Reportedly seven years in the making, this silent adventure based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic 1912 novel was a watershed mark in special effects filmmaking. Willis H. O'Brien's stop-motion work, which would reach near-perfection in King Kong (1933), was much admired in its day and although primitive by modern standards remains visually engaging. So does Wallace Beery, complete with a theatrical beard, as Professor Challenger, whose theory of prehistoric dinosaurs surviving on a secluded plateau in the Amazonian jungle has made him the target of ridicule. Intrepid reporter Ed Malone (Lloyd Hughes) offers the professor a chance to redeem himself, and with Big Game hunter Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone) and pretty Paula White (Bessie Love) in tow, they are off on a perilous expedition to South America. Paula, who is returning to the jungle in search of her missing scientist father, falls in love with the handsome reporter, much to the chagrin of Sir John. This triangle drama continues up the perilous climb to the plateau where Professor Challenger's theories are terrifyingly substantiated by all kinds of prehistoric fauna. Soon, a flesh-eating Tyranosaurus is attacking a family of more benign Triceratopses right in front of the astounded humans, who also have to contend with an erupting volcano, the dried-up bones of Paula's poor father, and the bizarre spectacle of stunt-man Bull Montana in a gorilla suit. But with the able assistance of a lovesick pet monkey, the expedition not only makes it safely down from the plateau but returns to England complete with a captured brontosaurus. Unfortunately, the beast is soon loose on Piccadilly Circus (where a theater marquee is advertising The Sea Hawk, 1924, also produced by First National), on Tower Bridge, and in sundry other picturesque London locations before apparently drowning in the River Thames. Originally released in 10 reels, The Lost World was cut to the bone in 1930 and it is this 62 minute version that exists today, beautifully restored by the George Eastman House. Missing, however, are subplots involving Alma Bennett as Lloyd Hughes' demanding London fiancé, Virginia Brown Faire as a Brazilian half-caste tempting Lewis Stone and a rendezvous with a tribe of cannibals. Left intact, however, are a few uncomfortable sequences with comic actor Jules Cowles appearing in blackface as Stone's pidgin-accented servant. Willis H. O'Brien's monsters may not frighten contemporary kids, with today's high special effects standards, but they certainly hold up well in comparison to some of the tacky creatures let lose in the 1950s and early 1960s.
by Hans J. Wollstein review