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» » Flight of the Lost Balloon (1961)

Short summary

A professor is hired to navigate across Africa in a hot-air balloon to rescue a lost explorer, but a mysterious local villain named "Hindu" commandeers the balloon for his own nefarious purposes.

An advertising gimmick used for this film was the giveaway of "motion sickness pills" to ticket buyers. The critics had a field day with it.

User reviews


  • comment
    • Author: Coirad
    Sorry, but this comment from another reviewer is simply wrong. The movie takes place in the Victorian age. I'm sure that the Middle Eastern settings for some of the adventures led that reviewer to believe that this took place in medieval times.

    This is a better movie than you might think. It was intended for Saturday matinees and is basically an excuse for adventures on the African continent. Most kids who saw it at the time of its initial release loved it.

    If you get a chance to watch it, give it a try.

    ** out of *****
  • comment
    • Author: Malalrajas
    Flight of the Lost Balloon is one of the more interesting failures in the 50s/60s Jules Verne cycle. Rarely seen today, the movie has a game cast, a director with excellent genre credentials, and some outstanding widescreen photography to display. You can tell that the filmmakers wanted desperately to emulate the major epics that had gone before, offering a Verne-inspired plot, lots of stock Verne situations, and a lilting theme song crooned over elaborate animated title work. Unfortunately, you can also tell that they didn't have nearly enough cash on hand to follow through with these grand ambitions. Flight of the Lost Balloon is not only a low-budget film, it's a cheap film--and way too cheap to have attempted anything like the continent-spanning adventure story we see sketched out here. The movie seems to be based, if only in spirit, on Verne's very first novel Cinq Semaines en ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon). Commissioned by the London Geographical Society, Dr. Joseph Faraday (Marshall Thompson) attempts an aeronautical voyage across Africa to rescue a lost explorer. Along the way, a mysterious, nameless "Hindu" commandeers the expedition for purposes of his own. Despite a lengthy cannibal episode played mostly for laughs, Flight of the Lost Balloon was definitely intended as a straightforward action-adventure movie (quite unlike the "official" version of Five Weeks that would appear a year or so later). The story features several interesting plot twists and includes some effective villainy by James Lanphier, in an oily performance reminiscent of Vincent Price. Sadly, the meager budget ruins everything. The production, apparently, couldn't even afford a real hot-air balloon: every single aerial shot in the picture appears to have been accomplished with the miniature balloon Thompson proudly displays (as a "test model") in the first reel! Actually, I wonder whether the budget wasn't cut drastically during the shooting of the film itself. That's the only way I can account for several of this movie's many curiosities. The music score, for instance, disappears completely about half way through, leaving nothing but a long inexplicable silence. Likewise, a major special effects sequence seems half-finished. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the giant condor attack over Lake Tanganyika had originally been intended as a stop-motion set piece ala Ray Harryhausen. Director Nathan Juran had just scored a hit with Harryhausen's 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and the "Projects Unlimited" effects group hired for Lost Balloon included several expert stop-motion animators. As it stands however, the episode is laughably bad, with two or three see-through condors-on-a-stick buzzing the miniature balloon to no apparent effect. The scene must have looked especially ridiculous on theatre screens. Marshall Thompson went on to star in the "Verne-flavored" Around the World Under the Sea later in the decade, and Juran made one of the best pictures in the entire cycle with 1964's First Men in the Moon. But Flight of the Lost Balloon is little more than a curio. Yet who knows what it might have been like with just a bit more finance available?
  • comment
    • Author: Araath
    I remember seeing this film on television multiple times in the early 1960s. It is roughly in the same style and genre of another Jules Verne story and film, "In Search of the Castaways" (1962), which was made into a film at almost the same time and was also shown multiple times on television around 1962-1964. As children, my sister and I were captivated by both these films, and we loved to re-watch both of them on television in those years whenever they were shown.

    By today's standards the effects and acting are weak, but the film is still captivating, memorable, and fires the imagination. The film has a lot of particularly memorable imagery: a basket balloon, a castle-like fortress on a beach, chained gorillas in a dungeon, the lost treasure of Cleopatra, a very tall and eerie black man who can't speak because his tongue was torn out, a torture chamber with a stretching rack, a woman threatened with torture, a man jumping into a lake from the basket balloon, being chased by African natives with spears, cannibals, a shrunken head hanging on a rack, a fight with a medieval mace, a condor attack, having to dump priceless treasure overboard, and so on. Some scenes border on film mastery. For example, it is surprising how much tension could be put into a simple scene of a man gathering water at a river to take back to the balloon while the audience knows that cannibals are watching him from behind the coconut palms. The aerial photography is reasonably inspiring, although admittedly the filmed backdrop effects aren't high quality.

    To clear up some common misperceptions: the basket balloon in the plot is actually a hydrogen balloon, not a hot air balloon. In the story, acid and water are carried on board to generate hydrogen, which is obviously dangerous and this fact figures into the plot since it is too dangerous for the balloon's occupants to fire the musket that they brought along, which leaves them largely at the mercy of attacking condors, spear-throwing African cannibals, and an unwanted guide. Also, the date of Friday, April 7, 1878 is shown at the beginning of this film, on the sign outside the lecture hall, so this is definitely not the medieval period.

    The plot is solid and the imagery great. If only the acting and effects were improved, this could be an outstanding film.
  • comment
    • Author: Pemand
    As a kid in the 60's I relished this film because it was sooooo cheesy! I even went so far as to tape record the audio track off TV so I could have a good laugh! We didn't have VCR's in those days remember?

    When Joe Farady (Marshall Thompson) goes before the London Geographical Society to pitch his expedition, car horns and buses can be heard in the BG.....Pretty advanced for the late 19th century!

    The process shots (bluescreen) with the "condors" is among the worst I've ever seen! And those birds! They look like retreads from a feather duster factory.

    In the jungle landing sequence watch for the shadow of the crane that suspended the balloon prop in shot.

    Watch for the Hope and Crosby of the gorilla world in the "castle" sequences.....Talk about hams!....A pair of the silliest monkey suits I've ever seen!

    The film was supposed to take place in Africa but it's obvious that Bluebeard's "castle" is actually a 17th century Spanish fort in Puerto Rico where principle filming was done.

    Mala Powers, when interviewed years ago about the film, commented about Nathan Juran, the director...It seemed that originally the film was to be tongue in cheek - as Jules Verne had intended it, but Juran played it straight and screwed the pooch. She also commented about Felippe Birriel (Golan) being a pathetic creature that could barely move....

    Golan, now there's a real henchman! Birriel couldn't speak English so they just had him grunt and groan.Using the "His tongue was torn out years ago" bit as an excuse.....And his shoes! Man oh man, they look like Buckwheat's from the Our Gang films.....Only in size 25!

    If you want to see the basic plot done right, see Fox's "Five Weeks in a Balloon" (1962).....

    In it's favor I will say that the pacing isn't bad and Marshall Thompson seems to be making the best of the situation.

    Felipe Birriel as Bluebeard's henchman "Golan"(not "Golem") was a semi celebrity in Puerto Rico where he was known as the tallest man there (7'11"). He died in '94 at 77 years old.

    This film is one that has to be seen to be believed, as there is no way to describe it adequately.......It's as if Ed Wood had decided to do an adventure pic in color with more than a 50cent budget......Hmmm, Tor Johnson as Golan......It boggles the mind!

    Robert Hill
  • comment
    • Author: tamada
    American-International Pictures usually the venue for Roger Corman at the time made this Victorian monstrosity Flight Of The Lost Balloon about a journey across Africa in a balloon. Shortly afterwards Five Weeks In A Balloon came out and was miles better than this.

    For one thing this film could use a restoration if someone wanted to bother. The color is very washed out.

    Puerto Rico stands in for Africa for the location shooting as Marshall Thompson and Mala Powers set forth to rescue Douglas Kennedy being held prisoner in a castle on an island in the middle of Lake Victoria. The mysterious Hindu who guides Thompson and Powers there is the owner of said castle and he wants Kennedy to spill the beans in regard to Cleopatra's treasure. Cleo didn't die in Egypt she came to the middle of the African veld to do her thing with the asp.

    For a film set in Africa, British Africa at that not one of the cast members even attempted a British accent. An indication of the general boredom they had for this project. The situations and the dialog are patently ridiculous, even for a juvenile audience for which this film was intended.
  • comment
    • Author: Runehammer
    I knew nothing about this film except for the "fanciful" description in the TV listings, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised and expectant when I saw the name Nathan Juran on the screen. He had been involved in some of my favorite "fanciful" Ray Harryhausen movies.

    Alas, it was not to be. This has without question the worst blue-screen work I've ever seen. Large jaggedy mattes, and blue-screen so imprecise you can see the screen through the slats of the balloon basket. Don't get me started on those fake condors. Can you imagine worse visual effects than those in Birdemic:Shock and Terror? It's right there on the screen.

    The lead is more suited to a smirking, singing cowboy role than the supposed action figure he is supposed to be here. The heroine is bland.

    The only thing I give this movie points for is the villain. He has a wonderful screen presence even without dialogue, but he has a magnificent voice also. I could listen to him tell legends all day.

    The camera work is horrible. Many scenes of the main figures are actually out of focus for some length of time. And it must have been difficult to convey directions to the extras as they are often looking at the camera or not doing what everyone else in the background does. One native even picks his nose as the camera pans directly past him, and another turns and smiles apparently at the director when they finally break a door down.

    The story is not compelling at all, and the crises they get into (all two of them) are laughable. This is a bad movie -- no wonder I had never heard of it before.
  • comment
    • Author: Whitebinder
    I remember seeing this movie on cable TV. I watched it because my high school was closed up for a snow day. My parents were working and my brother was spending the day with my grandparents. I was home alone skipping through the dials when I saw this movie. Flight of the Lost Balloon was a grade Z movie with a bunch of unknown actors who embark on a journey to an Arabian land to save a friend of theirs.

    As I recall the movie took place in medeval times and yet they traveled in a hot air balloon? People back then didn't have hot air balloons! What were the writers smoking? The grand finale comes when they save their friend and the villain was holding onto the balloon wanting to fight with them. The lead female in this movie didn't do anything, except scream on top of her lungs. This movie was ridiculously bad that it deserves to be listed in the B-Movie Hall of Shame! When I watched this I was making fun of it a'la MST3K who, by the way could've had a field day mocking this piece of junk! Was I the first to comment on this? Look, Ma! Me First!
  • comment
    • Author: Dark_Sun
    While I agree with those reviews that found nothing redeeming in The Journey of the Lost Balloon, and am bemused by those that tried to find pieces of cheap quartz in the rough, the film was deeply offensive as it played on the long US history of pervasive, oppressive racism. That the balloon comes down in a jungle and a shoreline where black tribal people live merely sets up the writer and director to show people of color as ludicrous, repugnant, vicious, utterly brainless sub-humans. The clichés are unbearable to watch, including the cliché of the euro-guy outrunning the natives (ha!) and hiding in foliage that the dozen or so indigenous people (otherwise to be assumed as masters of their environment) entirely miss, and then, like dogs, run together after a stick the euro-guy throws to create a diversion. Add to this yet another white guy playing an East Indian named "Hindu" with brown-face on all but the back of his white neck, and we literally have a documentary of racist ideology paraded in minute detail over the course an entire film. Of course we don't want to make such films illegal, but we do want to create a culture where such films are not even imagined.

    To the brown shirts who will counter that these were simply conventions of an earlier and more innocent time, we can only say that this tripe is the cultural flag that flies over such conventions as slave trade, slavery, the Klan, segregation, ghettoization, and mass incarceration. Of which, in addition to this film, the brown shirts are very proud.
  • comment
    • Author: Mr Freeman
    This film is bad on so many levels that it scarcely merits serious discussion. Its plot is ludicrous; scenes showing the balloon in flight look like process shots filmed in a garage; sequences of rampaging "natives" look like they were filmed at a drunken costume party; and Marshall Thompson, the heroic protagonist, has about as much charisma as a doorknob; However, as some reviewers seem to think the film is nevertheless a fun one for children, parents should be warned about its racist depictions of Africans, I suppose we can forgive the film makers for such nonsense as its back story about Cleopatra's having lived on an island on Lake Victoria, where she hid a fabulous treasure, and for having West Africans speak a pidgin version of Swahili (an East African language), but its repeated references to "cannibals" are offensive. There were never any cannibalistic societies in Africa, and to suggest there were reinforces a baseless stereotype and it is a disservice to children.

    Incidentally, one reviewer mentions that the film is set in "British Africa." That's not quite correct, either. The story's time period is explicitly given as 1878--before the British colonized either Nigeria or their future East African territories. A map and a sign at the beginning of the film are labeled "Nigeria," but that name was not even coined until the early 20th century.
  • Credited cast:
    Mala Powers Mala Powers - Ellen Burton
    Marshall Thompson Marshall Thompson - Dr. Joseph Faraday
    James Lanphier James Lanphier - The Hindu
    Douglas Kennedy Douglas Kennedy - Sir Hubert Warrington
    Robert W. Gillette Robert W. Gillette - Sir Adam Burton
    Felippe Birriel Felippe Birriel - Golem
    A.J. Valentine A.J. Valentine - Giles
    Blanquita Romero Blanquita Romero - The Malkia
    Jackie Ronoro Jackie Ronoro - Native Dancer
    Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
    Marcella Wright Marcella Wright - Title Song Singer (voice)
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