Movie of the Week: The Mole People (1956)
Updated: Apr 20, 2019
Shame on me for waiting ## years to see The Mole People (1956)! I don’t know why. I have fond memories of the magazine, although I’ve never owned a copy of it myself. (It was issue #3 of "Famous Films," published by Warren Publishing Co. in 1964. I have owned multiple copies of #2, "Curse of Frankenstein & Horror of Dracula".) I guess I just don’t hear much conversation about it. Anyway, for my first watch, I kind of loved it.
It’s not really a horror movie at all. It’s an adventure, through and through. Something I never knew about it is that it features a lost civilization and, as their slaves, the “beasts of the tunnel” make very few appearances. In fact, in the end, they’re the heroes; the members of the lost civilization are the villains. As Dr. Roger Bentley, John Agar leads an Asian expedition to the top of a mountain when a stone tablet reveals clues to an ancient mystery.
First, though, we have to watch the obligatory Universal 1950’s science lesson from Dr. Frank C. Baxter. He reminds us that we know much about the globe, but not much about what’s inside, beneath our feet. He’s an English professor, not a scientist, so his four-and-a-half minute “lesson” revolves around historical theories about “what goes on in the center of the planet.” The most interesting one to me is that we aren’t living outside a globe, but inside one, even though that has nothing really to do with The Mole People.
I like the commitment to historical accuracy in the movie, even though I don’t know if the basis for it is true. It’s a “Samarian version of Noah’s Ark.” An ancient dynasty was safe at the top of a mountain, but then “ran right from a flood to an earthquake,” apparently burying them deep in the earth. Dr. Bentley and company discover they survived for hundreds of years, but, without sunlight, have become albinos with huge pupils.
They also have an interesting custom, since there is enough food (mushrooms, of course, because they grow in the dark) for only a limited number of people. Instead of figuring out how to grow more, they sacrifice extra members of their population to “the eye of Ishtar,” which, cleverly, turns out to be an escape route to the surface. Dr. Bentley and company are first thought to be holy messengers, what with their magic cylinder (flashlight) and all…
…but are then revealed to be mortal when Elinu, the High Priest (Alan Napier) reveals the body of one of the men who died when a rockslide trapped them inside the mountain. (That’s an awesome scene, by the way. As three of the men watch from shelter under a ledge, the body falls from above amid an avalanche of rocks.) Quite a few scenes are awesome. The camerawork underground feels claustrophobic. Getting there, though, utilizes a lot of blurry stock footage of mountain climbers alternated with close-ups of the actors who obviously aren’t there.
While I was thoroughly engaged, I experienced a strange phenomenon while watching The Mole People. I thought of so many funny things about the movie, almost like a simultaneous MST3K track was running in my head. I’m not fond of MST3K; however, I think this is the perfect movie that you can lovingly ridicule, while not demeaning it. It’s just so much fun! While I considered a fair number of Leave it to Beaver jokes (Hugh Beaumont plays Dr. Jud Ballamin), Agar’s lines are classic. For example:
“In archaeology, all things are possible.” (He can read ancient Samarian, by the way, as if it was the "Weekly Reader" of newspapers, "USA Today".)
“I believe in grabbing for the gold ring every time.”
“Sitting here is safer than crossing Time Square.”
“There must be some logical scientific explanation.”
“The fire of Ishtar is the law! The gods do not favor trading human beings.”