The Mole People (1956)

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Today’s review was written as part of a collaboration with Todd from Cinema Monolith, continuing our tradition of reviewing potentially so-bad-they’re-good films in the Mini Cheese-athon! Head over to Cinema Monolith to check out Todd’s take on The Mole People.

“In archaeology, all things are possible.”

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(Image via The Telltale Mind)

Dr. Roger Bentley (John Agar) is an archaeologist leading a team including Dr. Jud Bellamin (Hugh Beaumont), Dr. Paul Stewart (Phil Chambers), and Etienne Lafarge (Nestor Paiva) on a hunt for ancient Sumerian artifacts. One of their discoveries is a cuneiform-engraved tablet describing a temple dedicated to Ishtar, a goddess. Another artifact contains an inscription telling a story of people saved from a great flood — a Sumerian telling of the biblical Great Flood.

Dr. Bentley and his team decide to investigate the prospect of a mountaintop civilization, driven upward by the flood. They decide to trek to the top of the mountain and do some more digging, hoping to find evidence of how the Sumerians survived the flood (and how long they survived after).

Local guide Nazar (Rodd Redwing) leads the men up the mountain, where they find the ruins of a Sumerian temple… and an enormous system of caves. What ancient mysteries lurk in the darkness of these caves? Could the Sumerians have created an underground world after the flood?

Blending creature feature with old school adventure film, The Mole People was directed by Virgil Vogel and written by Laszlo Gorog.

In an effort to lend itself some archaeological/scientific credibility, the film opens with a professor talking about how no one knows what’s beneath the earth, showing diagrams of how theories have changed throughout time. He introduces the film as science fiction, but with significance to people of the 20th century. It’s an opening purely scholarly rather than spooky, and really feels like sitting in on a college lecture for a few minutes.

When the professor is finished talking, things get much more typical. The opening credits scroll over a shot of a hole in the ground, with mysterious smoke coming out of it, accompanied by eerie music. Bring on the cheese!… maybe?

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(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Truth be told, there’s not as much cheese in The Mole People as I expected. I enjoyed watching it, though. It’s surprisingly dark and serious, with a somewhat slower pace and a higher body count than I anticipated. It attempts to seem very scientific and historical while not really dedicating itself to accuracy in either of those respects, such as in having the Sumerians fluently speak modern English. (In one ridiculous scene, a Sumerian says of Dr. Bentley, “He speaks our tongue!”)

For a relatively short and not-exactly-“A”-level sci-fi film, the world is pretty well fleshed out. And I really enjoyed the world aesthetically. I’ve been fascinated by caves since childhood, with their mysterious, dark expanses and underground rivers. I can say with fair certainty that this film was probably not shot underground, but the set design is great.

As promised by the professor, the film does have some relevance to 20th (and 21st) century life. [MILD SPOILER] If you couldn’t guess by the title, an underground society is found by the archaeologists — an underground society of albinos, which enslaves mole creatures and anyone born non-albino. The leaders have a need to torture and kill those who are different in order to convince themselves that they and their worldview are superior.[END SPOILERS]

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(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

The parallels to our own world are obvious. Though the focus remains on the archaeologists’ attempts to escape from the underground city, those parallels are purposefully used, the film taking a stance against inequality.

The performances are decent, but nothing to write home about. They don’t enhance the film’s corn potential, which is both a blessing and a curse to a corn lover like me, haha.

The Mole People is not the melted gouda masterpiece I expected, but it offers up an interesting, archaeologically-driven plot and easily held my attention. The score: 3/5

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7 thoughts on “The Mole People (1956)

  1. Ha, we were close on this one…looks like we’re back on track! And I agree with a lot of your points, and especially that of the cheese factor, or lack thereof. I feel the same way about those other movies in the set (Tarantula, The Monolith Monsters, The Incredible Shrinking Man); you expect cheese, but they end up being a bit too smart and well-done for that. And I really liked watching John and Hugh stand up to everyone, and not take any guff…but like you said, not much dedication to accuracy overall. If you can tell me how they raised goat and sheep down there (and where they got them), I’ll give you a prize!

    Okay, I’m ready for our next one!

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  2. Pingback: April 2018 in Film | The Motion Pictures

  3. It’s a favorite of mine as well. If you really pay attention to the dialog, you’ll notice that the Sumerians are not supposed to be speaking English. John Agar explains that he “comes from a land where your language may be studied on ancient tablets.” So, the audience is expected to understand that Agar is actually speaking ancient Sumerian when he speaks to the albinos. This is later emphasized when Hugh Beaumont refers to Agar’s descendants, “speaking Sumerian with a Harvard accent.” It’s a weird conceit, and I suspect it went over the heads of audiences even at the time, when having a British accent was enough to signal that a man in a Nazi uniform was “speaking German.”

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