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Superman's Pal

Member Since: Sat May 17, 2008
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Subj: Sci-Fi Cinema #35 DOUBLE FEATURE - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and Mysterious Island (1961)
Posted: Sun Dec 13, 2020 at 05:34:49 pm EST (Viewed 132 times)

Classic novelist Jules Verne wrote three novels that Wikipedia describe as a crossover. First was In Search of the Castaways AKA Captain Grant's Children (1867) in which a message in a bottle sends a rescue party in search of a missing sea captain. Along the way they encounter traitorous Tom Ayrton. Second was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) in which a scientist, his assistant and a freelance harpooner on a sea voyage have their boat scuttled by a sea monster which turns out to be the futuristic submarine Nautilus commanded by Captain Nemo, and then are forced to join his crew. They escape as the sub is sucked into the Maelstrom, a giant whirlpool, with all hands on board. The third novel is The Mysterious Island (1875) about a group of Union soldiers who escape a Confederate prison in a hot air hydrogen observation balloon but are swept out to sea by a storm. They wash ashore on an island they dub Lincoln, and eventually encounter both Tom Ayrton and Captain Nemo.

All three books have been made into movies numerous times. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is the only one to feature elements we would consider sci-fi, mainly the Nautilus. The 1961 film version of Mysterious Island added giant animals that were not present in the book, but have remained in most other filmed versions since then, probably since that's the element people best remember. For that reason I am only reviewing the latter two parts of this trilogy.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

In the ocean, we observe a bulge just under the surface of the water emitting a green light. Sailors call it a sea monster and we watch it wreck a sailing ship. At a nearby port town, Prof. Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his assistant Conseil (Peter Lorre) take interest in tales of the monster while chartering passage on another vessel. Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), a freelance harpooner, is also aboard. Their vessel is soon sunk by the sea monster and the three heroes survive only to see the monster surface as the futuristic submarine Nautilus. They attempt to leave in a small boat left behind from their wreckage but they are caught by the Nautilus crew and taken to Captain Nemo (James Mason). He informs them that he doesn't keep prisoners and doesn't allow anyone to leave with knowledge of his ship, leaving them only one option: to join his crew. Aronnax forms somewhat of a bond with Nemo since they are both men of science, while Land keeps trying to escape.

The Nautilus has big viewing windows so we see a nice portait of undersea life. Nemo says that his crew rarely surfaces, they harvest all their food underwater. The crew have diving suits that allow them to stay under for long durations. We see shipwrecks and various sea life.

Things are somewhat cordial until Nemo spots a ship carrying munitions and decides to sink it, ramming the Nautilus into the bottom of the ship. Our heroes are appalled that he murdered an entire crew but Nemo counters that he has saved thousands more from dying in a war. He seems to be waging a one-man (or one crew) war against the weapons of war.

Ned sneaks into Nemo's quarters and finds the location of Nemo's base of operations, an atoll called Vulcania. He sends out messages in bottles with the longitude and latitude, hoping someone will meet them there when Nemo returns home. In the meantime, the Nautilus bottoms out on a reef and Aronnax uses it as an excuse to surface and collect specimens. Land also goes ashore and attempts to escape but gets the attention of a tribe of cannibals who chase him back to the Nautilus. Nemo scares them off by electrifying the hull of his sub, and confines Land to quarters.

Then the part everyone remembers, the sub is attacked by a giant squid or cuttlefish. They try to electrify the hull but it's not enough. Land escapes his quarters and saves Nemo who has been caught in a giant tentacle. He harpoons the beast and they eventually drive it away.

They finally head for Vulcania where an army of warships awaits them. Land tries to signal them but Nemo takes the Nautilus through an undersea passage into the atoll where we glimpe his futuristic base. He sets a self-destruct mechanism so no one can steal his work. The atoll explodes but as Nemo is re-boarding the Nautilus, he catches a stray bullet in the back. He stumbles to the bridge where he informs the crew that he is ready to ride the Nautilus to his death and the crew opt to join him. Aronnax, Land and Conseil steal the Nautilus' tender and escape as the ship goes down.

This was pretty good, high production values. This was one of Disney's live-action film efforts and was the first film released under their Buena Vista banner.

The cast is great. I'm used to seeing Kirk Douglas a little more stoic and serious and he was fun in his one, even singing a sea shanty. Mason as Nemo was great, he's as charming and deadly as a typical Bond villain but maybe with more humanity.

They changed the ending of the book in which the fate of Nemo and the Nautilus is left to the imagination. Here we see Nemo die in his quarters. They must not have been planning to adapt the sequel.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was directed by Richard Fleischer who has a long filmography, and some of his later movies I have already reviewed such as Fantastic Voyage, Soylent Green, and Amityville 3-D. He also directed Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja some 30 years after this film. Long career.

Mysterious Island (1961)

Four Union soldiers in a Confederate prison camp spot their means of escape: a hot air hydrogen observation balloon tethered in the compound. They make a dash for it and get away with one Confederate guard on board, whom they think about throwing overboard but he's the only one who knows how to pilot a balloon. A storm sweeps them out to sea where they finally descend onto an island they dub Lincoln Island.

Captain Harding (Michael Craig) was thought lost at sea from the balloon but awakes on shore next to a campfire that he doesn't remember lighting. He finds the other four and assumes command, giving them all tasks to find food and shelter. Before long they encounter a giant crab the size of an elephant. Luckily they fight it right next to a hot springs that is boiling. They manage to flip it over into the boiling water and soon they are dining on crab meat.

They find a smooth cliff face with a cave about 50 feet up with a rope hanging down. They rig up an elevator of sorts with a basket and pulley so they can live in what they dub the Granite House. Inside they find the remains of Tom Ayrton, a character from the novel that is reduced to a name-check in this version. They also find two women who wash ashore from a shipwreck and soon they are all living in the Granite House together.

One day they are attacked by a giant bird which they manage to kill a little too easily with a knife. While dining on what looks like a hundred pound turkey, they find a bullet inside. They begin to suspect they have a mysterious benefactor on the island, especially after they find a chest wash ashore full of medical supplies and ammunition.

Their luck runs out when a shipful of pirates land and start looking to loot their supplies. They fight them off momentarily with their guns but then the ship is suddenly destroyed and sunk by a cannonball or some kind of artillery.

Their benefactor is revealed as Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom) who has parked his non-seaworthy but still armed Nautilus in nearby cave. He explains that he has turned his attention from destroying weapons to increasing global food supplies. On this island he has used advanced horticulture to grow giant plants, and the animals that eat them are also growing giant. When he is ready he will load a boat with his superfood and share it with the world. He has his eyes on the pirate ship he just sank. With his diving suits and the castaways as his crew, he can patch the hole in the ship and fill it with air from a long bamboo pipe leading to the Nautilus' air pump. Now it's a race against time because the active volcano at the center of the island is about to erupt.

This film was produced by Columbia instead of Disney, who had produced 20,000 Leauges Under the Sea. Apparently they originally thought of hiring James Mason to reprise the role of Nemo, not sure how they would explain his death in the previous film. They wound up with Herbert Lom which might have been less confusing. He does a fine job, I'm not sure he has the same charm as Mason but he's not bad.

The cast gets a little big and a few of the characters are indistinguishable. I always remember the scene when the young lovers Herbert and Elena find a stream of honey coming down a cliffside and climb into a giant bee hive. Before they can escape with the liquid gold, they get trapped in a honeycomb by a giant bee. These were the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion effects I remembered most from this movie. As a kid I loved these things, and when I got older I found them a little cheesy. Now I'm back to enjoying them. Anything that works to tell the story works for me.

I think the opening sequence with the balloon losing it's loft and crashing into the ocean may have been the most harrowing part of the movie and was a good way to open the film.

I'm not sure where they got the idea to include giant animals in a story that didn't have anything like that originally.

Mysterious Island was directed by Cy Endfield, who had mostly done crime thrillers from the looks of his filmography. He was an American who was blacklisted as a communist in the 1950s and spent most of his career in England after that.

I'm interested to see the 1929 version of Mysterious Island that apparently was a part-color, part-talkie which didn't have giant animals but added Martians into the mix.

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