Mysterious Island (1961 UK/USA)

mysterious-islandA vivid re-telling of the Jules Verne novel, with changes made necessary by the change to the medium of film. The women do not appear in the book. A love interest was necessary. Perhaps I should say a thigh interest, judging by Beth Rogan’s lack of modest dress here.

I don’t believe that you can make a bad film of a Jules Verne story. Some are much better than others, some are inferior ones, but not an unentertaining film. The plots and the characters were born for the screen. Moving on… during the American Civil War, in the 1860s, a group of Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison in a Confederate observation balloon. There’s also one Confederate stowaway as well. In what is described as the greatest storm in American history this balloon is blown way off course and they land on an island they later learn is 1000 miles from New Zealand.

And what a place! With all kinds of giant creatures, crabs, bees, plenty of goats and even a huge chicken already on the island. The man responsible for all this is Captain Nemo, late of the Nautilus, which it turns out was not sunk as written by Verne in 20000 Leagues Under The Sea. Instead it rather limped into its home base by Herbert Lom in a measured and calculated performance. Nemo has reassessed his life and now thinks that instead of blowing up the ships of war from every nation, he should work toward providing abundance for man. Hence he pioneers organic food and that giant wildlife is part of the experiment.

IsO2woNTwo women also are shipwrecked as well, Beth Rogan sports the shortest skirt known to cinema at that time, while her aunt is played by stuffy Joan Greenwood. Michael Craig gives a sensitive portrayal as the Union captain. Percy Herbert, who usually plays cockney characters, didn’t quite get the southern accent down for the Rebel hitchhiker. Gary Merrill is excellent as the war correspondent. He gets the best lines and the best story in history, but he has no way to report it out to the public. All the human players however pale in comparison to Ray Harryhausen’s animation monsters. Giant animals! Captain Nemo! Civil War! A massive volcano! An underwater city! Pirates! The obligatory giant squid thingy!

With so many different things thrown into the mix I would not have been surprised if the Death Star had come down to threaten our heroes in the final moments of this film. The plot doesn’t develop so much as it keeps adding things when it exhausts its previous ideas. This has the effect of making the film hard to get into because it is like a fragmented series of occurrences instead of one good yarn. I find it interesting, but I was not as emotionally drawn in as I should have been. For an adventure film aimed at children, this is surprisingly downbeat. The ending sums up the lack of cohesion: an empty, noisy affair that concludes with some glib, throwaway sentiment about world peace. Despite these drawbacks I will admit Mysterious Island is still great entertainment if you like old school adventures.

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