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Friday, December 19, 2008

The People That Time Forgot (1977) review


Patrick Wayne (Major Ben McBride), Sarah Douglas (Lady Charlotte Cunningham), Thorley Walters (Dr. Edwin Norfolk), Dana Gillespie (Ajor), Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), Shane Rimmer (Hogan), Milton Reid (Sabbala), Dave Prowse (Executioner)

Directed by Kevin Conner

Major Ben McBride (Wayne) goes on a search and rescue mission to find and bring back his friend Bowen Tyler (McClure) still lost in Caprona, the land of dinosaurs. Along for the journey are photographer, Lady Charlotte "Charley" Cunningham, whose magazine is the financier of the trip. Dr. Edwin Norfolk and pilot of the Amphib, Hogan, who was with McBride during the war.

Because of the icy conditions, the quartet must enter the lost world by plane. Once breaching the mountainous regions, a huge pterodactyl causes them to make a forced landing. In their search for Tyler, McBride and the others encounter one peril after the other; cavemen, dinosaurs, deformed sword wielding pseudo-samurai savages and a volcano god that demands female sacrifices.

Kevin Conner returns for the third and last entry in the cinematic adaptations of the Edgar Rice Burroughs lost world adventures. This third picture isn't actually an official Amicus production (the company was already done by the time this film was completed), but can be considered one as it retains much the same production crew from the previous entries. Conner lends his picture a greater sense of adventure than the previous outings.

This is no doubt reinforced by the rousing and exciting score by John Scott (GREYSTOKE). It's a very different style of film score from the first two compositions by Douglas Gamley and Michael Vickers respectively. Vickers also returned to score WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978), a fourth lost world exploit again from the team of Kevin Conner and John Dark and also starring Doug McClure.

Patrick Wayne (the Duke's son) is excellent as the stubbornly chauvinistic former WW1 fighter pilot, Major Ben McBride. His many confrontations with 'Charley' Cunningham (Douglas) are quite funny as each tries to one up the other in terms of who is superior, man or woman. McBride's masculinity is threatened when it appears a female may possibly have the solution to certain problems.

This is first revealed when the group encounter a massive Stegasaurus. Getting the bright idea to use the gigantic creature as a wench to move the Amphibian plane, McBride finds it difficult to motivate the monster. Charley easily gets the dinosaur to move along much to Ben's chagrin. "Lady, I believe in a man doing a man's work. That's all." Wayne is a more commanding lead here than he was in the same year's SINBAD & THE EYE OF THE TIGER in which he played the fabled Arabian hero. Wayne comes off much better in these later films than he did in the earlier western films he did with his more famous father. It's a shame he didn't do more fantasy adventure movies.

Sarah Douglas is also good as the feisty magazine photographer, Charley, who doesn't mind getting her hands dirty. Douglas also sports Princess Leia buns on her head in what is probably an inadvertent nod to STAR WARS. She does get to put her hair down during the big finale when the girls are about to be decapitated. Douglas also participates in the action scenes never coming off as a damsel in distress.

However, there is one scene in which she shows she's just as human as her male foil, Ben McBride. Pterodactyls and Stegasaurus's had no effect on her disposition, but when a large spider makes its way onto her person, she loses touch with her more daring tendencies. Interestingly, Douglas and her co-star, Dana Gillespie, would screen test for the role of Ursa in SUPERMAN (1978).

Thorley Walters is his usual chipper self playing another eccentric and batty character, this time as the slightly nutty Dr. Edwin Norfolk. Walters, like everybody else in the cast, gets to take part in the action. Walters is always reliable, and, at least in his horror and fantasy roles, plays odd and unconventional characters in those movies. He doesn't disappoint here. Norfolk is like a kid in a candy store at the chance to explore a land filled with prehistoric men and monsters. He plays the role of Norfolk in a similar vein to Cushing's portrayal as the batty elder, but young at heart, Professor Abner Perry in AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976).

Super sexy Dana Gillespie is simply the hottest cave girl since Raquel Welch. Her sweaty, heaving breasts threaten to erupt from her skimpy outfit during some of the more perilous sequences. Even if you're an individual that can't cope with the dated effects work, Gillespie is a 'very special effect' that CGI cannot replicate. A protege of David Bowie, her music career began in the mid 1960's and she still sings today having done some 50 albums.

She lost out to Sarah Douglas for the role of Ursa in the first two SUPERMAN movies. As opposed to Caroline Munro's character from the previous movie, Ajor has no qualms about leaving the violent land of Caprona behind to enjoy the pleasures of a new world. McBride gives her to Hogan as a present.

McClure has what amounts to a guest appearance (he's billed as such) as he doesn't appear until the finale when McBride and company reach the Mountain of Skulls. Tyler is held captive somewhere within the frightening construct that is literally built from the bones of those sacrificed to Nagarumata, the volcano god of the Naga's. The Naga's are samurai-like warriors who have hideously deformed faces beneath their masks. When you first see Tyler, it's obvious he's been a prisoner for some time from all the facial hair. There is also some hint that Tyler and Ajor have had an intimate relationship at some point.

During the gripping closing moments as the heroes try and make their way back to the plane, Tyler tells McBride that the " is alive. It'll stop you. That volcano is its heart. It controls everything." Repeating the ending of the first picture, which also featured the doomed occupants of the submarine attempting to escape Caprona, here the good guys try for the same thing and it is explained that the volcano controls everything and apparently doesn't want the modern explorers to leave to make sure the secret of Caprona remains just that.

Shane Rimmer has a very comedic turn as the bumbling pilot Hogan who is left behind to fix the damaged plane. As more pterodactyls pass over, he shoots them down then marks them on the side of the plane. All his scenes are peppered with humorous bits of dialog. He is incredibly loyal to his former Major. Rimmer also returned for the fourth film in the series WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (the only one not a Burroughs story; see review elsewhere on the site) from 1978.

Frequent heavy Milton Reid has a role as the evil Sabbala. Looking like something out of a Frazetta painting, Sabbala looks very threatening surrounded by skulls, huge snakes and a creepy, diminutive follower. Reid played in numerous adventure and sword & sandal pictures in addition to some roles in horror productions such as DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972). Hammer performer and the man inside the Darth Vader costume, Dave Prowse plays Sabbala's executioner.

One of my favorite movies, I first saw it as a kid on the Late Movie paired with THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975). Interestingly, there's a scene that was on this television broadcast that is not in the MGM DVD. The missing bit is just an extended dialog scene that takes place immediately after Ajor makes a reference to Nagarumata with her statement, "No one can go against his will and live." The continued dialog from the extended portion of the scene is detailed below...

McBride: "That's what you think. Where I come from, we've never heard of this... Nagarumata, right?"

Norfolk: (Laughs) "Exactly...I don't think we need to take him too seriously."

Ajor: "You wrong...Nagarumata KILL!!"

Norfolk: "No, no, no...You stick with'll be alright."

Ajor: "If we go on...we all Meekay. You go...Ajor stay here."

McBride: "We need your help to get there...and you need us to protect you. I saved your life didn't I..."

(Brief pause) Ajor looks at McBride

McBride: "...Then trust me."

It's a brief scene amounting to about a minute or so of screen time but it adds to the suspense of what is to come when the good guys meet up with the Naga's and realize they aren't the pushovers they initially took them for.

THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) sports a fine cast and well drawn characters that help enliven the action. There are less monsters on display here which should be a given considering the title. One of the creatures is borrowed from AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976). Most of them are trotted out during the conclusion as the heroes are being "chased" by the volcano.

In addition to a thickly armored, prickly backed monstrosity, there's also gigantic snake creatures that emerge from holes in a tiny walkway inside a cave. If the monsters and the rampaging volcano weren't enough to contend with, the bloodthirsty, sword wielding Naga's attempt to impede their escape as well.

The film was shot in the Canary Islands (Santa Cruz de la Palma) and at Pinewood Studios. The production benefits from the most location work of the entire series with minimal studio shots. These include the volcano set and the Mountain of Skulls which is obviously a painting, but the lighting in the first appearance of the humongous assemblage of bone leaves an impression. The interior of the fortress is quite frightening with the walls literally made up of thousands of skulls from victims of the Naga's.

The first and second encounter inside a cave adorned with stalagmites and stalactites is also a nice sight. This is where the heroes run into the four legged, spiked backed monster that resembles an Ankylosaurus. Memorable set pieces include the attack on the bi-plane by a pterodactyl near the beginning which is possibly the most accomplished special effect in the film alongside the Stegasaurus sequence. The action packed final 30 minutes where the heroes fight it out with the Nagas and other enemies are a major highlight.

Coming out the same year as the unstoppable juggernaut that was STAR WARS (1977), that movie pretty much dwarfed everything that came out at that time. The old fashioned and low budget days of the fantasy movie were quickly coming to an end. THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) was one of the last of a dying breed about to be replaced by more state of the art effects work and craftsmanship.

Still, this movie and others like it will always have fans to keep them from becoming the 'Movies That Time Forgot'. The obvious studio sets help give these fantasy adventures an old fashioned quality usually found in the serials of old. An age gone by, yet there's a child-like wonder to these pictures that gives them a timeless quality that will most likely only be felt by those that sat up late Saturday night with a bowl of popcorn and a warm blanket. If you're one of those 'monster movie kids', then I highly recommend this excellent, pulpy adventure movie.

This review is representative of the MGM single edition as well as the double feature disc paired with THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT. These two films are part of their 'Midnite Movies' entertainment line.


Anonymous said...

I saw LAND on its theatrical release as an 8 year old in 1975 but remember being told that PEOPLE was a very weak sequel (it bombed at the box office i believe) so i didn't get to see it until the 1990's when i was in my twenties.I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that it is almost as exciting as the first film,perhaps if Ajor had appeared topless it would be my favourite!!
Being to some extent a retread of LAND this time there isn't much of a surprise element with the explorers similarly heading north to experience more advanced inhabitants.However visually the medieval/samurai world is stunning.The lead bad guys are suitably sinister but i think they could've been developed a bit more (with dialogue)to milk the maximum amount of tension but i guess we should expect too much from a kids movie.
I haven't seen either LAND or PEOPLE in a year or so to remember how much the musical scores deviate but aren't the main themes in each identical?

Sean M

venoms5 said...

No. Different composers. Michael Vickers did LAND and John Scott who also did the score for GREYSTOKE and others did PEOPLE. Both scores are very different. The LAND score has that Amicus flavor to it, albeit with a more boisterous sound while PEOPLE sounds more akin to a big Hollywood adventure. The score is actually bigger than the film in my opinion.

THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT was not a bomb however, and it made more money than LAND did.

Ben D said...

Ben Douglas liked this review.

Oscar Solis said...

As I noted in my comment on Warlords of Atlantis, I am posting this 13 years late to the party. I was lucky to see all the Doug McClure/Kevin Connor films when they came out. The audiences for these films were always into them and always had a great time watching them. I never heard a comment that the effects looked fake and part of the reason may have been that the stories just kept going, barely letting up. While the effects in modern movies have become so realistic that they are no longer "special" or "fun", the films by Kevin Connor occupy a special place where the obvious handmade effects add to the feeling of fantasy.

Maybe it's the nostalgia talking but I really miss the time when movies were made with bailing wire and bubble gum.

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