Mysterious Island (1961) – Cy Endfield

 

The Sci-Fi Chronicles book continues its exploration of the cinematic Jules Verne. I’ve previously covered the highly enjoyable Walt Disney version of 20,000 Leagues, so up next is Mysterious Island, which serves as a bit of a sequel to Leagues as it sees the appearance of Captain Nemo; this time played by Herbert Lom in a rather noble and scientific way, as he continues his pursuits to end warfare once and for all, and bring peace to men, whom otherwise, he can barely tolerate. His submarine, the Nautilus, also appears in the film, and looks delightfully similar to the Disney version adding a nice sense of continuity despite being different students.

What Enfield does, is give us a classic tale that is fun, recognizably Verne, and plays it all straight down the line, filling the film with high adventure, romance, drama and wonder. He also brought in the fantastic talents of Bernard Hermann to do the music, and model effects and creature animation by the brilliant Ray Harryhausen.

It’s 1865, and the film opens in Virginia during the Civil War. There are three Union soldiers being held prisoner by the Confederate army, Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig), Herbert Brown (Michael Callan), and Neb Nugent (Dan Jackson). During a giant storm, the three break out of their jail cell with war correspondent Gideon Spilitt (Gary Merrill) in tow. As they reach the means of their escape, a giant Confederate balloon, a rebel soldier Pencroft (Percy Herbert) busts his way aboard. As they rise into the air, buffeted westward by the colossal storm, they find themselves in an adventure they never expected.

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They traverse the entire width of North America and find themselves descending into the Pacific ocean, and end up marooned on a strange island. They are barely settled, and exploring the strange place, with its gargantuan animals, like a giant crabs, bees, or a colossal bird, when two women wash ashore, ship-wrecked. They are Elena (Beth Rogan) and her Aunt, Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood). Sparks fly between Elena and Brown, and they end up falling in love during their stay on the island.

The island itself is populated with wonders, giant plants and beasts, and gorgeous matte paintings add further fantastical elements to the island, but when an unexpected trunk arrives, carrying everything they need to survive, and marked NAUTILUS, the mystery of the island grows even deeper, and also hints at a way for them to escape the island once and for all.

This film was just fun, an adventure film of the kind no longer made, with a great story, fun characters, and an intriguing mystery at its heart.

Nemo arrives just in time to add more thrills, and seeing the Nautilus awaiting in an undersea cavern give me a thrill. It’s always been a fantastic submarine, and I love the look that she has in this and the Disney film.

There’s one more cinematic version of the story I’m going to take a look at, I wonder how that one will compare to this highly enjoyable classic?

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