Thursday, February 28, 2013

Five Weeks in a Balloon

Tomorrow is the first day of a new month, which means TCM is going to have some new programming salutes, at least once 31 Days of Oscar ends on Sunday: we'll finally get back to having a new Star of the Month and a new season of The Essentials. Before that, however,the Fox Movie Channel is taking a few movies out of its vault that they haven't shown in years. Two of them show up tomorrow, and immediately get repeated on Saturday. The first of these is Five Weeks in a Balloon, which you can see at 9:00 AM tomorrow on FMC, with a repeat at 6:00 AM Saturday.

Based on the novel by Jules Verne, Five Weeks in a Balloon stars Cedric Hardwicke as Ferguson, a Victorian-era balloonist who has invented a new type of balloon that allows for more lift and can stay in the air longer. He's about to take it out for a test flight in the British East African colonies, but Mother England is calling. Apparently there's slave trading in the interior of West Africa (which was mostly French, but don't let that plot hole stop you) that the British government needs to put down, and apparently Ferguson's balloon is the quickest way to get there unnoticed. So, could Ferguson take along a British agent Sir Henry (Richard Haydn)? Also along for the ride is an American journalist, Donald O'Shay (Red Buttons), Barbara Eden as a teacher, and Canadian Jacques (Fabian).

So they head west, and the crew meets with the sorts of adventures you'd expect from a Hollywood movie about Africa, which means stereotypes galore, along with establishing shots. That, and the standard squabbles among the various people in the balloon, and problems with the balloon. Along the way, they pick up slave trader Ahmed (Peter Lorre, looking corpulent and sickly), who's got a woman of his own in tow (Barbara Luna, clearly there as eye candy).

The result of all this is thoroughly mediocre, albeit not without its interesting points. Fabian was clearly cast because the producers thought he'd appeal to the teens, as he'd already been a teen idol a few short years earlier. Bu the same token, the two Barbaras, Eden and Luna, are clearly there to appeal to another segment of the demographic. And the whole plot, being taken from the Jules Verne novel, is something you'd have to think would appeal to kids, at least boys interested in adventure novels. Adults with a discerning eye will get to laugh at the bad parts of the movie, including some truly awful dialog. As Peter Lorre exclaims, "Kismet! We are doomed!" You might unfairly think the movie is doomed, too. At least, you might if you're looking for something more than dated escapist fare.

Five Weeks in a Balloon received a DVD release several years ago, but I'm not certain if it's still in print.

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