Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Mole People (1956)

An earnest film containing a mix of sympathetic monster characters, effective lighting and photography together with some ordinary production values and questionable acting performances

While on an archaeological dig in “Asia,” a group of archaeologists led by Dr Roger Bentley discovers what’s left of a five thousand year old Sumerian civilization living a subterranean existence atop a mountain in Mesopotamia.

Directed by Virgil W. Vogel
Produced by William Alland
Written by László Görög
Distributed by Universal-International
Shot in 17 days
Budget $200,000


John Agar: Dr. Roger Bentley
Cynthia Patrick: Adad (Adel)
Hugh Beaumont: Dr. Jud Bellamin
Alan Napier: Elinu, the High Priest
Nestor Paiva: Prof. Etienne Lafarge
Phil Chambers: Dr. Paul Stuart
Rodd Redwing: Nazar
Robin Hughes: First Officer 

Frank Baxter: Frank Baxter


The Hollow Earth theory

The Hollow Earth theory proposes that the Earth is entirely hollow or consists of a significant interior space. It is widely considered to be pseudoscience and just part of one more conspiracy-type theory.

In ancient times, the concept of a subterranean realm was linked with the notion of a place of origin or with the afterlife, such as the Ancient Greek underworld or the Christian notion of Hell and portals that lead into a place of purgatory.

From Native American and Celtic mythology through to ancient Indian legends, there have been tales told of strange creatures and even ancestors emerging from a subterranean land inside the earth.

In 1692 Edmond Halley (English scientist who is best known for predicting the orbit of the comet that was later named after him). proposed that the Earth consisted of a hollow shell about 800 km or 500 miles thick containing two inner concentric shells and an innermost core, approximately the diameters of the planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury. Atmospheres were said to separate these shells, and each shell had its own magnetic poles. The spheres were supposed to rotate at different speeds. Halley believed that the atmosphere inside was luminous, that it was possibly inhabited and that it was escaping gas that caused the Aurora Borealis.

In 1818, John Cleves Symmes, Jr. proposed that the Earth consisted of a hollow shell approximately 1,300 km or 810 miles thick, with openings about 2,300 km or 1,400 miles across at both poles with 4 inner shells each open at the poles.

Contrary to the "Convex" hollow-Earth hypothesis by which humans live on the outside surface of a hollow planet, Cyrus Teed, a doctor from upstate New York proposed in 1869 a concave hollow Earth hypothesis which had humans living on the inside surface of a hollow spherical world, with our universe lying in that world's interior.

In more modern times there have been stories about some of Hitler's top advisors believing that the Earth was hollow (hohlweltlehre): that our surface is on the interior of a concave Earth. An expedition was supposedly sent to the Baltic island of Rugen to spy on the British fleet. Instead of training the cameras across the waters, they were pointed UP in order to observe across the atmosphere to the Atlantic Ocean! And what do you suppose was seen? Yep, nothing but sky.

Let’s not forget the stories about Hitler and many of his Nazi colleagues escaping Germany in the dying days of World War II and fleeing to Antarctica where at the South Pole they managed to locate an entrance to the Earth's interior. It has even been claimed that after the war 2,000 scientists who had gone missing from Germany and Italy along with almost a million people had wound up (in?) there as well!

It gets even more bizarre with claims about Nazi-designed UFOs and Nazi collaboration with the people who live in the centre of the Earth……

Thank goodness then for the calm reassuring and reasoning presence of Francis C. Baxter, professor of English at the University of Southern California and better known as "Dr Research" in The Bell Laboratory Science Series of television specials from 1956–1962. Baxter appears as himself in a prologue to The Mole People, in which he presents us with a brief lecture about the theories that postulate the existence of places deep under the surface of the Earth where people can survive.

Baxter states that in an age where “men have reached out to the stars” the question remains: “what’s inside this globe?” Dante, for instance proposed that “under the surface there may be areas inhabitable by man.”

Baxter then goes on to mention John Cleves Symmes who is mentioned above. According to Baxter, in 1818 John Cleves Symmes proposed that the earth’s interior consisted of something like layers of an onion or five globes within globes which may be accessed via Siberia.

Baxter proceeds to cite a Cyrus Teed (also referred to above) who in 1870 proposed that we are not living on the outside of the earth but are instead living on the inside. Like Symmes, Cyrus Reed Teed did in fact exist and was a U.S. physician and alchemist who became a religious leader and messiah. In 1869, claiming divine inspiration (in the best tradition of lunatic cult leader personality-types), Teed adopted the name Koresh and formulated a new set of scientific and religious ideas which he termed Koreshanity, (rhymes with “insanity” I guess!) including a Hollow Earth theory that has the Earth and sky existing inside the inner surface of a sphere.

Karl Neupert, according to Baxter was actually one of several twentieth-century German writers who published works advocating the Hollow Earth hypothesis. In the 1920s the Hollow Earth Theory was quite popular in Germany. Karl Neupert, with support of the NAZI regime, wrote the book Geokosmos which helped to turn the theory into something of a cult in Germany. According to Baxter, such ideas as Neupert’s envisioned the existence within our globe of the sun, the moon and a mass of “electrical potentiality.”

So, armed with some valid historical background, our familiar and authoritative Dr Baxter informs us about the premise, nature and purpose of the film we are about to see: namely, that The Mole People is both a work of “fiction” and a “fable” which has “meaning and significance for you and me in the 20th Century.”

The opening credits follow Baxter’s presentation and seem to ascend out of a steaming hot vent from deep within the bowels of the earth to the accompaniment of a heavy and ominous-sounding music score.

“In Archaeology, all things are possible.”

The film opens somewhere in “Asia” as if Asia, instead of containing independent countries with their own civilizations, was instead some kind of amorphous, vague and exotic region which was a concept that had stubbornly remained a part of European consciousness for a long time. (A similar homogenous “clumping together” world view was held in recent history with regard to Communism and even more recently in relation to Islam!)

At an archaeological dig, Dr Roger Bentley, played by John Agar and Prof Etienne Lafarge, played by Nestor Paiva have their attention drawn to “some kind of stone tablet” which has just been uncovered.

Back at their tent, together with Dr. Jud Bellamin (Hugh Beaumont) and Dr. Paul Stuart (Phil Chambers), the tablet is about to be cleaned, examined and translated. It seems that the find was located just below the Great Flood level and is some 5000 years old. Suddenly the biblical flood has become historical fact! The inscription begins with “I Sharu? King of kings…” and may be related to the story of Gilgamesh and Ishtar and involves a dynasty that “suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth.”

A more ominous note is introduced concerning the tablet with the translation revealing the warning: “He who removes it with malice: May his name, his seed, his land be destroyed.” As often is the case in these kinds of films, right on cue, an earthquake strikes the area and the tablet is broken. You Have Been Warned!

"Exactly. The flood has been proven to be a historical fact, why not a Sumerian version?"

Later on a young boy discovers an artefact that the earthquake seems to have dislodged from further up a mountain. He brings the artefact to Bentley and after it is cleaned it turns out to be an ancient oil lamp shaped like a boat. The inscription appears to be some kind of Sumerian version of the biblical Noah's Ark story.

{The Sumerian version - Utnapishtim and the flood - is actually found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Utnapishtim was tasked by Enki to abandon his worldly possessions and create a giant ship called “The Preserver of Life.” He was also required to bring his wife, family, relatives, craftsmen of his village, baby animals and grains. All animals and humans that were not on the ship would wiped out in the oncoming flood} 

The party of scientists now decide to follow in the direction where the evidence seems to be pointing them: to the mountain where the artefact came from. 

“The thing that impresses me most is the complete and utter silence. You can almost hear it.”

A base camp is set up and a final assault on the mountain is due to commence on the next day. As if the mountain’s spirit is angry with the humans for their intrusion, a storm blasts the base camp that evening.

As they set off on the climb up the mountain the next morning we see a fairly good low budget blending of archive film footage and actors simulating the climb. Suddenly an avalanche brings down an artefact – an arm from a statue. As the party of scientists continue climbing they stumble upon the 5,000 year old ruins of an ancient Sumerian civilization. They later happen upon the face of the goddess Ishtar.

{The film’s story tries to connect the goddess Ishtar and the Sumerians whereas Ishtar was the Babylonian counterpart of the Sumerian goddess Inanna.}

While Dr. Stuart walks around the ruins, he falls down through an opening in the ground. This is followed by an interminably long rescue attempt as the rest of the party descend on ropes to save their comrade. Notice that throughout the descent there is no music or sound effects. The sense of impending danger is implicit in this silent claustrophobic alien underworld as our protagonists make their silent descent almost echoing Ishtar’s descent to the underworld.

As the rescue party makes its way down, Lafarge, who is older than the rest appears to be struggling. It’s time for “let’s pick on the old fella” as we are prepared for this character being the weak link later on. They eventually - and I mean eventually – locate Stuart’s dead body. Now it’s time for “let’s get rid of an unnecessary character” as Nazar notices a loose piton and attempts to secure it. His hammering triggers a rock fall and he is conveniently killed while the remaining three men find themselves trapped.

As the three men search for a way out, a claustrophobic Lafarge begins to experience breathing problems. The cavern they are in appears to be excavated and not naturally formed. They continue wandering through the cave and are followed by some (mole-like) creature with long claws.

The party eventually discover a light source, which reveals a large cavern containing an underground city. Notice that the city in this matte effect doesn’t seem to be very much to scale. The light in the cavern appears to be produced by a chemical in the rocks. At least we will be able to see what is going on which is more than you can say for many films these days featuring interior or subterranean scenes.

“There’s going to be history rewritten when we get out of here.”

The men then find a large tablet informing them they have discovered the temple of Ishtar. As they settle down for the night in the most uncomfortable manner possible, a bizarre looking creature emerges from the ground. Soon after, the three men are attacked, sacks are placed over their heads, and in a very unnerving process of capture they are literally pulled into and under the ground.

“Gentlemen, we are in 3000BC!”

When the men awake they discover they are in a cave and that Lafarge has nasty looking claw marks on his chest. Dr Bellamin comments, “Claw marks! Maybe a hand - -four cuts” to which Bentley responds with, “Some hand. Whoever it was needs a manicure.” (Hey guys! Lafarge is in pain and distress here!) 

Two pasty faced albino-looking humans appear and direct the three intruders to follow them. The scientists are taken to the city and presented to the High Priest, Ilinu played by Alan Napier. Ilinu concludes that the strangers pose a danger to their world seeing that from the inhabitants’ point of view, “this is the world and (they) are its people.”

A bit later the men conclude that “we made them doubt their world” and question the notion that “their answers are the only answers.” On this basis and motivated by a dose of self-interest, Ilinu informs the king that the strangers are evil. After the king concludes questioning the three archaeologists, the high priest pronounces a sentence of death for them whereby whether they are spirits or otherwise, they “will die in the fire of Ishtar.”

{For some reason the chevron “magic eye of Ishtah” atop the “golden rod” looks a lot like the symbol or emblem from the 70s sci-fi series "Blakes Seven." Ishtar’s symbol was actually an eight-pointed star meant to represent Venus!}

Not being slow on the uptake, the three men make themselves scarce by fleeing into a cave, with guards in close pursuit.

The men soon discover the eyes of the city’s inhabitants “can’t tolerate the light” being albino and adapted to a world without sunlight. When the three intruders shine their flashlight in the faces of the First Officer, the King and High Priest, all three vampire-like retreat from the light.

Meanwhile when a strange creature pulls the body of one of the guards underground, Lafarge runs panic-stricken into one of the caves, followed by Bentley and Bellamin who then stumble upon a scene from hell. It is a slave labour camp where alien reptilian-looking creatures are being mercilessly whipped and are forced to cultivate mushrooms which are the local food source. Bentley and the audiences’ indignation toward the creatures’ treatment and sympathy for them is aroused at this point. However, one might wonder why the creatures don’t just slip away under the earth out of reach of the humans and their whips!

Suddenly, Laforge is attacked and killed by one of the creatures which is quickly driven off by the flashlight. The remaining two men bury Laforge right there as he was a man who devoted his life to the world of the past – a place “where he always lived.”

“The divine fire of Ishtar"

When Bentley and Bellamin return to the city they are met by the high priest who informs them that they are welcome back to the city and are now considered to be “holy messengers” who "possess the divine fire of Ishtar."

Later on during the course of a feast, one of the servants, Adel played by Cynthia Patrick drops a bowl of mushrooms. For this, she is ordered to be whipped but Bentley intervenes to stop the punishment. It is obvious that she is not albino like the others, but is instead pigmented much like the outsiders. The King presents Adel as a gift to Bentley.

{Cynthia Patrick's character in the film is called Adel, but appears as Adad in the end credits. Interestingly enough, Adad is an Akkadian (Akkadian Empire reference to the Semitic speaking state that emerged around the city of Akkad north of Sumer) storm-god, counterpart to the Sumerian Ishkur.} 

The High Priest informs the outsiders that Adel is not human but is instead a "marked one" who bares the “mark of darkness.” I’m afraid that very much like we surface-dwelling “humans,” these subterranean Sumerian survivors share human beings’ prejudicial penchant for discrimination based on something as superficial as skin pigmentation or other trivial forms of physical, cultural, ideological, linguistic or religious and gender differences!

The King and Priest go on to explain that when the population gets too large its size is maintained by sacrificing excess numbers in the fire of Ishtar. How often in our own history have we seen nations, communities, sects and crazy cults arrive at the logical conclusion of adhering to the principle of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few or the ends justifying the means with disastrous consequences in terms of loss of life and liberty. Strangely enough the principle often doesn’t extend to the power elites of such societies!

Bentley and Adel later talk about the notion of freedom which Adel can’t seem to comprehend: “Free? What is free?” When Bentley explains that it is something akin to “a world of light above the darkness,” Adel responds with the observation, “you are speaking of heaven, my lord.” (A sentiment we ought to remember as we watch freedoms both at home and around the world slowly being eroded, whittled away and blithely handed over to corporations, institutions and the State!)

As Bentley and Bellamin tour the city the next day. the High Priest together with his fellow priests meet to discuss and question the outsiders’ divinity and put together a plan to get the flashlight. They want to show the king that the strangers are not divine, but are instead mere mortals. If they are removed, so too will the threat to their status and power be removed. As the High Priest states, “Dealing with the divine is *our* office. If we abandon the smallest particle of it to outsiders, our position will soon come to naught.” Sound familiar? Ah, nothing like a good dose of vested interests to block the path to peace, freedom, equality and stifle general positive progress!

{As a side note, have you noticed that in the background the writing on the walls of the king's and high priest's chambers appears to be Egyptian hieroglyphics? However, the civilization concerned is supposed to be Sumerian! I demand that after a thorough whipping, we sacrifice the person responsible for this inconsistency!}

Bentley and Bellamin intervene when three of the creatures are being whipped and beaten, but as luck would have it their flashlight batteries begin to fail foreshadowing what is soon to follow.

The creatures are now free and are in open revolt but as a result, food production has been reduced. The subterranean death-cult’s answer to this dilemma? Let’s have another sacrifice! Yea!

A pretty cool ritual dance is performed and is followed by three women being escorted into a dazzlingly illuminated chamber where they are locked in. When the chamber is later opened, their charred remains are carried out on stretchers.

Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t the subterranean Sumerians super-sensitive to light? After all, they had to shield their eyes from the light when the door to the chamber was opened. Then why aren’t the three women who were selected for the sacrifice similarly affected? They were able to walk into the chamber containing of the Fire of Ishtar with their eyes wide open! Well, time for more whippings and sacrifices! Let’s find those responsible for continuity or lack of it!

High time in the film now for a spanner or two to be thrown into the works: A nasty complication as arisen with the discovery of the dead body of Lafarge. Far from being a “divine messenger who has gone to heaven” or called back to Ishtar, it is apparent to the High Priest and to the king that he is merely mortal. The King agrees with the High Priest to have Bentley and Bellamin killed.

Bentley and Bellamin are drugged via a meal of mushrooms and are hauled away. Elinu has gained possession of the flashlight. For him it represents “the power of heaven” which he can use “to control the beasts of the dark, the people and... yes, if need be, even a faltering king himself.”

We are next treated to a rather aimless and comical dash hither and thither by Adel who oddly makes her way to the cavern containing the creatures. From this point it all looks rather is if the action is made up as it goes along with Adel being captured by the creatures of the dark; Bentley and Bellamin being taken to the sacrificial chamber; Adel popping up again and being appallingly directed by someone; the creatures lumbering in, attacking the city in force and killing the inhabitants along with the King and High Priest and finally the creatures breaking open the sacrificial chamber and being repelled by the light.

“To your people it was a burning death; To us it’s life.”

The final scene has Adel unaffected by the light joining Bentley and Bellamin on their ascent back to the surface. After they reach the top and change into warmer clothes an earthquake conveniently hits the area. Adel is suddenly overcome with the urge to run around aimlessly in circles and is killed when a stone pillar crushes her. As luck, social sensitivities and story writers would have it, all evidence of the underground city is buried and no-one really lives all that happily ever after……

The Mole People is certainly a work of fiction held together with flimsy gossamer threads of fact. It is indeed also a fable that reveals much of what lies beneath the surface of humanity’s soul which more often than not doesn’t take all that much digging to reveal……

©Chris Christopoulos 2015

No comments:

Post a comment