Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)
1950s cinema works that won Best Picture have a recurring theme: spectacle. It starts in 1950 with "All About Eve" which is possibly the most calm of any of the Oscar winning pictures from this decade. After that there's "An American in Paris" and that's followed by "The Greatest Show on Earth" which embraced the notion of a crowd-pleaser perhaps a little too heartily. But in 1956, a film that was based off a Jules Verne novel made its way to the screen and eventually, to the podium at the Academy Awards: "Around the World in Eighty Days".
Verne was no stranger to bizarre ideas, but this is possibly the work that time hasn't treated as well as the others. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is still frightfully odd and fantastic. Journey to the Center of the Earth is as implausible as it ever was, yet there's a science fiction aspect to the fantasy. But Around the World in Eighty Days is about a journey that is no longer a feat...it's quite possible to do in less than a week, and that's assuming that you are on a vacation.
Phileas Fogg, from the very British society, is a man who is very calculated. He burns through man-servants like no one's business. He is so meticulous and rigorous that it's impossible to live with. Enter Passepartout a person who has done almost everything. From gymnastics to waiting on rich people, there seems to be nothing that he can't do. He becomes Fogg's valet, but isn't given much time to practice.
When the Bank of England is robbed, Fogg and his rich cohorts who like playing cards discuss the matter. Some of the men are certain that the culprit will be caught, after all traveling is not that fast. Fogg then comments that it's quite possible for a person to circumnavigate the world in no less than 80 days. Preposterous, you might say—that is, if you were these men.
So when money is wagered, it seems inevitable that Fogg will attempt to travel around the world in....yeah you know the rest.
At the heels of a hasty getaway, disasters always happen. The trains won't run because the passage is blocked by snow—no problem for Fogg and Passepartout, they just buy a hot air balloon and fly over the mountains. Land in Spain rather than France?—no sweat, they'll just coax a boat out of a rich man.
The events line up against them like dominoes and once they pick up speed falling, they never cease.
Bull fighting, princess rescuing, offending natives, surviving attacks, British vs. American jokes—yes, all of these are found within "Around the World in Eighty Days".
If this were a two-hour movie, it would be fun and exciting, but it's not. The film is three-hours, thus giving lots of time for long sequences of nature shots.
This movie skips around in cultures as the characters travel from India to Hong-Kong to San Francisco...so and and so forth.
What I liked about the movie was how it was somewhat loyal to the different countries. Not everybody speaks English and the music changes to suit the stylistic tendencies of the home country in question. There is a certain amount of whitewashing, but hey, it's a good step in the right direction. One larger problem was that of an Indian princess who is played by....Shirley MacLaine...what? Yes, that's right; it's one of the larger examples of American-izing (or should I say "British-izing"?) the movie.
The movie has a smarter script that some of the company it keeps. Self-reference jokes and over the top acting all work in favor of humor. But David Niven who plays Fogg just isn't likable enough to do anyone any good.
The film also tends to drag sequences out, like a matador scene which eats up a lot of unnecessary time.
When the company gets to America, the gloves start to come off. Americans are brutes, uncivilized, and sleazy...it didn't surprise me to find out that Michael Anderson, the director, was British. Although two of the three screenwriters are American, the "friendly" jabs seem a little too bitter.
One cameo appearance lines up after the other—Peter Lorre, Frank Sinatra, and Buster Keaton just to name a few. It is more important to squeeze a big name in here and there then to continue with the story.
"Around the World in Eighty Days" is a fun adventure, sensationally boring in parts and surprisingly funny in others.
Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones