Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

I’m not quite sure how this film was missed in my upbringing, but I never saw it, though I do love Jules Verne. The man had a brilliant imagination and even today, his stories can fire us up, instill in us that sense of wonder and exploration that for me is the height of adventure.

So I settled in to watch an adventure film of the highest class, and was delightfully entertained by this film that to this day holds up, and is appropriate for all ages.

Sir Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) receives a clue to a lost expedition… And with a date to discover a passage into the interior of the earth!

With his companion Alec McKuen (Pat Boone!) in tow, they head to Iceland, where they scout out the location, and are immediately embroiled in intrigue when they are both kidnapped, and inadvertently rescued by a duck named Gertrude and her owner Hans (Peter Ronson) in a very funny scene that could’ve been played really poorly but was actually a hoot.

They are then joined by another explorer’s recent widow, Carla (Arlene Dahl – and what a dish!) who bargains her way onto the team because she’s in possession of all the equipment the team will need.

With a shaft of sunlight pointing the way they begin their descent, not knowing that they are being shadowed by another party.

Mason turns in an awesome performance, which could have been simply one-note, but he layers it with humor, arrogance, blissful ignorance, and the passion of an explorer.

Yes, with Pat Boone aboard, you know there are going to be a couple of songs, but they work, and it’s not like they burst into song spontaneously, there are actual instruments involved, so it seems a little more natural.

Yes, you can tell some of the effects don’t stand up, the use of rhinoceros iguanas with sails pasted to their back to play giant dinosaurs could be kind of laughable, but it works, because you buy into the story.

On top of that, there is a gorgeous score by Bernard Herrmann.

The dialogue is fun, and while sometimes there are bits that are questionable, and the interior is nowhere near as exciting and mind-blowing as you would expect, simply one rock tunnel after another, until the sweeping ocean, topped with a matte painting of a rock ceiling (and it works) and the discovery of the fate of Atlantis.

This is a film where the baddies receive their comeuppance, and justly so, I personally was a little shocked when the event causing the need for comeuppance occurred (I know the film is over 50 years old, but I still hate spoilers).

Like I said, I’m not sure why I never saw this growing up, especially when my parents were still kind of in charge of my viewing habits, but I’m glad I finally sat down and watched it.

There are so few tales nowadays that are filled with high adventure that aren’t inundated with obvious computer effects that actually seem to destroy the sense of wonder instead of promoting it that when I come across a classic like this that actually does its job, I want to share it.

So that’s what I did.

Have you seen it? What other classic adventure, or adventure films in general would you recommend next?

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