Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959)

Director: Henry Levin

Jules Verne has been a late discovery of mine; only this year have I started reading his books (though given how bad most of the old translations of his works seem to be, it’s probably a good thing I waited so long for better ones to emerge). But I have seen films of those books before, indeed this is now the second one I’ve actually reviewed on here… and I must admit to liking this rather more than the previous one. Much as the 1954 20,000 Leagues took liberties with the book, so did this film, although this time I’ve actually read the book and so the changes (added romantic interest, new characters including a duck) were rather more immediately obvious. Verne would, of course, have recognised the broad outline of his story—scientist goes on foolhardy expedition to the centre of the Earth with assistant, they experience assorted wonders—but I suspect he might’ve raised an eyebrow at some of the changes, which make the film a bit more of a conventional adventure thriller than the book is. One must assume 20th C. Fox felt the book had insufficient conflict or something. The primary conflict in the film, of course, is between the characters’ duelling accents; Hamburg-based professor Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel now become Edinburgh-based professor Lindenbrook (James Mason, no stranger to Verne on film of course) and his student Alec McEwan (Pat Boone—who, obviously, also had to be given a song to sing that’s not in the book either). Mason’s fine, though sounding more English than Scottish, but Boone is… wobbly and his accent sounds much more obviously (and not terribly well) put on. The narrative conflict, though, is ramped up by adding a new character, a descendant of the original explorer Lindenbrook is following who isn’t happy with these people entering “his” domain. On its own terms, though, it’s actually pretty good; it was an expensive film at the time but it looks it on-screen, especially once we go below the surface, with good use made of the Cinemascope screen. It’s perhaps even more quaint now than Verne’s book, but it’s still a pretty decent example of late classic Hollywood “big” filmmaking. Plus it’s not every 1950s Hollywood film that has one of the cast members eaten by one of the others…

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