Andre St Avit of the French Foreign Legion is discovered unconscious in the African desert. He claims he stumbled upon the lost kingdom of Atlantis, ruled by the beautiful Queen Antinea, who drove him to commit murder.Maria Montez as Queen Antinea
Jean Pierre Aumont as Andre St. Avit
Dennis O'Keefe as Jean Morhange
Morris Carnovsky as Le Mesge
Henry Daniell as Blades
The movie was based on the novel Atlantida by Pierre Benoit which had been previously filmed in 1921 and 1932. The latter version had been directed by G.W. Pabst and produced by Seymour Nebenzal in Berlin with German and French dialogue.
In September 1946 it was announced Nebenzal bought the rights to film the novel and had signed Maria Montez to star. The movie would be distributed through United Artists.
Jay Dratler was originally signed to write the script. A number of other writers also worked on it, including an uncredited Douglas Sirk. Sirk says he was approached to direct the movie by Rudi Joseph, who had been Pabst's assistant. Sirk turned it down claiming the Pabst version was a very good film that simply should have been re-released. He was also worried the producer:
Didn't have the money to do the necessary fantastic sets. You know, Atlantis depends on inspiring people's fantasies. The old Pabst picture had great sets, but you do need money to construct a hidden city and that kind of thing. It's no good trying to shoot this sort of film on a small budget, as Nebenzal wanted - and then he wanted me to use some of the long-shot material from the old Pabst and so on.
Sirk did agree to do some uncredited work on the script with Rowland Leigh but said he was "fairly sure I didn't do any shooting" on the film.
It proved difficult to come up with a screenplay that satisfied the censors. In the novel, the queen had an insatiable appetite for male lovers and turns them into statues when she has finished with them. The Joseph Breen office wrote to Nebenzal complaining about the depiction of "hasheesh and illicit sex". Adjustments to the script were made.
Montez's husband Jean Pierre Aumont was borrowed from MGM to appear opposite his wife. Dennis O'Keefe was then signed to support them.
Filming was to start in December 1946 but was postponed because Montez needed to have an operation and was required for another film for Universal.
The movie started filming on 17 February 1947 at a cost of $1.3 million under the direction of Arthur Ripley. Lionel Banks, who had worked on Lost Horizon, did the sets. It was shot at Samuel Goldwyn Studios.
Aumont later wrote that "the decors were a fantastic mishmash, including naugahyde doors which seemed to have come right out of the office of the frenetic producer rather than the mysterious palace of Antinea." He also says the filmmakers made him wear three inch heels so he was taller than Dennis O'Keefe, who was two inches taller than Aumont.
Montez said during filming that she hoped to give a good performance along with the "sex and stuff people expect of me... Not that I have anything against glamor. But I would like a role I could get my teeth into. After all, I have two years typing to overcome, of going from one to another until I was groggy. And it is the hardest thing to do that sort of vamp - like Theda Bara - and not be laughable."
Aumont recalls that dromedaries were imported from a neighbouring zoo. However camels were needed so a second hump was attached to them using rubber cement. A leopard who acted in the film was dosed up with tranquilisers and sent to live with Aumont and Montez for a few days to become accustomed to them.
After filming wrapped both Aumont and Montez signed three year contracts with the producer to make one movie a year. "It is a picture of which I am very proud," said Montez. Aumont wrote that the film "for some mysterious reason, didn't fare too badly."
Test screenings in Las Vegas went poorly and the producer became convinced that audiences did not understand the Pierre Benoit story because it was "too philosophical". Douglas Sirk saw the movie and thought that "for various reasons not to do with Ripley, but mainly with the cast, it did not come off." Sirk was asked to salvage the movie "but I didn't want to have anything to do with it anymore."
Nebenzal managed to raise an estimated further $250,000 in funds for reshoots done over two weeks in July with John Brahm directing. Morris Carnovsky's role was reduced since he was not available and his character was replaced with a new one played by Henry Daniell. Maria Montez and Aumont returned and "violence and movement" was introduced, according to the producer. Neither Ripley nor Brahm were willing to take credit for the final version so the editor Gregg G. Tallas, who put together the two versions, was credited as director.
Choreography in the movie was done by Lester Horton.
The film had trouble securing distribution in the US, requiring re-editing. However it has now come to be appreciated as a camp classic.
It was also known as Atlantis.
The movie performed poorly at the box office and was described as "a calamity from a financial standpoint." The producer later revealed at a trial (see below) that the film needed to gross $3.5 million to break even and as at 1950 had only grossed $335,000. However it did perform respectably in France with admissions of 2,188,732.
The Los Angeles Times said the film "does have its moments of action and violence but too much of it is given over to the philosophical introspection (or thinking aloud) of the characters."
In October 1948 Montez sued Nebenzal for $38,000. She claimed under her contract on 2 October 1946 she was to be paid $100,000, half during filming and the rest within nine months. Although the film finished 12 June 1947, Montez said she had only received $62,000. The matter went to trial in 1950 and Montez had to fly back to the US from Europe to give evidence. Judgement was returned in Montez's favor and it was ruled she was entitled to the whole amount.