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Monday, January 26, 2009

Incredible Petrified World

Here is another digression back to 1957. This is another of those minor low-B-movies at that fringe of the sci-fi genre. Incredible Petrified World (IPW) is largely a travel adventure tale. Since IPW has some fanciful premise about an air-breathing terrestrial world underground (and under water), it is more speculative fiction than science fiction. It is often a fuzzy line between the two, so IPW shows up on sci-fi lists. That said, don't expect much science beyond a bit of marine biology blather in the beginning. Instead, IPW is B-writer's reworking of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. It's also partially a castaway movie, but with the "island" being air-filled caverns deep beneath the Caribbean Sea.

Quick Plot Synopsis
After a lengthy movie about the wonders and mysteries of the ocean deep, a few generic men in suits discuss Professor Wyman (John Carradine) and his diving bell expedition. Going down to great depths, they hope to explore those mysteries. Craig (Robert Clarke) is a scientist, as is his love interest Lori. Also along is Paul and a woman reporter named Dale. During their descent, the cables snap and the bell plunges to over 1,700 feet down. Despite the depth, it's fairly light out the window, so Craig and Paul conclude that the pressure must be low too. They don scuba gear and explore. They discover that they've fallen (?) into a cave pool. All four go into the cave, handily illuminated by the phosphor in the rocks. There's no apparent way out, but they find a human skeleton, and then a creepy old man. Meanwhile, Wyman is arranging a rescue mission of sorts with a second diving bell. Back in the deeps, Craig and Paul are swimming for one more trip to the old bell for salvageable supplies. Paul's air runs out, but the 2nd bell is right there, so he's taken inside. After a reviving cup of coffee, he's okay. Back in the cave, the old man is keen on Dale. He suggests they kill the others so they can be alone together. She screams and an earthquake begins. The old man is buried in the rock slide. Dale and Lori get to the pool where Craig is waiting with mini-scuba tanks. All four are now aboard the 2nd bell and rising to the surface. On the boat, there are congratulations all around. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
John Carradine is fun to watch in his own right, even though he plays a somewhat minor role here. Overall, it is a pretty bland recasting of Verne's novel, but somewhat amusing for its low-budget production features. The miracle of coffee (see notes below) is the most memorable feature.

Cold War Angle
As travelogue adventure, there is little tie to Cold War thinking. IPW is a simple castaways-get-rescued story.

Miracle Coffee -- Watch for the amazing powers of coffee throughout the movie. In the beginning, Lori offers a cup of coffee to the nervous Professor Wyman. "Here, this will help you relax." Fair enough, but coffee has miraculous healing powers. When Craig brings the nearly unconscious Paul into the second diving bell, he tells Jim (the guy in the bell) that Paul is unconscious because his scuba tanks ran out of air. "I've got some coffee!" Paul announces triumphantly. He fetches a half-pint thermos and pours a bit in the plastic lid-cup. Paul sips and in seconds has recovered. That must have been some great coffee. Later, when everyone is in the second bell and rising to the surface, Dale and Lori, who've been cat fighting throughout the whole movie, are sharing a cup from the little thermos. Suddenly, peace and civility breaks out between them. They're best buddies now. Man, that must have been some coffee.

Star Watch -- John Carradine plays Professor Wyman. He's an old hand at B horror and sci-fi movies. He played the evil Dr. Conway in The Unearthly ('57), but one of his more memorable roles was as Moses' brother Aaron in The Ten Commandments ('56). Robert Clarke played Craig in IPW, but played "Robert" (the not-so-mutated) in Captive Women ('52). Phyllis Coates played Dale in IPW, but is much more famous for being Lois Lane in the Superman series.

Broken Poster Promises -- Movie goers had learned not to take movie posters as any sort of promise of what was in the film. As per usual, IPW did not quite deliver. The large image of John Carradine talking into a microphone did happen several times. There was some scuba footage to justify the diver on the poster. However, there was no monster octopus that threatened either of the women. (who also never wore deeply plunging dresses). The only octopus was in the opening minutes, being eaten by a shark in a tank.

Upside Down Volcano? -- In the closing minutes, the cavern's volcano erupts amid earthquake tremors. The lava flow effects all look like special effects footage from other films. Curiously, the erupting volcano is shown upside down, as if it existed on the ceiling of the cave. Yet, it's lava flows up its sides. One wonders why this was done.

Bottom line? If you're looking for action, or a thoughtful plot, IPW will disappoint. If you're looking for science or technology, IPW will disappoint. If you don't expect too much, and simply let IPW be a castaway adventure, it can be entertaining enough. It's not worth ten dollars as a third-party copy, but worth watching online for free.

1 comment:

thingmaker said...

For years I remembered a movie I'd seen when I was about five years old. I remembered people in scuba gear in caves and a "caveman". When I finally saw this one again I found out that the "caveman" was just a pervy old man... but... I really love this movie anyway. No excuses. It is far worse than you suggest. The aquarium footage at the beginning is one of the most totally transparent examples of padding ever. The "diving bell" is clearly a weather balloon hanging off the wooden spar of a fishing boat. The interior of said bell is several times a large as the exterior. Divers exit and enter the submerged "bell" by climbing up through a hatch in the top... So unless it's actually about ten times the size we saw, and has an airlock... this wouldn't quite work. Never mind the whole business about the magically low-pressure environment at the... well, at the bottom of the sea.
And our reward in the "incredible petrified world" is a lizard of apparently ordinary size and one horny old castaway + the bizarrely rendered volcano footage.
How can it all amuse me so?