Siren of Atlantis

Siren of Atlantis, also known as Atlantis the Lost Continent, is a 1949 American black-and-white fantasy-adventure film, distributed by United Artists, that stars Maria Montez and her husband Jean Pierre Aumont. It was the first feature she made after leaving Universal Pictures.[3]

Siren of Atlantis
Siren of Atlantis.jpg
Directed byGregg G. Tallas
Produced bySeymour Nebenzal
Written byRowland Leigh
Robert Lax
Thomas Job
Based onnovel Atlantida by Pierre Benoit
StarringMaria Montez
Jean-Pierre Aumont
Dennis O'Keefe
Music byMichel Michelet
CinematographyKarl Struss
Edited byGregg Tallas
Atlantis Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • January 1949 (1949-01) (U.S.)
Running time
76 minutes
Budget$1,800,000 (est.)[1][2]
Box office$335,000 (as at 1950)[1]

Andre St, Avit of the French Foreign Legion is discovered unconscious in the African desert. He claims he stumbled upon the lost kingdom of Atlantis, ruled by the beautiful Queen Antinea, who drove him to commit murder.




The film was based on the novel Atlantida by Pierre Benoit, which had been previously filmed in 1921 and 1932. The latter version had been directed by G.W. Pabst and produced by Seymour Nebenzal in Berlin with German and French dialogue.[4]

In September 1946 it was announced Nebenzal bought the rights to film the novel and had signed Maria Montez to star. The film would be distributed through United Artists.[5]

Jay Dratler was originally signed to write the screenplay.[6] A number of other writers also worked on it, including an uncredited Douglas Sirk. Sirk says he was approached to direct the film by Rudi Joseph, who had been Pabst's assistant. Sirk turned it down claiming the Pabst version was a very good film that simply should have been re-released. He was also a worried producer:

Didn't have the money to do the necessary fantastic sets. You know, Atlantis depends on inspiring people's fantasies. The old Pabst picture had great sets, but you do need money to construct a hidden city and that kind of thing. It's no good trying to shoot this sort of film on a small budget, as Nebenzal wanted – and then he wanted me to use some of the long-shot material from the old Pabst and so on.[7]

Sirk did agree to do some uncredited work on the screenplay with Rowland Leigh but said he was "fairly sure I didn't do any shooting" on the film.[7]

It proved difficult to come up with a screenplay that satisfied the censors. In the novel, the queen had an insatiable appetite for male lovers and turns them into statues when she has finished with them. The Joseph Breen office wrote to Nebenzal complaining about the depiction of "hasheesh and illicit sex". As a result, adjustments to the screenplay were made.[4]

Montez's husband Jean Pierre Aumont was borrowed from MGM to appear opposite his wife.[8] Dennis O'Keefe was then signed to support them.[9] Filming was to start in December 1946 but was postponed because Montez needed to have surgery and was also required to star in another film for Universal.[10]


The film started shooting on 17 February 1947 at a cost of $1.3 million under the direction of Arthur Ripley.[2] Lionel Banks, who had worked on Lost Horizon, did the sets.[11] It was filmed at Samuel Goldwyn Studios.[12]

Aumont later wrote that "the decors were a fantastic mishmash, including naugahyde doors which seemed to have come right out of the office of the frenetic producer rather than the mysterious palace of Antinea."[13] He also said the filmmakers made him wear three-inch heels so that he was taller than Dennis O'Keefe, who was two-inches taller than Aumont.[13]

Montez said during filming that she hoped to give a good performance along with the "sex and stuff people expect of me... Not that I have anything against glamour. But I would like a role I could get my teeth into. After all, I have two years typing to overcome, of going from one to another until I was groggy. And it is the hardest thing to do that sort of vamp – like Theda Bara – and not be laughable."[14]

Aumont recalls that dromedaries were imported from a neighboring zoo. Camels were needed, however, so a second hump was attached to each of them using rubber cement. A leopard, who acted in the film, was dosed with tranquilizers and sent to live with Aumont and Montez for a few days to become accustomed to them.[13]

After filming wrapped, both Aumont and Montez signed three year contracts with the producer to make one film a year.[15][16] "It is a picture of which I am very proud", said Montez.[17] Aumont wrote that the film "for some mysterious reason, didn't fare too badly."[13]


Test screenings in Las Vegas went poorly and the producer became convinced that audiences did not understand the Pierre Benoit story because it was "too philosophical".[2] Douglas Sirk saw the film and thought that "for various reasons not to do with Ripley, but mainly with the cast, it did not come off."[7] Sirk was asked to salvage the film "but I didn't want to have anything to do with it anymore."[7]

Nebenzal managed to raise an estimated $250,000 for further reshoots done over two weeks in July, with John Brahm directing.[18][2] Morris Carnovsky's role was reduced since he was not available and his character was replaced with a new one played by Henry Daniell. Maria Montez and Aumont returned and "violence and movement" was introduced, according to the producer. Neither Ripley nor Brahm were willing to take credit for the final version, so the editor Gregg G. Tallas, who put together the two versions, was credited as the film's director.[2]

Choreography in the film was by Lester Horton.


The film had trouble securing distribution in the US, requiring re-editing. However, it has now come to be appreciated as a camp classic.[3]

It was also known simply as Atlantis.[19]

Box officeEdit

The film performed poorly at the box office and was described as "a calamity from a financial standpoint."[20] The producer later revealed at a trial (see below) that the film needed to gross $3.5 million to break even and as of 1950 had only grossed $335,000.[1] It did perform respectably in France, however, with 2,188,732 paid admissions.[21]

Critical receptionEdit

The Los Angeles Times said the film "does have its moments of action and violence but too much of it is given over to the philosophical introspection (or thinking aloud) of the characters."[22]


In October 1948 Montez sued Nebenzal for $38,000. She claimed under her contract on 2 October 1946 she was to be paid $100,000, half during filming and the rest within nine months. Although the film finished 12 June 1947, Montez said she had only received $62,000.[23] The matter went to trial in 1950 and Montez had to fly back to the US from Europe to give evidence.[24][25] Judgement was returned in Montez's favor and it was ruled she was entitled to the whole amount.[26]


  1. ^ a b c "Maria Montez Tells Court About Astrology". Los Angeles Times. Apr 22, 1950. p. A1.
  2. ^ a b c d e THOMAS F. BRADY HOLLYWOOD. (Jan 2, 1949). "THE 'OSCAR' DERBY: Annual Scramble for Academy Awards Is On -- Role for Mitchum -- Other Items". New York Times. p. X5.
  3. ^ a b Siren of Atlantis at
  4. ^ a b THOMAS F. BRADY (Mar 2, 1947). "SIFTING THE HOLLYWOOD NEWS: Peace Comes to United Artists as Selznick Bows Out--Third Remake of 'L'Atlantide' Coming Up--Soviets Ignore Metro". New York Times. p. 69.
  5. ^ "Of Local Origin". New York Times. Sep 13, 1946. p. 5.
  6. ^ "AYRES TO APPEAR IN WARNER MOVIE: Signed for Role With Sheridan and Scott in 'Unfaithful,' a Drama of Veterans Of Local Origin MUSIC NOTES Goldina Players to Do Shows". New York Times. Nov 13, 1946. p. 41.
  7. ^ a b c d Sirk on Sirk by Jon Halliday, Faber & Faber, 3 Mar 2011 p 86-87 accessed 10 February 2015
  8. ^ "DE HAVILLAND QUITS ROLE IN 'IVY' FILM: Actress Decides Against Part in Objection to Scenario-- Replacement Is Sought". New York Times. Nov 29, 1946. p. 43.
  9. ^ THOMAS F. BRADY (Feb 15, 1947). "VOICE OF TURTLE' READY FOR FILMS: Warners to Start Shooting in 2 Weeks, With Parker, Reagan and Arden Heading Cast". New York Times. p. 20.
  10. ^ Hedda Hopper (Nov 19, 1946). "LOOKING AT HOLLYWOOD". Los Angeles Times. p. A3.
  11. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Feb 17, 1947). "DRAMA AND FILM: Ford, Holden and Drew Latest Stellar Trio". Los Angeles Times. p. A2.
  12. ^ THOMAS F. BRADY (May 11, 1947). "HOLLYWOOD SURVEY: Sharp Drop in Production Noted -- Still Another Dumas Exploit -- Other Items". New York Times. p. X5.
  13. ^ a b c d Aumont, Jean-Pierre (1977). Sun and Shadow: an Autobiography. W.W. Aumont. p. 123.
  14. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (9 Mar 1947). "Weird Sets in 'Atlantis' Reflect Beauty of Montez". Los Angeles Times. p. B1.
  15. ^ "Article 9 -- No Title: Laraine Day Signs With Coslow to Play Role in Film -- Wins Point on Dodgers". New York Times. June 24, 1947. p. 26.
  16. ^ THOMAS F. BRADY (Apr 9, 1947). "BOGEAUS ACQUIRES BROMFIELD NOVEL: United Artists Producer Buys 'Early Autumn' for Screen --Ida Lupino Will Star". New York Times. p. 31.
  17. ^ LOOKING AT HOLLYWOOD WITH HEDDA HOPPER. (Mar 28, 1948). "Montez the Magnificent". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. B18.
  18. ^ THOMAS F. BRADY (June 21, 1948). "PATRICIA NEAL GETS LEAD AT WARNERS: To Portray Dominique in Film of Ayn Rand's 'Fountainhead,' as Adapted by the Author". New York Times. p. 18.
  19. ^ "Reissue Bill Scheduled". Los Angeles Times. Dec 3, 1948. p. B6.
  20. ^ "Maria Montez in Rush to End Salary Hearing". Los Angeles Times. Apr 18, 1950. p. 17.
  21. ^ French box office for 1949 at Box Office Story
  22. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Feb 11, 1949). "La Montez Queens It in Atlantis". Los Angeles Times. p. 19.
  23. ^ "Maria Montez Files New Suit". Los Angeles Times. Oct 14, 1948. p. 5.
  24. ^ "Sues for $38,000". Chicago Daily Tribune. Apr 18, 1950. p. 16.
  25. ^ "Maria Montez Tells of Purchases for Film". Los Angeles Times. Apr 19, 1950. p. A1.
  26. ^ "Maria Montez Victor in $38,000 Salary Suit". Los Angeles Times. Jan 3, 1951. p. A12.

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