Not so much lost, but rather, ignored and hidden away like that shirt with a goofy collar that you are too ashamed to keep in the same drawer with your “good” clothes. That’s what Atlantis, the Lost Continent is to George Pal fans. Those fans had every reason to expect Atlantis to be the best science fiction film of 1961; the latest film from the director/producer who gave us Destination Moon (Oscar: Special Effects 1950), When Worlds Collide (Oscar: Special Effects 1951), The War of the Worlds (Oscar: Best Special Effects 1953), and just months earlier, The Time Machine (Oscar: Best Special Effects 1960)
Not only wasn’t Atlantis the best science fiction film of 1961, it was barely even science fiction. It has more in common with the sword & sandal genre of film than science fiction. No surprise since much of the film is comprised of footage left over from Quo Vadis and three other MGM Roman epics.
The hero of the story is a Greek fisherman named Demetrios (Anthony Hall) who rescues an Atlantian princess (Joyce Taylor) from a sinking ship. Demetrios agrees to take the princess to Atlantis, far beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Upon returning her to the technologically advanced kingdom, Demetrios’ reward is enslavement and being forced to fight a giant ogre in a pool of fire and water. Demetrios is also treated to “The House of Fear” where he and other slaves are to be transformed into beast men (basically the reverse of The House of Pain in HG Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau). Meanwhile, Atlantian politics are a mess. The king is being set up by an ambitious usurper and an evil astrologer (Frank DeKova – the Chief from F Troop) who want to use Atlantis’ powerful crystal ray weapon to conquer the world. Only the intervention of Demetrios and a high priest (Edward Platt – The Chief from Get Smart) can stop them. The world is saved, but Atlantis is ultimately obliterated by an out-of-control crystal ray cannon.
Yeah, it’s about as bad as it sounds. Not only was footage intended for other films used in Atlantis, The Lost Continent, much of the soundtrack score was lifted from The Time Machine. Even leftover make-up from The Time Machine was used (the same blue make-up was used for Morlocks and Poseidon alike). Easily identifiable props from other films were also used. The large statue in the temple is from the biblical epic, The Prodigal (1955), and several scientific devises in the high priest’s chambers were previously seen in Forbidden Planet (1956)
Perhaps the best comment on this “Frankenstein of a movie” (I don’t mean that in a good way) was made by a viewer on a preview questionnaire that asked which scene he liked best. His answer: “The scene where Robert Taylor saved Deborah Kerr from the fire.” He thought he’d just seen a screening of Quo Vadis.