Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Around the world under the world

I've mentioned that FXM finally brought some classic movies out of the vault. One that was actually in the rotation for a while over the summer but seemed to be out for a month or two is Journey to the Center of the Earth. It's going to be back on several times in quick succession, starting tomorrow at 11:00 AM.

The movie starts off in Scotland, where we learn that Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) is a distinguished professor, as he's just been knighted. His students honor him with gifts, with the head of the committee, Alec McEwan (Pat Boone) using up the rest of the money on a giant chunk of tephra. Alec also happens to be in love with the professor's niece Jenny (Diane Baker), although she largely disappears from the movie for reasons that will become fairly obvious.

Lindenbrook analyzes the volcanic rock, since it seems surprisingly heavy for volcanic rock. Eventually, it breaks open, revealing what looks like a plumb bob, with an inscription from an Icelandic scientist that disappeared long ago. Lindenbrook realizes that the legend of this scientist, who had apparently been searching for a path to the center of the earth, must be true! He writes to a Swedish colleague Göteborg, but he never hears back from the guy.

It turns out that Göteborg understood the significance of the discovery and set off for Iceland himself to find the portal that will take him to the paths leading to the center of the earth. Prof. Lindenbrook, realizing he's been tricked, heads off to Iceland with McEwan, although Jenny stays behind because women didn't do this sort of exploration back in the 1880s.

When they all get to Iceland, they find that somebody doesn't want them exploring and finding that passage. Lindenbrook and Alec each get concussed in separate incidents and deposited in an eider feather storage facility, which is where they meet Hans (Peter Ronson). Worse, when they go looking for Göteborg, they find that he's been killed! His now widow, Carla (Arlene Dahl) shows up and insists on going on the expedition with the two Scots and Hans; after all, they're going to be using equipment that her late husband had purchased.

So they set off for the volcanic entry into the underworld, for what's going to be an extraordinarily difficult journey, especially considering all sorts of logistical details are overlooked to get the movie finished in a reasonable amount of time. They do, however, find who's trying to stop them, which is Saknussemm (Thayer David), a descendent of the Icelandic scientist whose earlier journeys all brought them to this place.

This version of Journey to the Center of the Earth is one that's good for children, as there's a sense of adventure but not too much fright. Indeed, I felt like there was a surprising lack of action once they got underground, which ought to be a pretty big flaw with a movie like this. The acting was adequate. Pat Boone, while more a singer than an actor, doesn't really do anything notably bad here, while for Peter Ronson this was his only film (he didn't want to continue acting). One other problem is that Hans has a duck who really seems to be there for the sort of comic relief that Disney had with its animal characters.

As for the positives, the movie looks like it would probably be really nice on a big screen. The underworld animals look slightly better than what Ray Harryhausen would have come up with, although as far as I can tell he wasn't involved with this version of the movie.

There are several movie versions of Journey to the Center of the Earth, and this 1959 movie looks to be out-of-print on DVD. So, you're going to have to catch this one on FXM.

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