looks at him like he’s crazy. “We’ve got to, until we find what we’re after. If we fail, then we can talk about going back.” He sits in the driver’s seat and everyone is instantly galvanized by his can-do attitude. Well, I’m not. I’m kind of hoping to see “The End” but I’m always complaining, am I not.
So, they trundle on through more rock formations and stuff, and we see the Cyclotram pass the same stalactite it passed a while ago. They’re now at 1640 miles. They’re all clustered around the windshield, and apparently they’re so far beneath the surface that the footage-o-thon doesn’t work, since we just see them looking forward and describing rivers and such. “What’s that?” Dr. Woman asks, then looks at the others. Suddenly a glow fills the cabin. “It’s like daylight!” she says. Thompson parks, and they all go outside to see. Here’s hoping we get to, too.
We see them going upward through a tunnel lit from the other end with a bright light. They emerge from the tunnel into some place with a huge waterfall. The whole area is very brightly lit. The four of them stand around gaping like idiots at this giant waterfall. I’ll admit it’s impressive. And…? Is the suggestion that they can all live in a place with a giant waterfall?
They all talk about how they’ve “found it” and this is “the promised land” and is also “like a dream.” They’re sure happy about being on this ledge next to a waterfall. Well, I’m glad for them. Can it be over now?
Dr. Woman starts narrating about this place they’ve found, which has a giant phosphorescent dome, a huge inland sea and other good stuff. The sea is just regular ocean footage, but the area with the dome is pretty impressive looking. It’s also pretty. Seems a bit barren, though. She says that the area is rich in chemicals.
Thompson puts up a sign, “New York 1,640 Miles” with an arrow pointing straight up. Happy with this display of wit, he lights his pipe. He then lights Morley’s pipe. He asks Dr. Aubrey Morris how he’s doing (he gets a distracted noise in response), then asks Dr. Woman about the rabbits. Apparently the female ones are expecting. He tries to make cute talk, but she sends him off to get more water for the bunnies.
Morley and Thompson find a giant desert of volcanic ash. They discuss this at length. Morley thinks with irrigation it will grow crops, Thompson wonders about the lack of sunlight, Morley insists “science can adjust that. Crops can thrive without sunlight.”
”Perhaps,” Thompson says, “but can we?” Morley looks like he’d rather not argue that point and he walks off without answering.
Elsewhere, Dr. Aubrey Morris shows Dr. Woman a fossil of a lungfish. He talks about how they ruled the earth, breathing air and all. She wonders how they became extinct. He says they, like humans, hurried the process. Yes, those damned lungfish, developing atomic power without opposable thumbs to control it! “Let’s get out of here,” she says.
We fade to her diary, but not to hear her write, just to see the progression of days. Believe you me, I already feel it. It’s now October 19, and back on the waterfall ledge, they’re expecting the first litter of rabbits. This is exciting because they know rabbits react like humans, so this will be a guide to the future. Dr. Woman calls the two other Drs over, Thompson follows after and asks, “How many boy rabbits and how many girl rabbits?”
But a close up of Dr. Woman’s sad face, and the downswing in the previously cheerful music, both tell the tale. All the baby rabbits were born dead. Noooo! Everyone is bummed out by this, but the Docs all agree that there must be a cause, so they’re going to look for that.
Fade in as Dr. Woman is looking through a microscope. After examining the “genetic tissue” she determines that “all animals born here are STERILE” and we see her write that out, all-caps and everything. Except, of course, it’s irrelevant if the rabbits born here were sterile; more importantly, they were dead. Yes, there is a difference.
She walks outside to Thompson. “You know what this means?”
He’s playing with a handful of dust. “This new world,” he says. “A haven for the dead.”
Dr. Woman spells out what we’re all thinking, that humanity can’t survive down here. Actually, I’m thinking I’d like the movie to end soon. Dr. Aubrey Morris seems oddly cheerful that “the mission has been a failure.”
Thompson notes that no one can live down here.
”At least one generation could,” Morley points out.
”And after that, what?”
”The end of humanity.”
”That I won’t accept!”
”Neither can you run away from facts,” Morley says. Um. What facts? I keep saying, maybe you double-domes should put your talents toward making the surface world better, rather than variants of running away. Especially futile variants. What’s the point of saving civilization only to render it sterile? Do you really think you’d have a legacy built down here in a single generation?
Anyway, Thompson goes to look over the underground ocean. He’s joined by the others. They all muse about how they’ve run away from things all their lives (Thompson from responsibility, Dr. Aubrey Morris from the Nazis, Dr. Woman from the fear of competing in a man’s world), and they’re determined that it is going to stop now, that they are done running away. They’re going to go back.
Morley comes up and says that the world up there is bent on self-destruction, and they should stay down here forever.
He and Dr. Woman get into a bit of a row about how there’s always hope (her), but he’s lived through two world wars and he’s had enough (him). Just then, lightning strikes the cliff nearby and disintegrates it (nice shot), the nearby volcano decides to erupt, and more lightning flashes all around.
Sure sounds like nature is trying to tell them something. The ocean joins in with huge waves. They run for the Cyclotram, while everything around them is going pretty thoroughly to hell, in a mixture of miniatures and stock footage. As they run, of course, they frequently pause to take in the spectacle of it all.
Dr. Aubrey Morris, Dr. Woman and Thompson all make the safety of the Cyclotram. Morley pauses outside the cave mouth and looks around the world storming around him. His expression is really mad at nature. It seems to say, You bastard. Then he goes into the cave too.
A wall of water is heading toward them, so they yell at Morley to get a move on. Instead, he just sort of shuffles angrily and dispiritedly. He doesn’t make it. He didn’t seem to want to.
The others secure the hatch and ride out the storm. They sink below the waves, and they aren’t able to fight against the current. “Something’s pulling us down,” says Dr. Aubrey Morris. They pass the 1718 mile limit, and are still descending.
Finally, they pass the 2500 mile reading. You mean this ocean is over 700 miles deep? Good grief. The water pressure must have cracked the Cyclotram at that depth. In fact, I’m not sure water would still be water under that kind of pressure. But they’re still intact, and still going down. Finally, they seem to stop, somehow, and float in the middle of the water.
”We’re lost,” says Dr. Aubrey Morris.
”We’re in a blind alley,” says Thompson. “Ever since we’ve started, we’ve been in a blind alley.”
”We can’t bury ourselves in the earth and expect to live,” Dr. Woman says. Well, not unless you’re a vampire, no, you can’t. Or a seed. She turns to Thompson. “Maybe that’s the secret—Morley understood.”
”Strange,” Dr. Aubrey Morris says. “that we didn’t know it before. I used to be afraid of death.”
”I was afraid of life,” Dr. Woman says.
”Spiders,” Thompson says. “That’s what I was afraid of.” Just kidding, he didn’t say that.
They all sit down to await their fate. The Cyclotram drifts. Is it going up? Hard to tell, it seems to go all over the place, like the hand holding the model is unsteady. No, no, it is definitely going up.
Dr. Aubrey Morris notices this on the indicator, and he gets really, really excited. Soon, they are up over 1640. They’ve passed the level of the underground sea, because they somehow found a channel to the upper ocean. Soon, they are at 960. And they still go up. We montage a bit with the Cyclotram and the readings on the dial, finally passing a sea turtle (a massive one, by the view through the window—big as a bus), and we’re at the surface.
Wouldn’t it be funny if they surfaced, and the world was destroyed by nuclear war while they were away? Well, I’d think it was funny.
Finally, they breach the surface and look out of the portal at Hawaii (I’m guessing).
”There’s life on that island—people!” Dr. Woman exclaims, as Thompson puts his arm on her shoulder.
”I feel like I’ll live forever,” Thompson says, and all three of them are grinning fit to bust. And it’s The End.
Portions were filmed at Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico, but they got permission for this and are thankful for the cooperation. So that’s okay, then.
The problem with this film in a nutshell: it is boring beyond description. It’s not even inept enough to make fun of; it’s so earnest and well-meaning and determined to be accurate that it’s had any trace of excitement drained from it in the process.
Sure, giant monsters or a lost race would have spiced things up, but even without those, these people are exploring an unknown world. That alone should have made this interesting, with the right presentation; instead, as noted, it’s so sober and anti-entertainment (as if that would spoil the purity of its scientific reach) that it’s nearly unwatchable.
It finally became interesting only when it looked like they were all going to die. The characters opened up and became scared people, rather than the stiff dedicated professionals (and determined playboy) that were so dull before. If they’d opened up a bit more throughout the journey, they might have been more interesting and, through them, so might the movie.
I kind of doubt it, though. As said repeatedly, this movie seemed to take “seriousness” as its theme, and frivolities like “thrills” were just “kid stuff” that should be “avoided” at all costs—including the cost of “entertainment.”
Some have said this was a film that addressed the threat of nuclear annihilation. I’d argue that the threat was used more as a MacGuffin than anything else. The explorers could have been escaping from a natural disaster or an alien invasion—in fact, both of those scenarios would have been better suited, since neither can be prevented or predicted. Nuclear can be (and was) prevented through human agency—through addressing the problem, not running away and hiding.
Perhaps Unknown World did help lessen the chances of nuclear war—by making everyone who saw it fall asleep, too tired to set off the atomics. It might be argued that any visiting Soviets who stopped by the theatre to see it might have been driven into rage by the lack of entertainment here. Or perhaps they thought, seeing our idea of entertainment, the West wasn’t much of a threat.
That seems to sum up Unknown World. Too promising in its premise to be easily dismissed, too earnest to be funny, too dull in its execution to be entertaining. You can’t have any laughs with it, and you can’t use it as a sleeping aid.
See it if you have to see every film made in 1951. Since it comes near the end of the alphabet, maybe by then you’ll have seen the folly of your ways, and will apply your talents to something more worthwhile. Like nuclear war, maybe.