Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1959. 7/10

James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, and Peter Ronson descend into a volcano in Iceland, have a splendid but devilish time of it, and pop up, literally, in another volcano in Italy. Along the way, they blunder into a rival, Count Saknussemm (Thayer David). Jules Verne supplied the premise, and the Victorian setting. 1950s sci-fi provided, fairly lavishly, the special effects. And Gertrude the duck earned a prominent place for critters. Mason is Sir Oliver, a science professor, Boone is his protege, Alec, Dahl is the widow Carla Goteborg. Her husband had set out on his own expedition, but was killed by Saknussemm, descendant of a much earlier explorer. Local guy Hans (Ronson) joins up, including his Gertrude. The Count tries to mess with the party, but ends up having to join them.

It’s been decades since my previous viewing, so I’d forgotten the thick subplots that go on for 45 minutes before there is any descent into the earth. The main plot ought to start the first time Sir Oliver and Alec sidle up to the Icelandic volcano. At that juncture, we’ve already got the rivalry, Alec’s romance with Jenny (Diane Baker), and some unfinished business of Sir Oliver’s back in Edinburgh. I guess Gertrude’s contract stipulated a lot of Icelandic scenes.

Finally, once we get into the earth, things definitely get more interesting. I like movies with caves: this is, of course, the ultimate cave situation. The pathways themselves are outstanding; some virtiginous, others claustrophobic, dark, luminous, labyrinthine, etc. And beautiful; jewel-studded crystalline formations, pools, waterfalls, even an ocean, with a beach–not to mention magic mushrooms and dinosaurs.

The dinosaurs are about as good as monsters get in movies of this type. There’s a lot of them too. And, they’re not invincible–Hans has to kill one that threatens Carla. Once aboard their raft, on the ocean, they get sucked into a vortex. The center of the earth? Ok, but they wash up on some other underground beach. Gertrude, the most intepid explorer of all, finds a cave leading to the ruins of Atlantis. Unfortunately, the evil Count has made a snack of Gertrude.

Pretty cool Atlantis ruins: mosiacs and such, and of course, assorted pillars, in the rubble of which there’s and a skeleton of the Count’s ancestor/explorer. Conveniently, the skeleton’s hand points to an airshaft: the way to the surface. Another giant lizard lurks nearby. That’s not all, an outcropping blocks the passageway. Ah, but the gunpowder left behind just might be enough to…cover the lizard with lava from the expected earthquake, and tootle the explorers up the shaft in the convenient altar stone. Deliverance.

A final celebration for all four at Edinburgh. Alec marries Jenny, and it seems that Carla and Sir Oliver have the same intention. The end and such. Excellent sci-fi adventure, in the Around the World in Eighty Days and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea mode.

I’ve got a great deal of interest in these 1950s Jules Verne and H.G. Wells adaptations. This was the earliest type of film that I remember from childhood. And now, having become a fan of sci-fi, the Victorian era, and literary-inspired films, Journey to the Center of the Earth pretty much does it all.

The attention to period detail is very assiduous, and the special effects are among the best of the era. The acting isn’t great, but Mason, at least, makes a very convincing eccentric but esteemed leader. Dahl’s role is interesting, as she’s not just “the girl,” in fact, she provides much of the equipment for the expedition.

Unfortunately, the movie is so weighed down with all the unnecessary stuff in the extended Edinburgh and Icelandic scenes that, by the time the actual expedition gets going, it feels like an entirely different movie. Some of this stuff is useful, but a good twenty minutes could’ve been left off without hurting continuity.

Farmermouse thought Gertrude got a bad break, so he’s vowed to lead his own expedition with a bunch of giant ducks to eat up some bad guys and lizards down there. He gives this seven jewels from the caverns. 7/10

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