Battle Beneath the Earth (1967)

It is faint praise when, after watching a movie, the first thing I think is, "That wasn't as racist as I thought it was going to be."  Keep in mind the whole plot of this sounds like a rejected Fu Manchu movie and, of course, the main villains are British guys with horribly applied makeup.  They don't have the glasses, bucked teeth or do the "r for l" thing so much - in fact, their accents almost sound German - but it is the usual that one would expect from the time period.  It is perhaps why it is treated more like a cultural relic than one of those terrible movies played on Saturday afternoons that, despite the quality, get a pass because of good memories.  I can't even say there is that going for it, since as a kid Battle Beneath the Earth would have had me bored stiff. 

Arnold Kramer (Peter Arne) is a seismologist that has a breakdown on the Las Vegas strip, claiming he can hear things tunneling under the surface.  When his sister (Sarah Brackett) asks her boss, Commander Jonathan Shaw (Kerwin Mathews), to speak with him Shaw comes away with the same attitude as everyone else.  That is, until an accident in a mine in Placer, Oregon, an event predicted by Kramer's research, is impossible to ignore.

An investigation leads to an unknown shaft that looks like it was cut by extreme heat.  Also, a strange medallion is found at the site.  Further investigation uncovers that it is a contingent of Chinese military men that are digging the tunnels and, worse, they have several atomic bombs ready to use.  It is not an invasion by the PRC, but a disgraced general named Chan Lu (Martin Benson) who, with the help of scientist Kheng Le (Peter Elliott), has hatched a plan to destroy the U.S. and rebuild it in his own image.  With the help of caving expert Tila Yung (Viviane Ventura), Shaw and Kramer hope to cut off Chan Lu's supply line and disrupt his plan. 

If one knows even the faintest history of China then they would know why someone like Chan Lu - with a grudging respect for the West - would want out, but at the same time understand why this is more "yellow peril" tripe than anything based in reality.  Battle Beneath the Earth came out in 1967, about a year into the Cultural Revolution in which would ultimately see the Chinese economy crippled and around two million citizens dead of famine and purges over the next decade.  Chan Lu, and his plans, also feel like a rejected James Bond plot, one in which the Chinese are featured instead of the Soviets.  

Some of this could be forgiven due to the time it was made if the movie didn't show its budget at every step.  There are few action sequences with much of the movie involving people talking in different locations.  They talk in the listening center in the U.S. and, when it comes time for confrontation between Chan Lu and Commander Shaw, they talk in his lair.  Every time it looks like something may be ramping up the main characters are once again in a room talking with each other.  It is almost exclusively exposition.

While Tila Yung is introduced as a major expert Viviane Ventura is there for eye candy, and the look she gives when Shaw puts his arm around her at one point is more the reaction to sexual harassment than any sort of romantic interest.  It feels as if the movie wants to reference classic 1930s serials as well as hop on board the then-popular spy genre, but it just can't do anything right, and that includes applying the yellowface correctly so that Kheng Le doesn't look like a white guy who laid out on the beach with his sunglasses on.  This could have been a fun b-movie, albeit uncomfortable in places due to modern sensibilities, but it ends up being a frustrating trudge. 

Battle Beneath the Earth (1967)
Time: 91 minutes
Starring: Kerwin Mathews, Peter Arne, Viviane Ventura, Maritn Benson, Peter Elliott
Director: Montgomery Tully



  1. I guess this was putting a new spin on that old gag of if you dig a hole deep enough you'll come out in China. I've seen some of those imitation Bond movies from the 60s; they're pretty much all the film equivalent of a knockoff action figure you get from Temu or Wish.


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