Unknown World (1951)

Unknown World

Directed by Terry O. Morse

Written by Millard Kaufman

Run Time: 74 minutes

Tagline: Drilling into the forbidding depths of the Earth!

This rather bleak underground "adventure" is based on the fact that an atomic war will destroy the world (duh), so we better find another place to live if it happens (again, duh). The pessimistic Dr. Morley is so convinced that humanity will soon be wiped in a nuclear war (remember that this film was made in 1951), that he establishes The Society to Save Civilization. Unfortunately, the SSC is broke. Sooo….Morely roams the world drumming up funding for his plan to build a "Cyclotram" (read: big drilling machine) so that he and his crew can explore the Earth’s crust for possible shelter where mankind could reestablish itself and begin anew. The starting point? Why, the world’s largest extinct volcano, of course.

Now…what about the cash?


Now that looks like a good plan.


The Cyclotram. Yep. There you have it.

After reaching a series of financial dead ends, Morley’s project seems to be a lost cause until handsome newspaper scion Wright Thompson says that he’ll cough up the dough if he could tag along with the rest of them on the journey. With his back to the wall, what choice does Morley have? None. So Wright joins the rest of the crew: Andy the ex-Marine, Joan the cute biologist, and a few other bland characters that are quickly killed off, so I can’t really remember their names. Paxton and Coleman I think. Who cares.


Wright once again reminds the world that money talks.

After the Cyclotram is built and outfitted for the journey (Joan brings along a few rabbits for study: Plot Point!), Morley and the others are dropped off on a remote island where they drive the lumbering Cyclotram up to the top of the volcano. Thankfully, there is a convenient network of "ledges" that allow them to slowly drive down the inside of the volcano’s cone deeper into the Earth.

Actually I never understood why they bothered to drive all the way up to the top and then back down again…I mean, the Cyclotram is just a big drill anyway, so why not just point the damned thing "down" and start digging from the base of the mountain? Oh, that’s right. They managed to burn up nearly 8 minutes of run time on the drive up.


All hail the Cyclotram!

Thanks to the ship’s handy "Depth in Miles" (!) gauge, we are blessed with several cut-away shots of the gauge’s needle falling lower and lower on the graph. So…how does this thing actually measure their depth? Air pressure? Don’t they realize just how heavy air is? More on this later…


“Max depth 2500 miles below sea level”…how do they test these things?

After reaching position "R-18" (whatever), Dr. Morley declares that they’ll have to park the ship and head out on foot in order to find a passage to follow…but wait a minute? Can’t the thing just drill its way through?! Sure, I guess it would be easier to follow old lava tubes, but…sheesh, should they really be exploring on foot? After poking around some caves (No monsters?! What?!), they come across a plaque placed in the cave wall by the "Engstrand Expedition" noting that this point is the deepest point that anybody has ever reached and wishing anybody who would want to go further "good luck." Wow, that doesn’t sound very encouraging, does it?


The Engstrand Marker…abandon all hope, ye who watch this movie!

And man, they walk and walk and walk…no monsters. Zzzzz.


The incredibly advanced Cyclotram controls…and the only man who can understand them.

After spending the required run time walking around caves, the crew searches a rock wall and finds a point of "least resistance" (whatever that means since everything is rock). Andy blows a hole in the wall which causes millions of tons of magma to pour out and kill everybody. Nope. Just kidding. That would have been too exciting for this movie.

Instead, the explosives open a massive hole in the wall leading to…another cave. Great.

"I wonder what we’ll be running into?" Andy murmurs.

"There’s only one way to find out!" says Soon-To-Be-Dead Paxton as he starts the Cyclotram and starts blindly driving into the gloom! Good grief! Get this guy away from the controls!

Ah, of course. On the other side of the wall are more caves (actually, still pics from Carlsbad Caverns)…and they walk and walk and walk. Egads, this is dull. Not even a single giant spider is around to menace them. C’mon! How much could that have cost? Also, why are they bothering to explore this place…shouldn’t they be drilling, you know, down the whole time? (OK, actually, it’s easy to forget that this movie isn’t a "journey to the center of the Earth" type of deal..but still, they probably should be generally heading downward if they are to find anything new that geologists don’t already know about.)

After drilling down over 100 miles they take a break and discuss how lonely they feel. Boy, this is exciting cinema. This pause in the "action" also allows the writers to indulge themselves with a lot of deep dialog regarding man vs nature, does man define nature, or the other way around, or blah blah blahdiddy blah. For some reason, Coleman gets pissed about something somebody said so decides to head out on foot!!! What?! Paxton tags along since it might be dangerous. (You think!?)

Well…of course it’s dangerous! The cave suddenly fills with poison gas and kills Coleman and Paxton. This time I’m not kidding. And these guys were the scientific cream of the crop?

So, the journey continues, just as the boredom does. At the 250 mile mark, Joan discovers that the ship’s water tanks are empty. After a round of finger pointing, Wright finally admits that he forgot to close the valve after taking a drink earlier in the day. So, yeah, you’d think that turning off the water faucet after taking a drink would be a top priority 250 miles under the surface, but there you have it.

Thankfully, these scientists were smart enough to have plenty of reserve water with them. Oh wait. No they didn’t….so….they set out on foot again (!) to look for water. (I couldn’t help but note that nobody has their gas masks with them this time either…and this is only 10 minutes after 2 of their crew were killed by poison gas.)

Ok, timeout. They’ve reached a point 250 miles below the surface of the Earth and are just walking around. Let’s forget about the fact the temperature rises about 30 degrees centigrade per kilometer!, and think about the air pressure: They are effectively standing around with 250 miles of atmosphere pushing down on them. At sea level we have about 10 miles of "air" above us which equates to, duh, one atmosphere of pressure (about 1 bar). So down there, our friends are strolling around 25 atmospheres of pressure on them and they’re not even breathing hard. Wow.


Hot water-searching excitement!

Hey! They found some water. Yum. That must be tasty stuff down there.

So, yep. After 45 minutes of run time, 2 guys have died of poison gas and the others have drank some water. Pretty exciting movie, eh?

And…..the drilling continues. As the Cyclotram passes the 850 mile (!) mark, Wright finds the time to flirt with Joan; a scene which leads to nowhere since we all know that women scientists are incapable of emotional attachment (especially ones that are "ardent feminists").

After some hot drilling action (no, not between Wright and Joan, you perverts!), the crew finally bores into an underground river. (The word "bores" being quite appropriate at this point.) They park the Cyclotram on the beach and head out to explore. Wright quickly discovers some pearls ("How much are they worth?" he shouts), but is disappointed when Morley explains that they are just "cave pearls". In a nearby pool of water they discover a blind fish, Morley explains that it’s a rare species, but it’s still edible. Uh, you first, Morley.


The magic of the Unknown World

Not satisfied with this underground cavern, Morley and the others push on. Great. More walking. This time Wright falls down a hole and hangs on for dear life from a ledge. What a maroon. Andy hears his screams for help and rushes over to save his fellow crew member. After tossing a rope over the side, Andy scrambles down and helps Wright back up to safety. I was actually surprised when the rope broke causing Andy to fall to his death. But then again, why did Andy have to go down and get Wright? Couldn’t he just have tossed down the rope and let Wright climb up by himself? RIP, Andy…we hardly knew ye.

With Andy gone, Wright takes his place at the controls (how poignant …I think.) and the Cyclotram plunges further into the darkness until they happen upon a gigantic open area illuminated by bioluminescent fungi. (It had to be well lit since this new "world" was filmed in Bryson Canyon in the middle of the day.) To everybody’s amazement, this newly discovered paradise is complete with waterfalls, wind and clouds (!), and even fossils. (Joan cringes and turns away in disgust when she spots a fossilized fish because, you know, she’s a girl.)


The Unknown World…at last!

Although it appears that this cavern could turn out to be Morley’s "Promised Land" since it has everything that humans might need to thrive underground, all hopes are bitterly dashed when Joan’s rabbits are discovered to be sterile. Joan immediately concludes that if the rabbits are sterile, then humans would also necessarily become sterile. (Why would animals become sterile just because they are underground? And then, doesn’t this mean that Joan is now sterile as well?)


Joan and her poor little rabbits

Before Joan can make a closer examination of the rabbits, a nearby volcano erupts (of course) causing a thunderstorm and a flood. Everybody runs back into the Cyclotram to return back to the surface, but Morley refuses to admit defeat and stays behind to die in the deluge. Soo…after some more "thrills", like sinking in an underground ocean to an incredible depth of 2500 miles (!!!), things Turn For the Better and the Cyclotram bobs back to the surface somewhere in the middle of the Pacific ocean. (I couldn’t help but notice they ascended at over a mile per second through the water! Talk about getting a case of the bends!)


This movie has finally hit bottom. Ha ha.

"I feel like I’ll live forever," Wright says with a smile as the film abruptly ends.

Well…I guess I’m outta here then.

Dennis Grisbeck (February 2011)

tried to maintain a facade of scientific plausability, even though it ignored the obviously lethal temperatures and pressures that they would have encountered so far below the surface. Despite the dreaded walking scenes, the movie moved along at a fair pace (it is only about 75 minutes long, after all), and most of the underground scenes were appropriately moody and mysterious. I was surprised by the number of fairly gruesome deaths that were packed into the journey, with over half the crew ending up dead: 2 suffocated in poison gas, another falling into a lightless abyss, and the expedition’s leader himself committing suicide at the very end.

So, what to say? Sure, check it out if you have the time…it’s actually not so bad.

But! NO MONSTERS?! At all?! Booooo!”)

19 comments to Unknown World (1951)

  • guts3d

    This sounds so familiar… Like I have seen it a long time ago and managed to forget it. I love the controls on the dirt car; with those types of buttons you could only go at one speed in one direction! Great review!

  • No right? No left? Geez,they don’t have any means of steering?

  • guts3d

    There should have been at least one giant tarantula and a few hundred tiny but lethal albino scorpions.

  • Sean

    And frankly, I’m shocked they didn’t find Atlantis. (If anyone wants to fund my upcoming expedition to find Atlantis, backed by never before unearthed secret documents, please forward your bank information.)

  • guts3d

    Can do, as long as you don’t need more than $47.93. Hey, If I fund it, I get to tag along!

  • Sean

    I will gladly accept $46.53…As long as you’re OK with traveling in steerage.

  • guts3d

    Do I get peanuts and bathroom privileges?

  • That’s one thing I noticed about the Cyclotram but forgot to mention: There is no bathroom!

  • Okay, now I gotta draw a line there. No bathroom? Talk about barbaric!

  • Sean

    …And to answer the original question:
    1. peanuts – yes.
    2. bathroom – no.

    (I follow industry guidelines.)

  • guts3d

    Ok, but that bucket is going to get ripe mighty quickly! ( Especially after all those peanuts! )

  • Hey, Dennis, was going to suggest a couple of films for you, but the email message thingy isn’t working. After I tell it “2” it sorta just sits there and twiddles its thumbs. FYI… 🙂

  • Ed Shaw

    Saw this film many years ago and found it a bit dull, but a welcome change from the plethora of “underground monsters” movies. All things considered, it’s not a bad flick, kind of like “The Core” in black and white.

  • @Ed

    Yeah, it was a pretty tight little film with a lot of atmosphere. In retrospect, it does indeed seem that they were trying to keep this movie “realistic” by not adding a bunch of goofy monsters.

  • I think we both have the same boxed set then 🙂 Cheapies indeed!

  • Karl

    I have a problem with the design of the Cyclotram the drill itself is so small there is no way that thing could even go any deeper than the drill head, heh, try getting your electric drill to fit through a hole the size of the drill bit, Oh wait …. this is er …. a sci-fi movie ……… opps sorry ………….. ahem.

  • Guts3d

    I watched this stinker last night and kept this sterling review in my mind. It made it much, much more watchable! Thanks!

  • J.W. Smith

    I have this movie on DVD and it is not bad. It does have science flaws, such as the heat and pressure problems. But, it was made in 1951 and is a fantasy look at what may have been inside the Earth. The flaws would obviously been far worse had the film been made now since we know a lot more about the inside of the planet (although it would have fit right in on the SyFy channel). There are no monsters, save for human egos, which is apparently the main criticism here. One of the best nuclear war films made, “Panic In The Year Zero” with Ray Miland, has no monsters either, but it is engrossing film nonetheless.

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