The Island At The Top Of The World (1974 USA)

A fun and forgettable family adventure film that passes the time amiably enough. There’s nothing here that’s controversial, just one old-fashioned adventure after another, and thankfully it’s not as twee as I’d feared given its Disney pedigree. This is one of the better-regarded of the Disney studio’s live-action efforts, particularly among those made following Walt’s death. It’s a fantasy adventure on Jules Verne lines; actually, the film coincided with the somewhat similar (and equally good) The Land That Time Forgot (1975).

Early in the 20th century a high-powered, rather obnoxious English industrialist, Sir Anthony Ross (Donald Sinden) is so desperate to find his son, Donald (David Gwilim) who ran away for a life of exploration and adventure. Mr Ross ropes in an expert in Nordic history, Professor Ivarsson (David Hartman), a French aviation pioneer, Captain Brieux (Jacques Marin) and his brand new airship the Hyperion, and Donald’s Eskimo guide and friend Oomiak (Mako) for his quest to locate a hidden island within the arctic pack-ice.

Here, supposedly, whales go to die, (there is great aerial footage of polar bears and narwhals) and evil spirits are rumoured to dwell. They soon enough locate the storm-tossed island, with the Hyperion bashed against soaring cliffs and the passengers dumped upon the rugged terrain, only to soon find the island hides a lush and fertile basin maintained by volcanic heat, and within which resides a long-lost colony of Vikings. Donald is living peacefully with them, but the arrival of other outsiders inspires the angry local high priest, the Godi (Gunnar Ohlund) to demand their death, believing they herald future invasion by barbarian hordes.

The Island at the Top of the World feels like an adventure movie made with severe budget limitations. It was probably rush released for Christmas of that year. What I mean by that is many of the sets rely on the backdrop painting to try and provide depth, but rarely do these impress as they far too often look exactly what they are: matte paintings. It is not just the backdrops which cause issues as the special effects and costumes also are lacking that bit of style and creativity needed to really grab you– rather than make you laugh.

What doesn’t help all of this is the acting of Donald Sinden – bulldozing his way through the movie as the brusque Ross whilst David Hartman seems at times a little lost as to how to react to Sinden’s thespian delivery of the dialogue. Don’t get me wrong as this is all kind of amusing but I don’t believe for a minute that was the intention but this is made worse because of the lack of back story to really establish the characters rather than thrusting them upon us. It’s every bit as unusual and fascinating as it sounds, and is a truly worthwhile film for kids and adults alike. Ignore the cheesiness and you should have a whale of a time. 🙂



  1. I’m well-versed in Disney and yet surprisingly I have not heard of this film, thank you for sharing! I’ll certainly be checking this flick out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoy!


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