Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Battle Beneath the Earth (1967)

Battle Beneath the Earth2Battle Beneath the Earth is an amazingly entertaining exercise in inspired sci-fi silliness. Made in 1967, it can actually be seen as a combination of Bond-style spy movie and science fiction.

The movie starts with a scientist, Arnold Kramer, being admitted to a psychiatric hospital after the police find him listening to noises beneath the streets of Las Vegas. He tells them that there are people down there, people like ants, tunneling beneath the earth. They decide he’s obviously crazy, but he isn’t. There really are people tunneling down there, and they’re Chinese communists planning to invade the United States by means of a system of tunnels dug beneath the Pacific Ocean.

When a series of unexplained mine disasters occur both seismologists and the military start to take notice. Kramer’s friend, Commander Jonathan Shaw, works in a Navy research establishment and he realises that there is something sinister going on underground. A Navy team descends into one of the mine shafts that had been the scene of unexplained cave-ins and they discover not just a vast system of tunnels, but hundreds of Chinese soldiers. And atomic warheads!

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The diabolical genius behind the plan is a renegade Chinese general determined to conquer the US. Kramer, now released from the psychiatric hospital, joins Shaw as they work to stop this deadly threat.

It’s a wonderfully crazy idea but the movie plays it fairly straight. There are battles beneath the Earth as the Americans race to head off this threat. The Chinese have sophisticated tunneling machines and now the Americans must work hurriedly to produce their own tunneling machines.

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The tunneling machines are a combination of tunneler and armoured tank and they’re the highlight of the film. The sets and special effects are surprisingly (for what is a fairly low-budget movie) reasonably impressive.

Kerwin Mathews as Commander Shaw is an effective hero. For a movie that features dozens of Chinese characters there is not a single Chinese actor in the cast! The makeup on the European actors involved in less than successful although it does succeed in making the crazy Chinese general and his top scientist look suitably sinister. The cast also includes Ed Bishop (one of my favourite actors who enjoyed more success in Britain than in his own country).

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I love the fact that the psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas has slot machines in the patient lounge. History buffs will be vastly amused by the fact that the Chinese officers all drive bright yellow Kubelwagens!

This 1967 production was the last movie made by veteran Irish director Montgomery Tully who made some very interesting noirish crime thrillers for Hammer back in the early 50s. He approaches the material in a rather straight way which of course makes it even more entertainingly silly. He does succeed in keeping the action moving along briskly - this movie does not suffer from the slow pacing that afflicts so many 1950s and 1960s sci-fi movies.

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The Chinese commander, General Chan (Martin Benson) comes across as the sort of diabolical criminal mastermind that you expect in a Bond movie. His excessive performance is one of the movie’s strengths.

This movie was released by Warner Home Video in a two-movie pack paired with The Ultimate Warrior, a movie I’ve never heard of and haven’t yet seen. It’s a nice 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer.

The sheer outrageousness of the central idea makes Battle Beneath the Earth a classic B-movie. Recommended.

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