Film Review: In Search of the Castaways (1962)

Release Date: November 14th, 1962 (London premiere)
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Written by: Lowell S. Hawley
Based on: In Search of the Castaways by Jules Verna
Music by: William Alwyn, Muir Mathieson, Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman
Cast: Hayley Mills, Maurice Chevalier, George Sanders, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Keith Hamshere, Jack Gwillim, Wilfrid Brambell, Michael Anderson Jr., Antonio Cifariello

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know which is worse, by George: having you so happy you sing all the time, or so glum you won’t even talk. “The ombu tree is gorgeous. Enjoy it!” Huh!” – Lord Glenarvan

While these kids today won’t have the attention span for this movie, it’s still one of the greatest family adventure films of all-time!

Sure, you may disagree, but you’re wrong.

This was made by Disney at the height of their live-action adventure epics. It also starred one of their most bankable stars, at the height of her young career: Hayley Mills.

In Search of the Castaways was also an adaptation of a Jules Verne novel and while it might not be as well known as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World In 80 Days or Journey to the Center of the Earth, it is still a grand adventure of the highest and most exciting caliber.

Disney did a fine job in creating this motion picture and despite a few spots with wonky effects, it is one of the best effects blockbusters of its era. Sure, some of it looks dated but there’s also a certain appeal to it. And frankly, none of it breaks the movie or ruins the magic. In fact, it adds an extra level of charm and for fans of classic filmmaking, it’s just cool to experience on the screen.

This is one of those larger-than-life classic films that I wish I could’ve seen on the big screen but it predates me by a few decades. Unfortunately, I’ve never caught it playing anywhere but that’s probably because it’s a fairly forgotten movie. Hell, it isn’t even streaming on Disney’s own streaming service, Disney+.

Honestly, it’s a film that deserves more love. From start-to-finish it is energetic and fun. You’ll like most of the characters, even if the French guy can sometimes grate on the nerves with his singing and goofiness. But for something that is only 98 minutes, the picture covers a lot of ground, goes to a lot of exotic locations and constantly pushes these characters into new situations to overcome.

The core of the story is about two kids looking for their father who is missing somewhere in the world. They’re not immediately sure where but they set off on a long journey, trying to find answers to their father’s whereabouts.

I’m actually kind of surprised that Disney hasn’t tried to reboot this movie yet. I mean, they probably will at some point because original ideas in Hollywood are like trying to catch a leprechaun. However, it’d be damn hard for a modern version of this story to have the same sort of cinematic magic.

All in all, this is just an amusing and lovable picture. It’s a sort of perfect storm of several important factors just coming together and gelling the right way: a Jules Verne story, Disney’s blockbuster filmmaking style and Hayley Mills in her prime. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the ’50s & ’60s, as well as other Disney Hayley Mills movies and other Disney adventure films of the time.

Film Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Also known as: Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (complete title), Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (poster title)
Release Date: December 23rd, 1954 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Earl Felton
Based on: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Music by: Paul Smith, Joseph S. Dubin
Cast: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“I am not what is called a civilized man, Professor. I am done with society for reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws.” – Captain Nemo

Even though I own most of the stuff I want to see on Disney+, I love the streaming service because I’m exceptionally lazy and it allows me to stay sitting on my ass because I don’t have to walk across the room and get the physical disc.

I’ve wanted to revisit and review this for awhile but it’s one of the films I was waiting to re-watch once Disney+ debuted. Plus, the HD quality of the streaming version is better than my two decades old DVD.

Anyway, this was one of my favorite adventure movies as a kid and still, to this day, this is my favorite Jules Verne film adaptation.

This motion picture is close to perfection from top to bottom. It is the best big budget live action film of its decade and it captures the spirit of the book, the magic of Disney and the incredible fun of high adventure done right!

Richard Fleischer has done several films that I’m a fan of but I have to say that this is truly his best work. Although, I’m not sure how much control he had over the production and how much Walt Disney himself was involved. Whatever the case may be, this was a perfect storm behind the scenes that gave the world one of the greatest adventure movies ever put to celluloid.

As old as this movie is now, it doesn’t feel dated other than how it looks. It still flows nicely, has a great pace and there isn’t a dull moment in its 127 minutes. Everything that happens on the screen is necessary and enriches the story. It’s not bogged down by filler, unnecessary side plots or characters and it doesn’t dilly dally.

The film is also greatly accented by its four leads: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Peter Lorre and Paul Lukas. Each man played their part to perfection, each had unique voices and points of view and it was their chemistry and camaraderie that was the glue of the picture.

The special effects were also the best of the era. I’ve really tried to think of anything that can compare to it and there really isn’t anything, at least not in the decade that this came out in. It was ahead of its time and the effects were done so superbly that even now, 65 years later, it’s hard to tell what shots are actual effects. Everything looks good and seamless. Even the big rubber tentacles of the giant squid hold up. Plus, that sequence is still captivating and hasn’t become cheesy in the way that giant rubber monsters of yesteryear have become.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an incredible picture and it also launched its own genre for awhile, as a slew of Jules Verne adaptations and ripoffs started to flood theaters for twenty years following this. Frankly, I think they only died off due to the disaster movie trend that really took off in the ’70s.

It’s probably hard to quantify just how much of an impact this movie had on the film industry and American culture but I don’t think that the modern blockbuster would exist in the same way without this film’s existence.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the era.

Vids I Dig 037: Defunctland: The History of ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’: Submarine Voyage

Part 1:

Part 2:

From Defunctland’s YouTube description: I try to tackle two attractions in this two part Defunctland episode, Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage and Walt Disney World’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage.

Film Review: Master of the World (1961)

Release Date: May, 1961 (USA)
Directed by: William Witney
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World by Jules Verne
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Charles Bronson, Henry Hull, Mary Webster, Richard Harrison

American International Pictures, 102 Minutes (including prologue)

master_of_the_worldReview:

What happens when you mix the master of terror Vincent Price with the works of the amazing Jules Verne and a screenplay by the great Richard Matheson? Well, you get Master of the World!

This film is like Verne’s more famous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea except for being underwater in a giant menacing ship, it is in the air. Unfortunately it doesn’t do battle with a giant squid but it does do battle with the nations of the world.

I always loved the movie versions of Verne’s classic works, especially from this era. While Master of the World doesn’t quite measure up to 20,000 Leagues or Around the World In 80 Days, it is still an enjoyable picture and feels like a true extension of those films. Even with its much smaller budget and scale, Master of the World still feels like a big movie. Sure, the special effects don’t hold up tremendously but some of the shots and effects were still well executed for their day and for the limited resources American International Pictures had versus Disney.

Casting Vincent Price as Robur the Conqueror was genius. Known mostly for being the leading man in several iconic horror films, Price was able to be sinister, where the role called for it, while also being commanding and intense as the captain of his airship, the Albatross. The film also reunited him with Charles Bronson, as they worked together on the classic House of Wax, eight years earlier. That was the film that really started Bronson’s career.

The character of Robur is a dynamic one. He is the villain of the story but depending upon your point-of-view, could be the hero. Considered a “mad man”, similar to Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues, Robur has created his magnificent airship in an effort to go to war with war. The ship’s purpose is to bully the war-mongering nations of the world into changing their ways. While Robur announces his intention on these nations, he is quick to destroy their warships and their weapons to make his message clear. Robur feels that the loss of thousands is worth it to protect the lives of millions who didn’t ask for war.

The Albatross is one of my favorite vessels in film history. It was steampunk before steampunk was even a thing. It also has the feel of the world from the video game Bioshock: Infinite, which may have borrowed from this movie or the works of Verne in general. The sets that are the ship are very well put together. The colors are nice and welcoming, the use of colored glass enhances the vision of world peace, which is Robur’s goal – even if his means to achieve it are a bit twisted. The Albatross is a menacing warship that doesn’t look anything like a warship. It looks like a nice, cozy place to live. I’m also pretty sure it inspired the airship from Final Fantasy VII.

Master of the World is one of my favorite Vincent Price films, even if it isn’t a horror picture. He owned the role of Robur and gave it a real sense of legitimacy. Charles Bronson was perfect as his foil and the rest of the cast was pretty good too. I especially liked the dichotomy between Price’s Robur and Henry Hull’s Prudent, an arms manufacturer that finds himself captive on the Albatross.

If you like Jules Verne tales in the form of a motion picture, there really isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t enjoy Master of the World. It isn’t a masterpiece but it is a solid film that deserves to be in the same company as the Disney-made Verne movies that had much larger budgets and better resources at their disposal.

Rating: 7/10