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  Battle Beneath the Earth Sleeper Underground
Year: 1967
Director: Montgomery Tully
Stars: Kerwin Mathews, Vivienne Ventura, Robert Ayres, Peter Arne, Al Mulock, Martin Benson, Peter Elliott, Earl Cameron, John Brandon, Ed Bishop, Bill Nagy, Sarah Brackett, Paula Li Shiu, David Spencer, Michael McStay
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: The place is a street in Las Vegas, and the police have been called to a disturbance there: a man is lying on the ground with his ear pressed hard up against it, claiming to be able to hear people under there, who he describes as burrowing like ants. The cops decide not to reason with him, and drag him away to a mental hospital as he is obviously insane - but what if there was something in what he says? His sister works in San Diego at a government scientific institute there, and she asks her boss, Commander Jonathan Shaw (Kerwin Mathews) to look into it...

Here's what could be accurately referred to as a boring movie, as it takes an idea that would have seemed whimsically farcical in a nineteen-thirties serial and treats it with undue gravity. The boring bit comes into play when it turns out the apparent madman, Arnold Kramer (Peter Arne), is entirely accurate in his theories, and there is indeed someone tunnelling under the United States. Well, I say the United States, but it was pretty obviously shot in Britain, as illustrated by the rain-slicked streets of the rare exterior view that the film affords us, not to mention most of the cast being patently Brits putting on foreign accents.

The most egregious example of that being the bad guys: yes, there are Chinese actors on the cast, but they are relegated to supporting roles or even as extras, with the lead Oriental characters played by Caucasian thesps with black wigs and starched eyelids. That's because the villains are Chinamen, who in a turn of events which sounds unlikely at best and impossible to take at worst, have burrowed under the Pacific Ocean and ended up beneath the States in a subterranean network from which they plan to set off atomic bombs aplenty and take over whatever remains of American civilisation. If this sounds racist, then we are given the slim reassurance that the mastermind behind this, General Chan Lu (Martin Benson) is in fact holding his government to ransom to get his way.

So it's not every Chinese person's desire to invade the West, it's just a few of them as the army we see makes up about twenty people at most; well, those tunnels are pretty small. And that's a problem for a film which takes a massive idea and makes small beer out of it, with the sets too cramped to really convey the sense of this scheme which has taken in half the world, especially as it takes Shaw a remarkably short amount of time to defuse the nuclear weapons. A few machine gun fire skirmishes are the best you can hope for as far as action goes, unless a vehicle which melts rock with laser beams is your idea of excitement. Really, for such an outlandish plot, Battle Beneath the Earth is a true letdown.

There are still fans of this who find it appealingly camp, but that is mostly due to the sight of the white actors playing a different race, and the novelty of that is not enough to sustain a whole ninety minutes of movie. Not helping is that nobody seems to have acknowldeged the silliness of the concept as if they'd played it all tongue in cheek it would have improved things immeasurably. As it is even those contemporary Harry Alan Towers Fu Manchu pictures, to which this owes some form of debt, are a better bet for entertainment, but the whole Yellow Peril adventure was way out of date for a film set during the Swinging Sixties. To show that not all Chinese are bad, there is a beautiful lady scientist (Vivienne Ventura) present for Shaw's almost but not quite love interest, but the fact that Ventura wasn't East Asian either doesn't assist in dissipating the hoary old reactionary qualities. It would have been so much more enjoyable if they'd simply embraced how daft it all was. Music by Ken Jones.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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