A pair of pink knee-length boots, courtesy of adventuress Jennifer (Jill St John), are among the wondrous sights awaiting our band of intrepid explorers. She’s not the only curiosity, Professor Challenger (Claude Rains) is certainly the most obstreperous of archaeologists, aristocrat Hoxton (Michael Rennie) must have a screw loose to keep on resisting the charms of Jennifer, while Gomez (Fernando Lamas) brings along his guitar to (literally) strike a chord at appropriate moments. But it’s a fun ride – cannibals, volcano, giant phosphorescent spiders, carnivorous plants, and dinosaurs.
There are secrets, too. Hoxton has been here – a lost plateau in the middle of the Amazon – before and abandoned an earlier exploration in favour of hunting for the mythical diamonds of El Dorado, Gomez wants to kill Hoxton, Jennifer plans to hook a duke, and Professor Summerlee (Richard Haydn) wants more than anything else to prove Challenger wrong.
And of course, in the way of dinosaur pictures, having battled to find the damned creatures, intrepidity goes out the window and the explorers spend all their time running away from the dinosaurs, seeking a hidden way down from the plateau, while being hunted by cannibals. Any time you see a ledge you know there’s something terrible above – battling monsters with long tails capable of swishing you downwards – or below, not just a sea of lava but a giant sea beast. The only element that’s missing is the booby-traps. Unfortunately, all the spunk goes out of the otherwise spunky Jennifer when faced with monsters and she turns into the quivering screaming cliché.
But the script is on point, feelings indicated by action rather than dialogue. Having learned of Hoxton’s past, Jennifer spurns him by refusing a cigarette and a moment later taking one of her own, Gomez sneaks glances at a mysterious locket. With so much action there’s little time for romance so mainly by looks and the occasional rescue sparks fly between Jennifer and newspaperman Ed (David Hedison) and between Jennifer’s brother David (Ray Stricklyn) and the native girl (Vitina Marcus). And to alleviate the drab scenery there’s always Jennifer in a new bright outfit and, for comic effect, her poodle.
Given that writer-producer-director Irwin Allen (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, 1961) was unable to hire the likes of Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963) for the special effects or even find the budget to utilize the drawings of Willis O’Brien (King Kong, 1933) who had been responsible for the stop-motion techniques in the original silent version of The Lost World (1925), the monsters come across on the small screen as acceptable enough. The infusion of sub-plots keeps the project ticking along.
Allen made significant changes to the original – introducing the diamonds, making Challenger rather than following in the footsteps of a previous explorer having previously visited the plateau but lost his proof, swapping the heroine’s pet monkey for a pet poodle, turning the heroine into a gold-digger, substituting as plateau inhabitants natives for ape men, and adding the heroine’s wardrobe. The spicing up of the story helps divert the tale in certain places from the dinosaurs, so the tension is not just waiting for the next attack.
Oddly enough, the film strikes a very contemporary note with regards to the current contentious issue of invasion of privacy. Challenger hits out at pestering journalists for what he views as the invasion of his privacy. Later on he says, “invasion of privacy gives man the right to kill,” but that bold statement relates to the explorers breaching the lost sanctuary, “we are the invaders.”
It’s still pretty enjoyable stuff especially allowing for the budget limitations. None of the actors is called upon to do much, which is what you would expect, although Claude Rains is a surprise and Jill St John a delight. Michael Rennie (Hotel, 1967), primarily there for his stiff-upper-lip, is provided with a neat reversal, the supposed hero with feet of clay. Claude Rains (Casablanca, 1942) is the standout as the feisty bombastic professor not above battering annoying newspapermen with his umbrella.
In an early role, Jill St John (The Liquidator, 1965) provides not just sultry evidence of her physical charms, but carries a terrific almost playful screen presence, though she’s better as the tough gal in a man’s world of the earlier section of the movie than the damsel in distress of the last part. Former Latin movie heartthrob Fernando Lamas (100 Rifles, 1969) is the only other one with a decent part, participating in the expedition to find his lost brother. Vitina Marcus (Taras Bulba, 1963) has a small but pivotal role. David Hedison (Live and Let Die, 1973) and Ray Stricklyn (Track of Thunder, 1967) are outshone by their respective amours. Jay Costa (Escape from Zahrain, 1962) is a pantomime villain.
Charles Bennett (City in the Sea, 1965) helped Irwin Allen flesh out the screenplay.