First National Pictures/1925/63 minutes
The first filmed version of the classic Arthur Conan Doyle novel.
Young and adventurous reporter Edward Malone (Lloyd Hughes) is dispatched by his editor to cover a lecture by the boisterous Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery), who is convinced that dinosaurs are still roaming the Earth. While the community thinks him a crackpot, he finds a believer in the esteemed explorer Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone). Malone is introduced to Paula White (Bessie Love) whose father was left behind in the Amazon — it’s the father’s diary, featuring sketches of the dinosaurs that sets a rescue mission in motion.
The spectacular special effects by the legendary Willis O’Brien astonished audiences in 1925 and foreshadowed his masterpiece, King Kong.
O’Brien’s work dominates the film, but director, Harry O. Hoyt does a wonderful job with mixing action and terror with melodrama. He has a long list of directorial credits, but none come close to the status of this film.
Wallace Beery chose to play Professor Challenger with an intensity that is way over the top, right down to the crazy eyes). Beery got his start in slapstick and had moved on to playing villains several years before this film. He was trying to branch out into other films and would soon be the highest actor in Hollywood. His star would fade and never recover upon unsubstantiated claims that he had been involved with two other men in a physical altercation with Ted Healy the night before his tragic death. Healy was best known as the straight man leading the Stooges before they became a trio — Moe, Larry, and Shemp (Curly replaced Shemp for the shorts and then Shemp returned after Curly’s death).
The only true standout performance (aside from the dinosaurs) is that of the vastly underrated Bessie Love. Love had a lengthy, if unjustly forgotten career in Hollywood. A singer and dancer, Love excelled at comedy being compared regularly to Mary Pickford. She nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in The Broadway Melody in 1929, losing out to Janet Gaynor. She was also adept at drama as can be seen here.
The film exists in several cuts, including a 106 minute Eastman restoration. This version (which I have yet to see) adds considerably more “lost” footage, including more scenes with the cannibals.