Siren of Atlantis

He found oblivion in my arms, until my time for loving him was over.–Queen Antinea

2

If the movies She (1935) and Lost Horizon (1937) had a love child, the result would be something like Siren of Atlantis (1949), which tells the ill-fated story of two French Foreign Legion officers who are taken by force to the titular city. Atlantis, it turns out, is located in a rocky, mountainous region of the African desert and is ruled by a sociopathic vamp queen named Antonia. And that’s just the beginning.  The queen, played by Maria Montez looking like a cross between Theda Bara and Bettie Page, has “an insatiable appetite for male lovers” and is in the habit of “turn[ing] them into [gold] statues when she has finished with them.”

Lieutenant Andre St. Avit, played by Jean Pierre Aumont, who was married to Montez at the time, falls for her hard and fast; however, his friend, Captain Jean Morhange, is less susceptible. One might be forgiven at this point for expecting a more or less tidy morality play to follow in which Aumont (with Morhange’s help) ultimately recognizes his folly and escapes the evil queen’s grasp. Yeah, that’s not what happens. Without risking spoilers, suffice to say, the film had some trouble making it past the Hays Code.

According to the Wiki, the film “has now come to be appreciated as a camp classic,” and I can see why.  Personally, I thought it was a hoot, and a well-made one to boot. I was surprised not only by the plotting but also by the quality of the acting, the cinematography, the score, the choreography, and especially the sets (designed by Lionel Banks, who had done the sets for Lost Horizon).  She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed indeed.

On the negative side, Siren of Atlantis apparently underwent quite a bit of editing and some re-shoots upon not testing well, and as a result it’s a bit disjointed in places. Even still, this one’s a hidden gem.

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