Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH


JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959). Director: Henry Levin.

"Oh, goose, goose, goose!" Professor Lindenbrook when his daughter impatiently tells him to come to supper.

One could easily quibble and say that Journey is sometimes too silly for its own good, goes on too long, and that we still haven't gotten the ultimate film version of Jules Verne's fascinating novel, and while all this is true, it is also true that Journey is a very entertaining picture. Professor Lindenbrook (James Mason) is accompanied on the title journey by a student Alec (Pat Boone), a big Icelander named Hans (Peter Ronson), and the widow of a rival professor, Carla (Arlene Dahl). The bickering between Mason and Dahl is amusing (courtesy of screenwriters Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett), and the film works up suspense as our team tries to stay ahead of yet another rival scientist, Count Saknussem (Thayer David) who thinks of himself as the King of the Underworld. One of the most exciting scenes has the expedition encountering gigantic and hungry prehistoric dimetrodons (essentially big lizards) that nearly snack on Dahl. They also come across a section of the lost city of Atlantis [there were monsters in Verne's novel, but no Atlantis.] There are some wonderful sets and art direction; the special effects work is uneven but much of it is quite well done. Mason is excellent; Dahl, snappy; Boone, boyish and perky; and David marvelous as the villain of the piece. Leo Tover's cinematography is first-rate and Bernard Herrmann's beautiful and expressive score is nigh onto perfection. Diane Baker is lovely in a small role as Mason's daughter, Jenny. Verne's basic premise is one of the most compelling in fiction. Very handsome production and even a couple of pleasant tunes sung by Boone.

Verdict: Flawed but fascinating fantasy. ***.

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