A few years ago our family summer vacation took us to New Mexico where we took in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We do the National Park thing a lot…they’re cheap. While it was an amazing sight, I admit I always get a wee bit uncomfortable going into caves. I’ve probably seen too many movies where there are strange creatures lurking underground. Well, that’s what today’s movie has in store for us. Get ready to go underground for 1956’s The Mole People.
The film begins in bizarre fashion with an opening narration by Dr. Frank Baxter of the University of Southern California explaining various “hollow earth” theories that people have had over the years. He explains that these somewhat outlandish theories are the basis for the film we are about to see. Now, I knew that I recognized this Dr. Baxter from somewhere. If you were a child of the 70’s, like I was, you may also recognize him as the professor from a series of educational films which included Frank Capra’s Our Mr. Sun. I had a few grade school teachers who would pull those films out whenever they didn’t feel like doing a lesson.
From there we go to our actual story which involves a team of archaeologists on an expedition. After discovering an ancient city high in the mountains, they find a hidden cavern beneath it. Of course, they go inside and eventually end up at an underground city inhabited by a bunch of albino religious freaks. At first the underground dwellers are a bit stand-offish, but they soon come to believe that the scientists are messengers sent from the gods.
As our team explores the underground world, they soon learn that there is another race of strange humanoid mole creatures that the albinos have enslaved and use to harvest mushrooms (their only food source). When one of these creatures kills one of the scientists, the other two (John Agar and Hugh Beaumont) have to pretend that he was summoned back to heaven. However, when the High Priest (Alan Napier) learns the truth, he knows the strange visitors are not divine and sets out to execute them. Right about this time, the mole people decide enough is enough and revolt against their masters.
As I watched this film, I wondered who the real “mole people” actually were. Even though I described the enslaved creatures as such, they don’t really look like moles. They’re more like bugs mixed with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I walked away feeling like the albinos were actually the “mole people.” They’re people and they live underground. MOLE – PEOPLE. Like how Kimmie Schmidt is a “mole woman.” I guess it really doesn’t matter, though.
I went in thinking that The Mole People would be a B-horror flick. It’s really more of a sci-fi film in the same vein as something like Cat Women of the Moon, but with better production value. We do have two solid leads in John Agar and Hugh Beaumont. Beaumont just has a thing for working with animals, I guess…the Beaver and now moles! I was a bit disappointed, though, that we didn’t get the full-Agar. The man can turn in absolutely bonkers performances when allowed to unleash (see The Brain from Planet Arous). Here he’s very straight laced and, to be honest, a bit flat.
The underground culture of the albinos is an interesting aspect of the story. With a limited food supply they can only support a certain number of people. So the older ones are occasionally sacrificed to the Eye of Ishtar. The religious fanatic angle is also kind of interesting, but again…our main villains are a bit flat. Alan Napier’s high priest should’ve been a much more over-the-top character, but he plays it pretty by-the-book.
The seeds of something really interesting are there in The Mole People, but its seems to be lacking something to really make it stand out. It does however give us some fun monsters who get to cause some big destruction in the final act a la Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. The Mole People may not be bargain basement 50’s schlock, but it’s far from being an underrated gem, as well.