G. W. Pabst's 1932 Mistress of Atlantis (L’Atlantide) is one of several movies based on Pierre Benoit’s superb 1919 novel L’Atlantide (translated into English under the title Queen of Atlantis).
The central idea is that the lost city of Atlantis is not to be found beneath the sea but somewhere in the wastes of the Sahara Desert. The city is found by two officers of the French Foreign Legion, Lieutenant St-Avit and Captain Morange.
The city is ruled by the beautiful Antinea (Brigitte Helm). Is she an immortal goddess? Or a kind of love vampire? Or perhaps both?
There are a number of modern Europeans in the city, all travellers who had been lost in the desert, or lured to Atlantis by some strange occult power of Antinea. Antinea is interested only in men. She has chosen a succession of men to be her lovers. Being Antinea’s lover is a death sentence, but it is a fate enthusiastically embraced by any man who falls under her spell.
But will she choose St-Avit or Morange?
Pabst was a great film-maker, best-known for Pandora’s Box in 1929. I know it might be heresy but I actually prefer the later 1949 Hollywood B-movie version Siren of Atlantis. The Hollywood version makes use of some of the more interesting elements of the story that Pabst’s film unaccountably neglects.
Pabst’s version also suffers from rather lifeless performances by Heinz Klingenberg as Saint-Avit and Gustav Diessl as Morange. On the other hand Brigitte Helm is a splendid and suitably goddess-like Antinea.
I found Gibb McLaughlin to be rather irritating as Count Velovsky, a kind of self-appointed major-domo/master of ceremonies of Atlantis.
There are some good visual touches and the gigantic stone face of Antinea is impressive.
On the whole I felt that the movie failed to capture the atmosphere of Atlantis and the full force of Antinea’s powers over men. So far it seems that no movie version has done justice to the excellence of the novel although the aforementioned 1949 Siren of Atlantis is great fun. The conflict between Saint-Avit and Morange is too muted as well.
The Alpha Video DVD is truly atrocious but this is a difficult movie to find and it’s a interesting enough movie that it’s worth putting up with the terrible transfer.