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

Unknown World

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(4/10) In a nutshell: The first actual hollow Earth film made in Hollywood, this 1951 cheapo produced by visual effects wizards Jack Rabin and Irving Block is almost a good picture, but stumbles in basically all departments. Pretentious, illogical, naive, chauvinistic, shakily directed and badly acted, but it does move along at a decent pace, is filmed in stunning cave locations and has occasional glimpses of profundity and brilliance. Loosely based on Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Unknown World (1951). Directed by Terry O. Morse. Written by Millard Kaufman. Inspired (uncredited) by A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne and At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Starring: Bruce Kellogg, Marilyn Nash, Victor Killian, Otto Waldis. Produced by Jack Rabin & Irving Block for Lippert Pictures. IMDb score: 3.9

Some guy (seriously, I can't tell the apart!), Marilyn Nash and Bruce Kellogg in Unknown World.

Some guy (seriously, I can’t tell the apart!), Marilyn Nash and Bruce Kellogg in Unknown World.

Released two years earlier, Unknown World might have become a minor cult classic, so novel was its idea in Hollywood at the time. But released in late 1951, the movie faced such stiff opposition from other science fiction films, like The Day the Earth Stood Still (review), Superman and the Mole-Men (review), When Worlds Collide (review) and Flight to Mars (review), that it was a bit overlooked. And unfortunately it hasn’t received the same sort of delayed love as other cult classics by later generations, either. The main reason being that it is neither very good nor campy enough to be loved by the so-bad-it’s-good fans. But for any completist sci-fi fan it is definately a must-watch, since it is the first full-length feature film to tackle the hollow Earth genre. 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

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(5/10) In a nutshell: This 1941 Soviet-Ukrainian film is probably the most accurate film version of Jules Verne’s novel The Mysterious Island that has ever been put on screen. Beautiful locations on the shores of the Black Sea help out this film, which nonetheless suffers from creaky and static direction and too much off-screen action. Features Robert Ross, the leader of the African-American community in Moscow during the forties, fifties and sixties.

The Mysterious Island/Tainstvennyy Ostrov. 1941, USSR. Directed by Eduard Pentslin. Written by M. Kalinin, Boris Shelontsev. Based on the novel The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne. Starring: Alexei Krasnopolskiy, Pavel Kiyanskiy, Andrei Sova, Igor Kozlov, Andrei Andrienko-Zemskov, Jura Grammatikati, Robert Ross, Nikolai Kommissarov. Produced by Odessa Film Studio/Gorky Film Studios. IMDb score: 7.0

1941_mysterious_island_007

Pavel Kiyanskiy as Spilett and Andrei Andriyenko-Zemskov as Pencroff in Tainstvennyy Ostrov/The Mysterious Island.

As readers of Jules Verne will know, the 1874 novel The Mysterious Island is science fiction only inasmuch as it is related to the earlier 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, and Captain Nemo and his submarine turn up briefly in the final chapters of the book. But I decided to include The Mysterious Island, or Tainstvennyy Ostrov, as it is known in Russian, as it is something as curious as a 1941 adventure/science fiction film from the Soviet Union with American protagonists, including a black man. 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

The Conquest of the Pole

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(4/10) In a nutshell: 10 years after the big splash with A Trip to the Moon, director Georges Méliès rehashes all his old tricks in 1912 film that is technically ambitious, but narratively old hat and a bit misogynous. 

The Conquest of the Pole (À la conquête du pôle). 1912, France. Silent short. Written, filmed and directed by Georges Méliès. Inspired by Jules Verne’s novels The Adventures of Captain Hatteras and The Sphinx of the Ice Fields. Starring: Georges Méliès, Fernande Albany. Produced by Georges Méliès and Charles Pathé for Star-Films. IMDb score: 6.9

The ice giant eating the explorers.

The ice giant eating the explorers.

By 1912 the pioneering French filmmaker and father of the sci-fi film, Georges Méliès, was merely repeating himself. Despite impressive production values and an gigantic puppetteered ice giant, The Conquest of the Pole really brings nothing new to the table. Although the theatrical and stagey setup was made by choice, and a trademark of Méliès’, it does seem archaic in a time when D.W. Griffith was producing films like Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Continue reading