Hal Roberts (ex-stuntman Jock Mahoney) is a naval officer sent to investigate an inexplicably warm lake discovered by an expedition in an uncharted region of Antarctica.
Accompanying him is pilot Lt. Jack Carmen (Willaim Reynolds), mechanic Steve Miller (Phil Harvey) and glamorous reporter Margaret Hathaway (Shirley Patterson, using the screen name Shawn Smith).
When a storm forces their helicopter into a bank of dense cloud it collides with a Pterodactyl and has to make an emergency landing in a deep valley 1,000 metres below sea level.
When a Tyrannosaurus rex attacks their campsite, they manage to fend off the beast with the copter’s rotating blades.
Several days later they meet up with Dr Charles Hunter (Henry Brandon) whose plane crash-landed ten years earlier. Hunter’s isolation has driven him insane and he only agrees to help them repair the helicopter if they leave Hathaway behind as a companion for him.
Naturally, Roberts refuses and finally wins over the crazed Hunter by saving him from the jaws of a giant Elasmosaurus.
Universal originally planned to make The Land Unknown as a big-budget widescreen production in Technicolor but after their 1955 adventure This Island Earth flopped at the box office, the studio slashed the budget, took away the Technicolor and cast B-movie actors in place of the originally-promised big-name stars.
At least director Virgil Vogel managed to persuade Universal to shell out for CinemaScope.
Universal had also originally planned to shoot the film at its off-studio back-lot called Falls Lake, a boulder-strewn location surrounded by woodland and towering cliffs.
But the new budget restrictions confined the production to interior sets constructed on one of the studio’s largest sound stages.
A 91 x 22 metre backdrop of mountainous jungle scenery and towering trees was hung along the back of the sound stage. In front of the cyclorama, an entire jungle was planted (with tropical plants suspended upside down to expose the roots and make the foliage look more prehistoric).
While it is certainly no epic, The Land Unknown is highly entertaining, with a believable cast and – given its shoestring budget – some amazing production values and decent special effects.
TRIVIA: The head of the T-rex was later recycled as Spot, the fire-breathing pet in the 1960s television series The Munsters.
Commander Hal Roberts
Lt. Jack Carmen
Shirley Patterson (as Shawn Smith)
Dr Charles Hunter