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Film / The Mole People

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The Mole People is a 1956 black-and-white sci-fi movie starring John Agar and Hugh Beaumont as archaeologists searching for remnants of the Sumerian civilization. After a monologue by an English professor essentially Lampshade Hanging that the movie is fiction, we're brought to a dig site, presumably somewhere in the Middle East, where the search is ongoing.

Unfortunately, an earthquake destroys the oldest extant record, but lo! The earthquake has also dislodged a fresh relic which a local boy dutifully brings the heroes.

The heroes, along with assistant Lafarge and a helpful guide, head for the top of a huge mountain, where they find a ruined city. Unfortunately, disaster strikes and one of the archaeologists plummets through a trap door to his death. To rescue him, everyone heads into the chasm opened up, but the rappelling process leads to another death and a cave-in.

It's thought that the remaining three are doomed, utterly doomed, but it turns out there's fresh air. The remaining passageway leads them to the underground city of the Sumerians. Said city is also populated by the eponymous Mole People, who are forced into labor for the Sumerians.

But what other secrets await? It turns out that the Mole People are not too happy about their fate, and also...there happens to be a beautiful blonde woman trapped in here, who is sort of an outcast. Can the intrepid scientists escape? Can Agar ever shut up? And will anyone find out the existence of the Sumerians?

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, please go to the episode recap page. Fans of MST3K will recognize The Mole People story writer Laszlo Gorog as co-writer of Earth vs. the Spider.

The Mole People contains the following tropes:

  • Aliens Speaking English: Seemingly played straight at first with the Sumarians conversing in English with the two archaeologists only for them to explain that "where we come from, your language was recorded on ancient tablets," revealing that its actually Translation Convention, and that Roger Bentley is really speaking ancient Sumarian "with a Harvard accent." The audience is only hearing all the dialogue in English.
  • Alternative Number System: Used as the numerical equivalent of Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe. King Nazar refers to the number of long-lived albinos in their society as "twice-and-a-half times sixty" to sound impressive and ancient, but it's just an overly complex way to say "150". Bizarrely enough for a cheap B-movie, this is a case of Shown Their Work, as the Sumerians did invent the base-60 number system later famously used by the Babylonians.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • The film gets it right when Beaumont says that creatures living in low-light areas develop near-albinism and extreme light sensitivity. However, that doesn't explain why two minutes' exposure to sunlight makes them look like overcooked beef jerky. (For that matter, there had to be SOME form of lighting present or else the modern characters wouldn't have been able to function.)
      • It wasn't two minutes. It might have been hours or a whole day. The sacrifices went into the chamber during the daytime and were exposed to sunlight for a long time, and then their bodies were removed when it was night on the surface.
    • One of the archaeologists notes that the Sumerians have lost all their pigment after millennia underground. Yet the women who are to be sacrificed have black hair.
      • Maybe it's dyed?
  • Artistic License – Geology: The archaeologists mention that the Sumerian city is beneath "The Flood Layer", the worldwide layer of flood gravel that was laid down by Noah's Flood. There is no such single worldwide layer of flood gravel, a fact that the 19th-century geologists who were very much looking for it were horrified to discover. A few scenes later, they find references to the Flood is an old Sumerian tablet, and Dr. Bellamin is stunned to find "a Sumerian version of Noah's Ark" as if this is some grand revelation, but The Epic of Gilgamesh already contains a Sumerian version of Noah's Ark, and Bellamin has already mentioned having read Gilgamesh. Bentley points out that the Flood has been "proven to be a historical fact", which is also wrong.
  • Artistic License – History:The film's Sumerians worship Ishtar, who was an Akkadian goddess. The historical Sumerians' equivalent deity was called Inanna. Given the film's Sumerians have been underground since centuries before the Akkadian language became widespread in Mesopotamia, they shouldn't even be familiar with the name "Ishtar."
  • As Himself: Dr. Frank Baxter was an actor and writer — but also was an English professor at the University of Southern California with a doctorate, so technically he was a doctor.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The archaeologists often intervene on the Mole People's behalf whenever the Sumerians are punishing or mistreating them. In the climax, when the heroes are locked in the 'oven of Ishtar', the Mole People attempt to rescue them (they fail, but they did try). Or alternatively they were trying to open the door for Adad to escape/join the heroes, in such case they succeed.
  • Berserk Button: Don't drop the mushrooms.
  • Cataclysm Climax: There are a couple minor tremors early in the film in an attempt at Foreshadowing, but really, that earthquake at the end seems to come completely out of nowhere, solely for the purpose of triggering Adad's Too Dumb to Live moment (see also Executive Meddling).
  • Character Filibuster: Agar goes on a lot of longwinded lectures about things.
  • Downer Ending: Only because of Executive Meddling (See the trivia page).
  • Dull Surprise: Not quite, but Agar has a very limited, very weird range.
  • Evil Chancellor: The high priest distrusts the archaeologists from the very beginning (rightly pointing out that it is not they specifically who wield the "fire of Ishtar", but rather their flashlight). The King, though, totally buys into the act, making the priest the primary villain for most of the film.
  • God Guise: The Sumerians think the archaeologists are gods because they come from "the world above" and carry "the Fire of Ishtar" (a flashlight). Their worshiping of sunlight as the Fire is a kind of a Cargo Cult, as well.
  • Hollywood Evolution: Zigzagged. The albino, light-sensitive Sumerians actually make sense (there are species that developed pale skin and light blindness because they live in extreme darkness), but that doesn't explain how humans could somehow create a "forced degeneracy" (as Agar calls it) to turn some people into humanoid mole monsters.
  • Infinite Flashlight: Averted. The heroes' flashlight sees frequent use for their entire stay... which is why the batteries are dead when the villains try to use it in the finale.
  • Insufferable Genius: Agar plays the most annoying and smarmy archaeologist in some time.
  • The Load: LaFarge is an alternate Trope Namer. Later in the movie, he manages to graduate to The Millstone status. Posthumously.
  • The Millstone: LaFarge manages to pull this off posthumously. The God Guise is shattered when the Sumerians find his dead body.
  • Mr. Exposition: Agar again.
  • Mole Men: The titular creatures.
  • Neutral Female: Adad. Possibly justified in that she has been a slave all her life and only knows to do what others tell her, even when Bentley repeatedly tells her she's "free" to do as she wishes.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The poster (as seen above) makes the mole creatures out to be the main antagonists, when the Sumerians are the real threat, and the moles actually help the heroes out for being kind to them.
  • Opening Monologue: By Professor Frank C. Baxter, a professor of English, telling the history of hollow earth beliefs in America.
  • Secondary Character Title: The mole people only have a minor role in the film, but hey, it gives something impressively scary for the movie poster to get those kids' butts in the seats, huh?
  • Sudden Downer Ending: Adad and Bentley reach the surface, escaping Sumeria's destruction. Adad runs back for no good reason, gets crushed by a falling pillar, cue credits.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Adad decides to inexplicably run back to a hole so she can be smooshed by a pillar.
    • Halfway between drawing their swords and trying to attack the Mole People, the Sumerian warriors apparently forget how swords work, simply running up to their foes with weapons raised and getting slaughtered to a man, without even a token effort at actually fighting.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The light from an ordinary flashlight is enough to subdue both Mole Men and Sumerians alike. In full sunlight the Sumerians (except the "marked ones" like Adad) quickly burn to death.