20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

(8/10) Disney began producing live-action films in 1950, and by 1954, with its newly created distribution company Buena Vista, decided to go big or bust. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a magnificent adventure film with groundbreaking special effects, majestic Cinemascope Technicolor photography and beautiful designs. A star cast led by Kirk Douglas and James Mason help create what is regularly seen as the best Jules Verne adaptation of all time. However, the script is a bit disjointed, the film a bit too long, and Douglas steals a bit too many scenes with clowny over-acting. The highlight is the Nautilus crew’s fight with the film’s legendary mechanical squid.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954, USA). Directed by Richard Fleischer. Written by Earl Felton. Based on the novel with the same name by Jules Verne. Starring: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre, Robert J. Wilke, Charles Grodin. Produced by Walt Disney for Walt Disney Productions.
IMDb rating: 7.2/10. Tomatometer: 89% Fresh. Metascore: N/A.

The pride of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - the giant squid, engineered by Robert A.- Mattey.

The pride of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – the giant squid, engineered by Robert A. Mattey.

Underwater shenanigans had been a thing in science fiction films in 1954, with Universal rolling out its final (belated) ”golden era” movie monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon (review) and Roger Corman making his production debut with Monster from the Ocean Floor (review). One of the reasons for this fad was the fact that a piece of technology had recently been unveiled that revolutionised underwater photography: scuba gear. But another, perhaps even greater reason was that movie lovers around the world were anxiously awaiting the Christmas release of Walt Disney’s mega-production 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Continue reading

Tales of Tomorrow

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(6/10) In a nutshell: Tales of Tomorrow aired on ABC in the US from 1951 to 1953 and was the first exclusive science fiction anthology series. Adult, intelligent and genuinly unsettling scripts are intermingled with more staple mystery and sci-fi fare. The live broadcast sets limits for direction, but genius camera work and editing sometimes surpass these limits. Leslie Nielsen dominates the cast, and watch out for the masterclass in method acting between Rod Steiger and James Dean.

Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953). Created by Mort Abrahams and Theodore Sturgeon. Directed by Don Medford, Charles Rubin, et. al. Written by Man Rubin, Mel Goldberg, Frank de Felitta, Alvin Sapinsley, David E. Durston, Max Ehrlich, Gail Ingram, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, et. al. Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Cameron Prud’Homme, Walter Abel, Edgar Stehli, Theo Goetz, Olive Deering, Edith Fellows, Bruce Cabot, Rod Steiger, Gene Lockhart, Una O’Connor, Boris Karloff, Eva Gabor, Veronica Lake, Joanne Woodward, James Dean, Lon Chaney Jr, James Doohan, Paul Newman, et. al.  Produced by George F. Foley Jr, Mort Abrahams, Richard Gordon for George F. Foley, distributed by ABC. IMDb score: 7.4

Opening credits for Tales of Tomorrow.

Opening credits for Tales of Tomorrow.

I’ve been reviewing a lot of television lately: there was the first televised sci-fi series, Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949, review), the first anthology series featuring science fiction, Lights Out (1949, review), but now we get to the third one, and the last one I’ll be reviewing in a while: Tales of Tomorrow, which ran on ABC from 1951 to 1953. This has the distinction of being the first television anthology series to feature exclusively science fiction, foreshadowing legendary TV shows like The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) and The Outer Limits (1963-1964). Continue reading

The Mysterious Island

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(4/10) In a nutshell: Borrowing the name of Jules Verne’s bestseller, this problem-ridden 1926-1929 production features good acting, some remarkable special effects and a solid-ish script, but alas, the schizophrenic semi-talkie-semi-silent financial disaster is just as equally horrible in many ways, with toy submarines, crocodiles substituting for dinos.

The Mysterious Island. Directed by Lucien Hubbard, Maurice Tourneur, Benjamin Christensen. Written by Lucien Hubbard, Carl Piersen. Loosely based on several novels by Jules Verne (but not The Mysterious Island). Starring: Lionel Barrymore Jacqueline Gadsden (as Jane Daly), Lloyd Hughes, Montagu Love. Produced by J. Ernest Williamson (uncredited) for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. IMDb score: 6.1

Attack of the 3 foot Donald Duck oompah-loompas of the depths!

Attack of the 3 foot Donald Duck oompah-loompas of the depths!

The jury still seems to be out on this film, judging from the few reviews on the interwebz. Many pro reviewers seem to like it, while more amateur writers find it dull and clumsy. When it was released in 1929 critics heaped praise on it, while the audience failed to show the same enthusiasm. And in truth, it is a hard one to appraise. On one hand there are clear qualities in both script, acting, special effects and sets – indeed it was a very expensive film that took over two years to film. But on the other hand this very very loose adaptation of a mix of Jules Verne books had monstrous production problems that are equally obvious, and simply cannot be forgiven. Continue reading

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(5/10) In a nutshell: Impressive early underwater photography and great props and sets don’t make up for a messy script that tries too hard break out of the linear storytelling style. Decent actors who unfortunately don’t get to do much with their roles. 

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 1916, USA. Written and directed by Stuart Paton. Underwater and submarine scenes directed by Ernest Williamson (credited as “underwater photographer”). Starring: Allen Holubar, Matt Moore, Jane Gail, William Welsh. Produced by Carl Laemmle for Universal. IMDb score: 7.1

Allen Holubar as blackface Nemo.

Allen Holubar as blackface Nemo.

Like H.G. Wells, French author Jules Verne has been a staple of film in general, and science fiction film in particular, since the birth of the medium, from Georges Méliès‘ 1902 A Trip to the Moon to the 2012 film The Mysterious Island by Supernatural director Mark Sheppard. This 1916 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea actually isn’t the first lengthy adaptation of the book – a nearly 30 minutes long film was made by Méliès in 1907 – although he didn’t much care for the overall story, but was more interested in in creating sea monsters and mermaids. Unfortunately only a fragment of that film remains, hence it is not included in this movie blog. A little know American film, 18 minutes long, also seems to have been made in 1905, directed by Wallace McCutcheon. That film is presumably lost, neither IMDb nor any other apparent scource have much information on it.

As a matter of fact, this film, written and directed by American Stuart Paton, is a cross between 20,000 Leagues… and The Mysterious Island – which is logical in a sense, since both Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus play a significant part in the latter book. The film follows the basic story of the former book fairly well (apart from the ending), and adds some freely adapted bits from the second. Continue reading