Monday, July 07, 2014

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Perhaps the biggest of all Hollywood spectacles produced in the 1950s, and an extremely ambitious undertaking for independent producer Mike Todd, this adaptation of the Jules Verne adventure classic holds up well as an example of epic filmmaking at its most lavish. With engaging performances from the leads (especially the delightful Cantinflas), cameo appearances by an extensive roster of major stars, a fine Victor Young score, and gorgeous cinematography shot in a wide variety of locations, there is much to recommend it.

However, there are some serious pacing problems with the script (by John Farrow, James Poe and S.J. Perelman), not helped by Michael Anderson's impersonal (if generally effective) direction. All too often, the story stops for extended set-pieces that fail to move the plot forward and ultimately go nowhere. Perhaps the most egregious of these occur during the Spanish sequence, with Jose Greco's Flamenco dance number and the interminable bullfight routine with Cantinflas. The latter, in particular, while valuable as a record of the celebrated Mexican comic's talents, brings the film to a grinding halt from which it takes a while to recover.

It's also easy to criticize the film for essentially being little more than a splendidly-photographed travelogue at times, with the balloon ride over the Pyrenees or the train ride across the American west designed to showcase the scope of the Todd-AO frame. However, to their credit, these sequences capture the spirit of Verne's novel and the thrill of travel conveyed in the book.

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