The Lost City (1935)
Film review #375
Director: Harry Revier
SYNOPSIS: Extreme weather is causing mass destruction across the Earth, with seemingly no known explanation. Electrical engineer Bruce Gordon manages to use one of his machines to trace the source of these disturbances to an unexplored region of central Africa. He leads an expedition to the area to investigate and ends up discovering a lost city ruled by a madman who is intent on attaining absolute power from his machines. Bruce must join forces with the various people in the region, and stop the evil Zolok from using his machines before the world is destroyed…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Lost City is a 1935 science-fiction, twelve part film serial. in the opening, we see storms ravaging the cities of the world, causing mass destruction. The world is unable to find the cause of these freak weather events, until electrical engineer Bruce Gordon uses one of his inventions to locate the source in an unexplored region of central Africa. Bruce leads an expedition to the area withe his friend Jerry Delaney, and when he arrives at a trading post, a man named Butterfield stumbles in injured, telling of a lost city beneath Magnetic Mountain guarded by giants. Believing there is a connection between Magnetic Mountain and the storms, Bruce investigates and finds the lost city is real. There, a man named Zolok is forcing Manyus, a scientist, to construct inventions which he believes will help him rule the world. The opening chapter of the serial is typically full of exciting effects and setting the stage for a thrilling adventure. As I’ve mentioned before in other serial reviews, the opening chapter is often the most thrilling and interesting, as it is meant to entice viewers to return to the theatre every week to watch the subsequent parts. These serials can quite quickly run out of steam, as they are made on a low budget and there is a lot of re-used settings and back-and-forths between the heroes and villains that can get repetitive. With The Lost City though, this repetition is kept to a minimum as there’s a number of distinct locations, and a large cast that gets introduced as the story goes on, so these new elements continually change the dynamic of the plot. Of course, there’s also plenty of daring cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, with lion pens, giant spiders and all sorts of devious traps that will encourage viewers to return next week. The overall story is definitely stronger than many similar serials I have seen.
As I mentioned, the cast is fairly large, and are somewhat diverse. The “giants” are pretty cool, and have a menacing presence. The big problem here though, with the film being set in central Africa, is the film’s depiction of non-white races. The “native tribes” are portrayed as very typical, primitive people as very much stereotypes of what western countries at the time were taught Africa to be. The fact that the film does not further pinpoint the location other than “Africa” again shows how the entire continent is ill-defined by said countries. When the “Arabs” shows up around half-way through the serial, they again are portrayed in a stereotypical fashion. Both of these groups, when they are supposedly speaking in their own language, is clearly just gibberish being shouted by the actors, which again just reinforces the dismissive attitude to non-white cultures. i think the main villain is designed to be similar to an east Asian person as well, just to round off the serial’s inclusion of all races. The portrayal of the black giants is clearly meant to make them as menacing as possible too. On top of all this, there is a plot element that Manyus has invented a medicine that can turn black people white. While the film does not label this as a “cure” for being black, it does feel that way at points, and really just compounds the fact that this film is horrifically outdated, and racially dismissive/ignorant.
The Lost City really shines through in terms of its story, and it paces itself well throughout the twelve chapters by continually introducing new characters and dangers in order to keep things fresh. In this respect, it avoids one of the significant problems that plague the serial format. However, it’s depiction of non-white races is horrifically ignorant and outdated, and really is non-redeemable. Yes, it is a product of it’s time, but I do not feel that it is enough of an excuse to dismiss its harmful racial depictions.