“The Mole People” (1956)
It’s a curious phenomenon when a cultural industry ignores a particularly prickly subject which merits serious dramatic representation simply through moral cowardice or, more disgracefully, through financial considerations which take into account certain regional markets which might boycott such historical illumination as a slap in the face to still existent Jim Crow lifestyles. The Hollywood industry, once self-ruled by the complex set of regulations barring all that were deemed transgressive breaches of moral behavior, nevertheless cast a blind eye to those darker corners of human nature which institutionally promoted racism. Thus, in such a corrupted atmosphere of righteousness did flower a fairly consistent portrait of citizens of color depicted as little more than domesticated servants or foolish caricatures and as such the source of undignified humor. If black indignity (not to mention rage) was suspiciously absent from the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, so too were unflinching and unromanticized depictions of American slavery; with existent portraits of suffering usually relegated to the more individual circumstances of indentured servitude (generally a healthily buxom maiden in historical adventures or melodramas) or, especially, as a figure of empirical oppression in biblical epics; whose distant timeframe did much to obscure any inconvenient kinship to more historically adjacent examples of comparative offences. Then there are the most curious instances of allegorical representation…
Beginning with a rather unconvincing lecture espousing the hollow sphere theory by Dr. Frank C. Baxter, the 50’s favored expert on scientific subjects which are outside of his chosen field of expertise (he was a professor of English), Virgil Vogel’s “The Mole People” is granted an air of arch self-importance which may have been thought to grant the particularly preposterous scenario a certain level of intellectual respectability, though the film has as much relevance to the opening academic salvo as a documentary on coal mining. Subterranean considerations aside, “the Mole People” is ponderous even when the story suggests far more incident than is actually occurring. One reason for this may be the sheer abundance of scenes in which characters do little but skulk through unlit tunnels in fruitless exercises in tail-chasing; that is when they are not surrounded by the grandeur of some of the most obvious matte paintings in memory.
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