Wednesday, February 6, 2013

REVIEW: Battle Beneath the Earth

Battle Beneath the Earth
Director: Montgomery Tully
Year 1967

Battle Beneath the Earth is a neat little sci-fi centric thriller, which, though wildly ridiculous, makes for one hell of a fun and outlandish time. Headlined by the always reliable Kerwin Mathews, this spy-like actioneer is enjoyably campy and wholeheartedly off the wall as it gives us moments upon moments of unbelievable action that can only serve to exist in this warped and fabricated cinematic world. As kitschy and strange as they come, Battle Beneath the Earth is a highly enjoyable action adventure flick that manages to impress thanks to its entertaining cast of characters and its tendency to not let reality hold it back. Let the battle begin!

The film opens with a hysterical man named Arnold Kramer, who claims that an invading army is burrowing under the United States, threatening to take over the country by force. Thought to be a crazed lunatic, government officials ignore the man's rantings, that is until a team of US Navy soldiers, led by Commander Jonathan Shaw, run afoul of a renegade Chinese general named Chan Lu who has amassed a secret army underneath American soil in a series of intricate tunnels that lead all the way across the Pacific Ocean and back to China. Is it too late to stop this madman who is hell bent on the nuclear annihilation of the United States or will Commander Shaw and his brave team thwart his diabolical plans? You know the answer, so let's just get right down to it.

Kerwin Mathews takes on the role of Commander Jonathan Shaw, the leader of the team of soldiers who decide to take down the nefarious General Chan Lu, and in usual form, Mathews carries the picture with ease. After absorbing all of his various roles throughout his diverse career, from his work in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, Jack the Giant Killer, OSS 117 se dechaine, OSS 117 Panic in Bangkok, and The Viscount, it's safe to say that I've become quite a fan of his flicks and Battle Beneath the Earth is no exception. Exuding that trademark charisma and enthralling screen presence, Mathews gives the film an energetic boost which helps to smooth over the rather ridiculous premise of an invading army secretly digging tunnels under the United States. Wild plot aside, Mathews manages to twist this interesting science fiction thriller into a faintly recreated spy flick, with him replicating the personality of a secret agent and the villainous General Chan Lu taking the role of the power hungry madman, which is a staple of the 60's spy genre. Hell he even gets a sexy sidekick later on in the movie played by the ridiculously gorgeous Vivienne Ventura. Not too shabby Kerwin.... Not too shabby.

As previously mentioned, the role of General Chan Lu is one that is larger than life and Martin Benson is the capable actor who gets to fill in for the main baddy of the film. Of course there is nothing remotely Chinese about Mr. Benson, so the effects crew had to apply a ridiculous amount of makeup to Martin's face to give the impression that he was oriental. The end result is as campy and silly as the film, but when you're making a movie that centers its plot on the fact that an invading army is secretly digging tunnels under US soil and doing it seemingly undetected, believability and authenticity is not a factor worth worrying about. Aside from the laughable make-up, Benson does a wonderful job as the vengeful General Chan Lu, and he'd fit right at home battling 007 in the cinematic Bond world.

Like all good spy-tinged fair, technology and gadgetry are a huge selling point and with Battle Beneath the Earth we get a slew of interesting devices and machines for our heroes to monkey with. One in particular is the mining laser which Commander Shaw and crew use in order to infiltrate the Chinese's underground labyrinth. Strangely Bondian-like and immersed in science fiction staples, this drilling machine is quite an impressive piece of fictional technology and one that is used quite often in the later moments of the film. Though it's pure pulpy camp, I still love the hell out of it.

Further more this post Cold War sci-fi thriller with a spy-spirited adventure twist, isn't just content with gadgetry and a secret agent-like lead to give it a 60's spy edge. It swings for the fences as it showcases a plethora of kitschy espionage elements that truly harken back to the Eurospy films of years earlier. Take the main villain General Chan Lu's secret underground lair for instance. The man has an elaborately decked-out pad which includes a transportation pod-like device that services as an elevator, helping him move throughout his expansive underground world with ease. Not only that, but the guy has a pet falcon. A pet falcon! I rest my case. Whatever the intentions were in blanketing this production in a fine layer of espionage goodness, I'm forever grateful. Battle Beneath the Earth is a fun-filled extravaganza that is too ridiculous and silly not to be entertaining.

Battle Beneath the Earth is a wild ride of a flick that never takes itself too seriously, yet still maintains to be a straight forward sci-fi thriller. With never a wink to the audience or a second to pause on its ludicrousness, this feature disregards its premise as impossible and rather keeps to the task of telling a most unusual story in the most earnest of ways. In this frame of mind, director Montgomery Tully allows for the fun to stay at the forefront as we lap up all the zany aspects of the narrative and bask in the wacky nature of it all.

Kerwin Mathews lives it up as Commander Shaw and he is the perfect fit for what would be a highly unmemorable role if taken on by anyone else. His charisma shines in this production and the camp factor of the film actually adds to his appeal. The same can be said for Martin Benson in the role of General Chan Lu. Silly and extremely goofy, Benson gives it his all as the super villain and what we're left with is a hefty serving of pulpy goodness, courtesy of every spy cliché in the book. Thankfully that is something that will always interest me and grab my attention and in all honesty, these kind of wild productions can be extremely enjoyable if you just get into the right frame of mind. If you're looking for some good old fashion innocent entertainment, then give this one a go. Battle Beneath the Earth is.....

Everybody get your ear to the street and look what's going down.

Nice bathrobe weirdo.

Even in this stupid helmet I look good.

Hey nerd boy! You mind sharing with the rest of us?

This is my map and you can't have it!

Real sneaky buddy.

Calm down you big baby. It's just red paint.

General, that damn kid is listening to the Hip Hop again.

Beam me up Scotty.

Check it out Frank! The kid's a natural scratch master!

I'm fixing to snatch up your chick.

Oh Laser Borer, how you boggle my mind with your pretty lights.

What are you looking at bird brain.

Bold fashion statement, but it's so last season.

Me fan you long time.

Oh how I love you lion emblem.

It's a bird. It's a plane. Shit it's a nuclear fallout!

How romantic.

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