I guess here is where I admit that I’ve never read any Jules Verne. Maybe this story is better on the page; I don’t know. The movie, at least, definitely not as good as the other Disney movie from the works of Verne. (Apparently, there’s a book where the two cross over, and I’ve seen a movie version of it starring Patrick Stewart but Disney didn’t make it so we won’t talk about it here.) There are a couple of Sherman Brothers songs that definitely have the feel of Sherman Brothers songs but don’t add anything to the plot, and mostly, I spent the movie wanting to punch various characters in the face.
Professor Jacques Paganel (Maurice Chevalier) has found a note in a bottle which he has brought to the attention of Mary (Hayley Mills) and Robert (Keith Hamshere) Grant, because he believes it is from their father, believed lost at sea these last two years. They force their way in to see their father’s employer, Lord Glenarvan (Wilfrid Hyde-White), to beg him to fund an expedition to find the missing captain. He’s not interested, but Mary’s feisty nature convinces the old man’s son, John (Michael Anderson, Jr.). What with one thing and another, the five take off on a rescue mission, first to South America for reasons and then to Australia and New Zealand for others.
I mean, they don’t say New Zealand. They say Australia. But they also say Maori, often, and the chief is played by Inia Te Wiata (credited as Inia Wiata, full name Inia Morehu Tauhia Watene Iarahi Waihurihia Te Wiata, MBE), who was of Maori descent. Of course, the movie is also incredibly explicit that the Maori are cannibals, which is not true and to my knowledge was never true. So when the ship sails off from Australia, clearly it is headed toward New Zealand and they just don’t say that.
Actually, I’m impressed that the chief is played by someone even part Maori, since their Indian chief friend in the Andes is played by Antonio Cifariello, who made two movies in English including this one. All his others, from what I can tell, were in his native Italian. I mean, yes, Maori people have fairly distinctive facial features, but so do people from the Andes and this guy doesn’t look like that even a little. And I should know; my aunt is Peruvian.
This was, if you can believe it, the third-highest grossing film of 1962. Only The Longest Day and Lawrence of Arabia beat it. Not, you know, To Kill a Mockingbird or Dr. No or even any of the three Elvis movies that came out that year. And that’s just US box office from that year. There are some serious classics that came out that year, and some movies that aren’t classics but seem to be the sort of thing that would do really well at the box office, and they didn’t do as well as this. And, okay, big-budget Disney live action. But seriously?
Especially because this is just not a good movie. Director Robert Stevenson did a ton of work for Disney, and I like almost all of it better. Likewise for screenwriter Lowell S. Hawley. And Hayley Mills, come to that. Wilfrid Hyde-White would go on to be Paul’s grandfather in Hard Day’s Night. George Sanders, obviously, was in some stone-cold classics. I’m honestly not a huge Maurice Chevalier fan, but even there, I’d rather see his old Lubitsch movies.
Whereas in this movie, Our Heroes watch an earthquake literally cause a mountain peak to collapse and escape with no injuries from a hut that collapses almost on top of them. (Seriously, an earthquake strong enough to cause the damage we see would be felt for much further away than you could get on horse in a few hours and be devastating there as well, so I’m not sure what good their guide thought abandoning them there would do.) They bounce around the world for no real good reason.
And oh, did I want to punch John. He was casually sexist to Mary the entire movie. She mostly ignores it, presumably because she’s used to it from everyone, but it drove me crazy. He was fairly mellow on the idea that most girls are “silly,” and he doesn’t notice that she’s basically trying to shut down that conversation. So naturally, they end up together at the end, because they are roughly the same age and Hayley Mills was sixteen at the time. And while it’s true that they have common interests, it is also true that he never really seemed to notice or care.
I never saw this one in my childhood. I’m not sure why not. I’m not sure if I would have liked it then, though I can tell you that my kids did not seem overly interested in it. Certainly my five-year-old did not ask to write about it, which is something he normally wants to do if he likes movies. I would imagine it looks relatively impressive on the big screen, but it is not something I’d use as an example of how impressive Disney’s run of live-action features has been.
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