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A Entries
  Forrest J Ackerman
  Nick Adams
  John Agar
  Philson Ahn
  William Alland
  Irwin Allen
  Woody Allen
  Kirstie Alley
  Gerry Anderson
  Michael Anderson
  Sylvia Anderson
  Jack Arnold
  Isaac Asimov
 
ALLEN, IRWIN
(1916–1991). American film and tv producer and director.

IMDB credits Somehow, I still find it hard to wax indignant about Irwin Allen, even though there is certainly much to criticize about his work. Perhaps I am a biased observer, since I occasionally watched and enjoyed his productions while I was growing up at a time when science fiction films and television programs were relatively uncommon. But one can also with some objectivity offer this halfhearted defense. His science fiction films and television programs were consistently stupid, yet unpretentiously and inoffensively stupid (as opposed to, say, the work of N. Night SHYAMALAN); his cynical desires to please the masses and make money were balanced by evidence of some genuine interest in and fondness for the marvelous subjects he kept returning to (as opposed to, say, the work of Glen A. LARSON); and while his leadership did not exactly encourage good acting or intriguing ideas, he did not seem obsessed with stamping them out whenever they happened to appear (as opposed to, say, Gerry ANDERSON and Sylvia ANDERSON). A selection of his best film and television works would be mildly enjoyable; a similar event devoted to Shyamalan, Larson, or the Andersons would be a nightmare.

Allen's long career in science fiction and fantasy film is bookended by all-star inanities: the clumsy The Story of Mankind, (1957), wherein Ronald Colman argues against the Devil, Vincent PRICE, for the continued existence of humanity, with each advocate presenting historical vignettes to buttress their cases (memorably including Harpo Marx as Isaac Newton and Groucho Marx as Peter Minuit buying Manhattan Island from the Native Americans); and an insufferable musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (1985), whose low point is surely a duet featuring the vocal talents of Telly Savalas and Ringo STARR. He followed The Story of Mankind with a reasonably faithful but undistinguished film version of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1960), with strong lead players—Claude RAINS and Michael RENNIE—struggling to maintain their dignity while gawking at rear-projected lizards (a surprising economy, since a previous Allen documentary, The Animal World, [1956], had briefly featured stop-action animated dinosaurs by Willis O'BRIEN and Ray HARRYHAUSEN), and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), an generally entertaining undersea adventure undermined by the empty performance of star Walter PIDGEON and the scientific idiocy of the menace he confronted—the Van Allen radiation belts catching on fire—which was a harbinger of future abuses of logic. On the fringes of science fiction was another weak film loosely derived from Jules VERNE's Five Weeks in a Balloon. (1962).

Allen's first venture into television was the series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1965-1968), based on—and economically using the sets from—the film of that name. This was by far Allen's best series: Richard BASEHART played the commander of the submarine with unusual conviction; David HEDISON's high-strung irritability as his subordinate officer was at least a novelty in a genre dominated by bland stoicism; and the first-season, black-and-white episodes tended to be suspenseful and coherent espionage-related adventures. When color came, however, reason fled, and the crew of the submarine Seaview was increasingly preoccupied by unconvincing mechanical monsters, rubber-suited aliens, and comic-book villains. Pinching pennies also became an evident problem: one episode was awkwardly constructed to make extensive use of footage from The Lost World (taking advantage of the fact that Hedison was in both the film and the series).

Allen's second series, Lost in Space (1965-1968), surprisingly the later object of a big-budget film homage, succumbed to juvenility more quickly: after a few initial episodes that endeavored to maintain a sense of seriousness, the writers realized that the only interesting members of the otherwise wooden cast were a robot, a boy (Billy MUMY) and a duplicitous saboteur (Jonathan HARRIS); and inevitably, episodes built around such a trio became more and more matter-of-factly ridiculous. After its third, and worst, season, CBS happily decided to cut its budget, prompting Allen to put the series out of its misery; after all, once your characters have encountered talking vegetables (in "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" [1968]), your science fiction series has descended several stories below rock bottom.

Allen's third series, The Time Tunnel, (1966-1967), floundered after one season, perhaps because of its bland stars, James Darren and Robert Colbert, perhaps because the series' premise (two men randomly catapulted into various pasts and futures) gave the series no sense of control, perhaps because the writers were irresistibly attracted to cliché situations (the series began and ended on board the good ship Titanic). Land of the Giants (1968-1970) attempted to return to the more realistic mood of the early Voyage episodes; however, due to the ineptitude of its ill-chosen star—Gary Conway, an experienced tv second banana promoted to his level of incompetence—and the monotony of its one gimmick—tiny people juxtaposed with rear-projected giant people and props—audiences soon lost interest, and it was cancelled after its second season.

When no network was interested in Allen's fifth projected series, another aquatic epic named City beneath the Sea (the pilot of which appeared as a 1971 television film), Allen moved on to produce successful "disaster" movies like The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974), but his one example of the form that most veered into science fiction—The Swarm, (1978), featuring hordes of little black dots said to be killer bees—temporarily brought his involvement with the subgenre to what might be termed a disastrous conclusion. Still, as his science fiction endeavors enjoyed less and less success, he kept returning to disaster films—Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979), When Time Ran Out (1980), and, for television, The Night the Bridge Fell Down (1983) and Cave-In! (1983). Two other science fiction films, also for television, were The Time Travelers (1976), the unsold pilot for another proposed time-travel series (again, Allen displayed his amazing instinct for the obvious by plunging his cast into the Great Chicago Fire) and The Amazing Captain Nemo, aka The Return of Captain Nemo (1978), a three-part miniseries featuring VERNE's character brought back to life in contemporary times.

Overall, Allen can be admired for his energy and devotion to a wide variety of science fiction fields—he was one of the few, for example, who realized that Earth's vast oceans constituted an intriguing alien environment to exploit—but he certainly should have been more careful in his casting decisions (more actors like Basehart, fewer like Lost in Space's Guy Williams or Land of the Giants' Conway) and he certainly should have been less concerned with saving a buck whenever possible. It is no accident that his two most successful films, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, also had the most talented casts and the biggest budgets; these were lessons he might have fruitfully applied to his other productions.

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