Thursday, May 16, 2013

Photo of the Day

John Agar and Hugh Beaumont (on the floor) are to be sacrificed by a long lost race of descendants of Sumerians who turned into albinos in THE MOLE PEOPLE

This Universal cheapie is considered a horror/sci-fi film when in fact it's pretty much a straight-up PEPLUM film with loads of genre clichés including two dance sequences. The dancer's name here is Yvonne De Lavallade. This film scared me when I was a kid (it's those claws coming through the earth that scared me) but today I'm bemused by it. I understand why those scenes scared me because they are effective but the rest is exactly the type of mishmash production you'd see from a serial.

Even though the race is said to be Sumerian the hieroglyphics are Egyptian. The race worships Ishtar who wasn't a Sumerian goddess but a Babylonian deity. The costumes are Greco-Roman and the sets are a combo of Roman/Egyptian/Art Deco mishmash. It's only 77 minutes long (including stupid intro from a professor or something). The film's weakest point is the inevitable love interest. Amidst all the cheesy B-movie trappings one has to suspend disbelief at, the love interest, who happens to be a hot, perfectly manicured and healthy non-albino blonde girl, is simply too much for me, no matter how cute the actress is. The albinos dislike her because she's normal and they brand her as a Marked One. Hmm...this aspect is just too silly and any semblance of seriousness the film had went out the window when the blonde slave girl was introduced. The underlying message of the film is also sorta racist: Albinos = bad; caucasians = ok.

There are other aspects of the screenplay or acting, which I didn't notice when I was a kid, don't make much sense today but I won't go into that now.

As cheesy as this film was/is, it actually was very influential. It influenced other works of science fiction such as PLANET OF THE APES. It also inspired the great PEPLUM epic MACISTE VS THE MOLE MEN.

BTW, the entire opening credit is brilliant and easily in the top ten best opening credits of all time.


orsh549 said...

I remembered this movie also from when I was a kid and I think a little awhile ago I mentioned that I thought this movie was like a PEPLUM. Despite it being a muddled film it's part of my 50's Sci-Fi collection and the movie is good fun.

Scott said...

The hilarious thing about this film -- since you mentioned the racism -- is that the blonde girl wasn't quite white enough. Universal decreed she had to die in the final frames of the film, because if a Sumerian had hooked up with a WASP American, that would have been miscegenation in 1956, and the film would have lost bookings in the South. Or so the producers feared.

The Professor in the beginning was played by Dr. Frank Baxter, who many people will remember from those Bell Labs films they used to show us in school on rainy days (he was "Dr. Research" in Hemo the Magnificent, Our Mr. Sun, The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays, etc. and hosted the TV series Telephone Time and The Bell Telephone Hour). In fact, he became so well known through those 16mm educational shorts that he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Ironically, Dr. Baxter, who was invariably depicted as the all-knowing voice of Science, was actually an English professor.

Last bit of trivia: the sniping, sneering, effete High Priest of the subterranean Sumerians was played by Alan Napier, who most people will recall from the Batman TV series.

And while I don't dispute your classification of the film, I am hard-pressed to think of a more unlikely hero for a peplum than John Agar.