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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Who Put a Big Budget Art Film in my Collection of Public Domain Trash?, November 14, 2010
This review is from: Mistress of Atlantis (DVD)
Okay, so this one was a bit of a shocker. I'm sort of self-styled connoisseur of grade "B" schlock films, and on late nights, have been working my way through the Mill Creek Collection of "100 Sci-Fi Classics" -- and it must be understood that the term "classics" is used quite loosely here. This collection is a hodge-podge of mostly awful sci-fi, adventure and horror flicks from the silent era through to the 1990's. There are no real bonafide classics here, unless one considers classically bad films like "Eegah" and "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" to be classics. Real classics don't tend to fall into the public domain, which is what all of these are.

So here I was, about midnight, mostly awake, but not enough to read a book or watch an actual good film. Out comes the Mill Creek collection, and "Mistress of Atlantis" was pretty much a random selection.

This film is an oddity for this collection. First off, it's definitely NOT a "B" film. Released in 1932, it quickly became evident that a lot of money went into the making of this. Schlock "B" grade movies are not shot on location in North Africa. This film is set in the Sahara -- and filmed in "The Haggar Desert in North Africa" -- although I'm not sure which country that desert is located in today, as I couldn't locate it with a web search or Google map, leading me to believe it might be called something else in Arabic, or that the name changed after the colonial era. The Africans who provide the backdrop to the adventures of two French foreign legionnaires who discover a lost city beneath the Sahara sands appear to be real Africans, not actors playing Africans. I say this as someone who spent two years of my life living and traveling on that continent. The on-location shooting and the apparent use of locals -- this is the real deal. Once we descend beneath the sands, we get some real decent looking sets too (apparently a Berlin sound stage) -- no paper mache and stock footage here.

This film sparked enough curiosity for me to look up some info on it. The filmmaker, G.W. Pabst was apparently well known for work with silent cinema, notably, "Pandora's Box" with the very sexy original femme fatale, Louise Brooks. "Mistress of Atlantis" was intended to be his breakout film in the sound era. The lead, the beautiful Brigitte Helm, was the lead in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and was a big budget star in this film.

For all of the money and big name talent (for its day) thrown at this film, though beautiful and somewhat of a curiosity to look at, it's got very evident flaws. The story is a hard to follow, and midway through, it really starts to drag. I don't know enough about what the critical reaction to this film was back in the day, but if I had to guess, I'd say it was likely a big budget production with big hopes that instead ended up being a big flop (the "Ishtar" or "Heavens Gate" of its day perhaps?).

Consequently -- and I'm just noticing this as I write this review and look up additional information on the film -- the version on my collection clocks in at 87 minutes. Apparently, the original uncut version clocks in at an astoundingly long 212 minutes. That's a lot of missing film that might have answered some of the plot questions I had, but I'm also having a hard time imagining myself sticking through this muddled film for over 3 and a half hours. I most certainly wouldn't have attempted to watch this starting at midnight with that kind of running time.

That said, "The Mistress of Atlantis" is worth a look, if only for the on location 1930's North African footage. Although I ended up being surprised and suitably impressed, no doubt that feeling of being impressed was largely a factor of having gone into this knowing nothing about it and with very, very low expectations for real quality. Had it been recommended to me as a classic film, I'd probably be considerably more caustic in reviewing it. As is, I feel like I've discovered a bit of pearl -- a flawed pearl, but a pearl no less -- in a collection of discarded and moldering oyster shells.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 3, 2013 10:08:20 PM PDT
MKR says:
If you do a Google search for "Hoggar Mountains" I believe you'll find the information you're looking for regarding the filming location.
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