Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Film review based on the Jules Verne novel

around world 80 days
Standard

Action/adventure/fantasy

star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review, by Jason Day, of Around the World in 80 Days, the 1956 epic about the adventures of globetrotting Phileas Fogg. Starring David Niven, Cantinflas and Shirley MacLaine and directed by Michael Anderson.

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Synopsis

Phileas Fogg (David Niven) is the term gentleman personified and British to the core, if known for his imperious and arrogant airs.

When members of his club bet that he can’t travel the full circumference of the world within 80 days he immediately accepts the challenge and sets off with his butler Passepartout (Cantinflas) for the journey of a lifetime.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

See everything in the World worth seeing! Do everything in the World worth doing!

Promotional tagline for Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

You have to hand it to producer/impresario Michael Todd (Elizabeth Taylor’s then husband, the third spouse for both) he sure knew how to put on a show.

A big slap-up, ridiculously over the top and ostentatious show, but still a show in the old Hollywood style.

That’s not to say that his mammoth and flabby adaptation of the Jules Verne favourite was always top-drawer, but he certainly pulled out all the stops. Just feel the stats:

  • Budget: c.$6m
  • Worldwide box office gross: c. $16m (at the time. To date, it has earned much more than that)
  • Duration: 3hrs 1min/181mins.
  • Star cast: +40.

This would all be very impressive if the objective of his monetary splurge resulted in a movie that wasn’t stilted and drawn out.

I love an epic, but when I clock pushes three hours and the name ‘DeMille’ isn’t attached to it, I start to worry.

Yes, William Wyler made a magnificent and spiritual Ben Hur (1959) and Ridley Scott excelled with his emotive and intelligent Gladiator (2000), but more than not epic directorial hands other than Cecil B’s turn out to be swollen sword and sandal additions to cinema.

With more than 40 (supposed) stars in cameos, you need some celluloid slack to accommodate them all, but the operative word is star. Some of the actors here were massive names then and now (Dietrich, Sinatra, Keaton) but many of the others must have been dim memories to cinema audiences in 1956 and mere whispers on the wind to even the most ardent film fan today.

Some of these roles are supporting performances (Sir Cedric Hardwicke, for instance, appears for some time), others are gone in only a few seconds (Ronald Colman vanishes after a few words. Sinatra merely glances at the camera), giving the feeling of pointless padding that ups that whopping duration.

Some sequences do carry an entertaining sauciness. In the San Francisco sequence, for instance, Marlene Dietrich, legs akimbo and on full display, shares cinematic time with at least three members of the cast she could claim to be former lovers (Niven, Sinatra and a grumpy George Raft. She never quite got there with Todd, despite chasing him around Hollywood after he charmed her into this cameo. He married Elizabeth Taylor shortly after).

Comical Hermione Gingold impresses as a drunken cockney tart, who raises her skirt when she realises her purse has vanished from her tight garter belt: “Cawl a copper! Oi’ve been robbed!”

Filmed in Todd AO, a type of widescreen format used to tempt TV audiences back to the picture palace back in the day. Impressive then, but on your TV or laptop is compressed, resulting in a fish eye feel, like a panorama shot on your iPhone.

The unaccountably Oscar winning script – by, among others, noted author and Hollywood sage S.J. Perelman – lobs the odd bon mot at the audience, but is an over-worded soup that labours when it should enthrall and dawdle when it should amuse.

Robert Morley might announce the end of the movie, but it’s technically the start as the credits then roll with a delicious, animated and hugely fun ‘Who was seen, who did what?’ sequence. Designed by legendary movie titles man Saul Bass, it was then the longest and most expensive credits sequence ever filmed.

If only the preceding film was as good.

PS – interesting to note the scene where Fogg and Passepartout buy their travel tickets, using the fledgling Thomas Cooke company. This year’s collapse of Thomas Cooke, founded in 1841, gives an unfortunate topicality here.

Cast & credits

Director: Michael Anderson. 3hrs 1min/181mins. Michael Todd Company/United Artists. (U)

Producer: Michael Todd.
Writers: John Farrow, S.J. Perelman, James Poe.
Camera: Lionel Lindon.
Music: Victor Young.
Sets: Ken Adam.

David Niven, Cantinflas, Shirley MacLaine, Robert Newton, Charles Boyer, Joe E. Brown, Martine Carol, John Carradine, Charles Coburn, Ronald Colman, Melville Cooper, Noel Coward, Finlay Currie, Reginald Denny, Andy Devine, Marlene Dietrich, Luis Miguel Dominguin, Fernandel, John Gielgud, Hermione Gingold, Jose Greco, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Trevor Howard, Glynis Johns, Buster Keaton, Evelyn Keyes, Beatrice Lillie, Peter Lorre, Edmund Lowe, Victor McLaglen, Tim McCoy, Mike Mazurki, John Mills, Robert Morley, Alan Mowbray, Edmund R. Murrow, Jack Oakie, George Raft, Gilbert Roland, Cesar Romero, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, A.E. Matthews, Ronald Squire, Basil Sydney, Harcourt Williams, Ronald Adam, Walter Fitzgerald, Frank Royde, Robert Cabal.

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