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This is by far the most literate, the most moving, and the most
cinematically sophisticated film Disney has ever made. Those of the
reviewers at this (IMDb) site who dismiss it as a kiddie movie, or who
sneer at the special effects ("time has not been kind" to this film,
one of them says; according to another, "the thrill is gone") seem
simply prejudiced, rather like those who automatically deride any film
that features Charlton Heston or deals with a biblical theme. It is
indeed quite amazing that any special effects filmed in 1954 would
continue to stack up so well. (I suppose Lucas or Spielberg could
improve on the giant squid today, but so what?)
The acting is almost uniformily superb, although I seem to be in the minority in my opinion that Kirk Douglas' yo-ho-ho cliché sailor is rather wooden. (v. following paragraph) James Mason portrays Captain Nemo as a tragic hero in the classic sense, neither "byronic" nor a "mad scientist": a man so far ahead of his time that the world can only see his invention as a monster to be hunted with harpoons---and yet he is so tragically wounded by the whose malice and envy of lesser men that he has indeed become, in some ways, a monster. Paul Lucas is equally heartrending as Professor Arronax, the good-hearted bourgeois academician who truly believes that anyone can be made to "see reason" and become, in effect, a nice guy. Between these huge opposites are the robust common man of action, Ned Land ("Nemo's cracked", "I want to escape!"), the Professor's worry-wart servant, Conseil (Peter Lorre), and Nemo's equally devoted, spookily laconic First Mate (Robert J. Wilkes).
(I may as well say at the outset that to my mind the characterization of Ned Land, along with Kirk Douglas' stiff and utterly unnuanced portrayal, remains the major fault of the film. I would have liked to have seen an attempt at capturing Verne's taciturn Ned, half-mad from the tension between his enforced submarine claustrophobia and his romantic longing to once again swab a deck, reef a sail, or entrust himself to winds and currents; indeed, according to the novel's Aronnax, Ned's recitals of his adventures are worthy of a "Homer of the North". Most unfortunately, the wisecracking, womanizing Ned of the film seems to reflect Douglas' momentary screen persona more than Verne's character, since it bears so little resemblance to the latter. Also, the fact that Douglas out-bills Mason in credits and advertisements is as weird as the ubiquitous poster art in which Douglas' head is two sizes larger than Mason's.)
Leaving aside my pet peeve (i.e., Douglas), there are many Shakespearean qualities here in addition to the tragedy of Nemo. For one thing, much of the action takes place inside the characters' heads: First Arronax, Conseil and Land analyze Nemo, assaying a most dangerous attempt to ferret out his motivations. Then Nemo analyzes Aronnax who, almost in retaliation, develops his own analysis of Nemo. Then Conseil and Land analyze Aronnax analyzing Nemo. Meanwhile, the claustrophobia of the submarine boat acts on their minds like an amphetamine drug, causing the latter to function more and more frantically for good or ill.
Also like Shakespeare, the dialog (and it is wonderful dialog, grave but also lively with repartee and wordplay--just see the digest of quotes preceding these reviews!) alternates with comic relief and action scenes. As to the former, worry-wart Conseil is extremely funny, one of my favorite lines being his dismissal of Ned's message-in-a-bottle idea: "That went out with Robinson Crusoe! This is the nineteenth century!" And action scenes, as the famous fight with the giant squid, serve the same purpose as the ghosts, sword fights, etc. that the Bard provided for the groundlings---so that it is indeed "family entertainment"; people of all ages can watch this film with pleasure.
Masterfully, the film contains almost precisely the necessary updating to make the story meaningful to modern audiences. The common notion that Verne foresaw atomic power is certainly apocryphal; the Vulcania scenes are adapted from Verne's novel Facing the Flag, even if his super-nitroglycerine "Fulminator" is replaced here by nuclear fission. Nonetheless, Verne's speculations on power do make a good symbolic match with the notion of atomic energy, birthing a very credible meditation on the nineteenth century in the light of its successor. The somber and frighteningly beautiful finale causes us to wonder just at what point before 1900 this or that fateful corner was turned.
Very simply, Richard Fleischer made a gorgeous adaptation of Jules Verne's
famous novel. This is an excellent adventure movie told with quite a lot of
humor. Fleischer introduced humor in a few sequences and especially in
dialogs. But the movie also includes a sadistic side. This sadistic side is
epitomized by the captain Nemo himself. You can describe him as a despotic
man who's got a grudge against the earth that made him suffer. Moreover, he
regards himself as a sort of governor of the ocean. In this way, Jules
Verne's novel introduces a reflection about man and the extension of his
power thanks to the machine (the Nautilus).
Of course, the movie is supported by a dazzling performance. James Mason is an unforgettable captain Nemo. As for Kirk Douglas, well he said once: "I've made a career of playing sons of bitches". It's probably true if you study his character of Ned Land. But in parallel, Douglas makes his character funny and likeable. Then, Paul Lukas and especially Peter Lorre are outstanding.
No matter that the movie was launched in 1954, the special effects aren't antiquated. Thanks to them, the movie could keep a certain charm and nowadays, it lets itself watch with pleasure.
Below is a transcript of a hand written letter from Harper Goff in 1974 of
which I have a copy which I think might be of interest. This is an unusual
comment entry, but I hope you will find this letter a fasinating rare
glimpse into the process of creation, and will give a better appreciation of
the artistry of the design of the Disney 'Nautilus'. Harper Goff was
responsible for the 'look' of the submarine in the Disney Production, along
with much of the film's set designs. Enjoy!
Harper Goff writes....
I was assigned the task of getting together a 'true-life' adventure film using some exceptional underwater footage shot in a laboratory aquarium, by Dr. McGinnity of Cal-Tech's Marine Biology lab in Carona Del Mar. Walt (Disney) thought inasmuch as "20,000 L.U.T.S." was in public domain we might do worse than use the title for a current True-Life adventure short subject. Walt went to England and I stayed in Burbank and made a story-board of a live action version of the classic using McGinnity's footage as a sort of ballet episode where Nemo shows Aronax the wonders of the deep. Walt liked the story-board well enough to have me give an 'A.R.I.' (Audience Reaction Inquiry) to a group of exhibitors who were in town. They were enthusiastic and the rest is history.
In motion pictures, the text of a classic like this subject is sacrosanct like the Bible! The 'word' of Jules Verne is not to be made light of, so the duty of the production designer like myself is to take the sometimes arbitary discriptions of the Nautilus as recorded by 'J.V.' and "make it work".
a. Jules Verne while foreseeing brilliantly the atomic submarine of today, did not at that time invent the periscope, the torpedo tube, or sonar. He did not prophesy closed curcut television. According to Verne, if Nemo wanted to see what was going on the surface, he simply poked the glass ports of the conning tower out of the depths and took a direct look. He risked his vessel, himself, and his crew by ramming the enemy at frightening speed. If he wanted to study the marvels of life under the surface, he reclined in his elegent bay window lounge, and passed the hours studying the marine life outside the amazing pressure proof window of his luxurious salon. These items dictated much of the direction of my production designs.
b. Nemo is quoted by Verne as telling Aronax that "I need no coal for my bunkers. I have instead harnessed the very building blocks of the material universe to heat my boilers and drive this craft". No one can doubt Verne meant Atomic Power.
c. It is not sound economics to study and design obviously unnesscessary parts of the Nautilus if it will not appear on screen. The crews quarters were thus unaccounted for. In Verne's original text Nemo from time to time leaves the chart room and steps directly into other diversified areas of the submarine. Directors do not like to slow down the action and clutter up a dramatic moment by showing actors leave a room, lift a hatch, enter another room.
d. At the time Captain Nemo constructed Nautilus on Mysterious Island, the iron riveted ship was the last word in marine construction. I have always thought rivet patterns were beautiful. I wanted no slick shelled moonship to transport Nemo thru the emerald deep and so fought and somehow got my way. On Mysterious Island Nemo had the white hot heat of a volcano to help him build his dreamship, but I am sure that flat iron plates profusely riveted would have been his way. His stock pile of material was always the countless sunken ships uniquely available to him alone. Even the Greek amphora and the works of art that graced his great salon was salvaged from wrecks.
e. The free diving suits - (self-contained) were developed by myself with the assistance of Fred Zender, and exceptionally able underwater man. The helmets were souped-up Japanese pearl diving helmets. We masked the scuba gear, let water into the the helmet, put a breathing tube in our mouth, the clamps on our nose and one night in 1952 Freddie and I walked slowly from the shallow end to the deep end of the Santa Monica pool. Lead around our middle and 16 lbs. shoes...it worked! Many had predicted failure. This formed the basis of the suits that appeared in the film. We spent 9 hrs. a day, 7 days a week for 8 weeks at Lyford Key in the Bahamas, underwater! Never lost a man, Fred was in charge of safety.
f. 20,000 Leagues was the second cinemascope picture to go into production. Fox had the worldrights to the anamorphic lenses developed by a French inventor named Cretien. This lense "squeezes" the horizontal dimensions of a scene into half the normal area on a cinema frame. If projected thru an anamorphic projection lense it "unsqueezes" this image and the resulting image is widescreen. Fox had only one lense to lease and this meant that Disney could not shoot miniture set ups while the main action sequences were before the cameras. I hit upon the idea of having the prop miniature shop build a "squeezed" Nautilus miniature. The model was built half as wide and half as long, but just as high. Even the rivets were "squeezed". This one miniature was shot with a normal lense. If care was taken to insure the Nautilus remained on an even keel, the resulting footage was more than adequate. When "unsqueezed" by anamorphic projection, the image of the Nautilus was stretched to normal proportions. Of course the bubbles looked strange, but no one seemed to mind. The success of this experiment made it possible for the special effects department to make its necessary footage of many of the underwater miniatures simultaniously with principal photography of the actors.
g. My idea has always been that the shark and the aligator were the most terrifying monsters living in the water. I there for combined the scary eyes of the aligator that can watch you even when it is nearly submerged....with the dangerous pointed nose and menacing dorsal fin - its sleek streamlining and its distinctive tail. The discusting rough skin of the aligator is well simulated by the rivets. As Verne insists that the Nautilus drove its way clean threw it's victim, I designed a protective sawtooth spline that started forward at the bulb of the ram and slid around all outjutting structures of the hull. These included the conning tower, the diving planes, and the great helical propellor at the stern.
Artist and Production Designer Harper Goff's film credits include 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 'Fantastic Voyage', 'The Vikings', 'The Great Locomotive Chase', and Disney's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'. Mr Goff died March 3, 1993 at his home in Palm Springs at the age of 81.
There's something out there roaming the Pacific Ocean destroying a
whole lot of shipping and killing a lot of people. The more maritime
the nation, the more losses it's suffering. Jules Verne's story has the
United States of America taking the first crack at finding what's going
on in the Pacific.
On a ship commanded by Ted DeCorsia are two Frenchmen, renowned scientist Paul Lukas and his assistant Peter Lorre. Also along is Kirk Douglas who is crack whaling harpooner.
Of course they meet up with the beast and it's no living thing, but a submarine. This was all new back then, although prototype submarines were used in the Civil War they had limited effectiveness. In fact this particular kind of submarine was something unheard of until the middle of the last century. It's captain is a misanthropic fellow named Nemo, played by James Mason. He's taking it out on the nation's of the world for some personal losses sustained.
His brilliance as a scientist, his refinement also attracts Paul Lukas. But Kirk Douglas just wants to escape because for all of Douglas's carefree philistinism, he sees Nemo as a murderer and a menace. The conflict between both is what drives the story.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea won Oscars for both Special Effects and Art direction. It is probably Walt Disney's most successful live action film ever done, even beating out Mary Poppins dare I say. Even in this day of computer generated effects, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea still holds its own with more modern films.
Kirk Douglas enjoyed the part of Ned Land the harpooner and it's a favorite of his today. He might have made a few more films for Walt Disney but for an incident that took place after the film.
Disney was also at the same time creating his first theme park, Disneyland in Anahem, California. When it was opening he invited Kirk and his family to spend the day there on him and he even agreed to furnish a camera crew to follow the Douglas family around as they enjoyed the park attractions.
So Kirk took his wife and his sons and they had a grand old time and got some free home movies as a souvenir. But Walt Disney kept the negative and the films showed up on his Walt Disney Presents television show. Of course Kirk never got paid for this appearance and neither did any of the rest of his family including young Michael Douglas.
Even though this left a sour taste in Kirk Douglas's mouth as he related in his memoirs, The Ragman's Son, he liked his work in this film very much and the part certainly has the same kind of exuberance we expect from a Kirk Douglas movie. Kirk even gets to sing in the film, a nice little sea chantey called A Whale of a Tale. He even made a record of it and I'm sure if you can find it, the item might be worth a few dollars as a collectible.
Right around the time 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was released the United States Navy launched it's first atomic submarine. In tribute to that most popular of French authors with American audiences, the Navy named the ship the Nautilus. A great tribute to a great writer of fabulous tales of imagination. And Walt Disney couldn't have gotten better publicity had he paid for it.
Don't believe me, I swear by my tattoo.
Disney`s version of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA is rightly remembered for
the classic scene featuring the giant squid , but it should be remembered
for more than that . Captain Nemo is a wonderfully written anti-hero who`s
what would be described nowadays as an environmentalist , but don`t dare
confuse him with being some sort of yogurt knitting tree hugger because this
is a man waging a violent crusade against warmongers and anyone else he sees
fit to exterminate . It`s a really intriguing character study and Nemo is
played superbly by James Mason . Compare Mason`s performance as Nemo to that
of Steven Seagal`s role as ecowarrior Forrest Taft in ON DEADLY GROUND .
Done so ? A laughable contrast isn`t it . Kirk Douglas may disappoint as Ned
Land but his real function is to act as a physical square jawed hero
alongside the academic and somewhat ambigious Professor Arronnax.
I also appreciated the fact that Disney resisted the temptation to invent a child character in order to make the film appeal to children more by way of audience identification , nor is there any sort of mawkish sentiment or frivolity that`s spoiled many a Disney film . In fact this is such an exciting thoughtful adventure if it wasn`t for the presence of a seal I wouldn`t have believed it was a Disney film .
Did I mention there`s a great battle with a giant squid ?
One of the first movies, along with "Shane," that I ever saw as a young
kid that I still watch and enjoy today is this one. One of the reasons
I still enjoy it is the wonderful restoration job someone did in the
latest DVD that was released in 2004.
Of course, it's not as exciting as seeing this on the big screen as a youngster, but it's still entertaining thanks to the intelligent dialog of James Mason, the humor (believe it or not) of Peter Lorre and the good special effects. The submarine is still neat to watch, particularly at night with the green glow to it. I haven't seen anything like it since. I haven't seen a giant squid attacking a boat, either, come to think of it. That still is pretty cool.
I don't find this movie "spectacular" as its reputation but it's still a very worthy addition to any movie buff's collection. It's one of the classics of the '50s that has been revived with this great-looking DVD which also has some interesting extra features.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film begins in 1868 as news of a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon
sweeps the nautical world... Tales of vessels being swiftly destroyed
by this apparition reach the public mind... American government and an
armed frigate is sent to destroy the mysterious 'thing', most of the
time phosphorescent, and infinitely larger and more rapid in its
movements than a whale...
But the monster sinks the frigate and only three survivors find themselves aboard 'a floating island' which inflamed their minds... The three survivors were: a roguish sailor (Kirk Douglas), an oceanic professor (Paul Lukas), and his assistant, Conseil (Peter Lorre).
The three men also find that their host, the enigmatic Captain Nemo (James Mason), is a cultured, hospitable gentleman whose big ambition is to destroy the world, which he despises... His splendid ship, the futuristic Nautilus, is a technological, self-sustaining wonder, enabling its crew to investigate worlds hundreds of fathoms beneath the surface...
In their involuntary roles as prisoner-guests, the trio is invited to tour the wonders of the deep... and the walk freely on the bottom of the sea...
Although the professor and Conseil are content to remain aboard to take advantage of the knowledge gained, the 'prince of harpooners' was eager to escape and get back to his own way of life... Douglas makes his great escape when the Nautilus stops at a lonely island but savage cannibals chase him back to the safety of Nemo's ship...
Seizing every opportunity to get away, Douglas inserts notes containing the location of Nemo's secret island, in bottles and tosses them hopefully into the sea... One of the notes finds its way to the Navy...
'20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' deserves acclaim for its futuristic insight... It is the finest visualization so far of a Jules Verne fantasy...
According to Verne, the Nautilus gathered all the treasures of nature and art, with the artistic confusion which distinguishes a painter's studio...
Kirk Douglas is at his best as the extravagant harpooner, occasionally violent and very passionate when contradicted...
With his uniquely expressive voice, James Mason is brilliant as the dark genius, who put himself beyond the pale of human laws, defying all attempts made against him...
Paul Lukas looks like a very curious intruder, absolutely astounded to pass his time in this mystic garden of the deep, on board the land of marvels...
Peter Lorre is quite funny as the true, devoted servant, who despite his name, never giving advice, even when asked for it...
At one point in the picture Douglas sings "Whale of a Tale," which neatly sums up the whole Disney venture..
The Disney studio's first American-made live-action spectacle remains
one of its best,thanks to James Mason's portrayal of Jules Verne's
anti-hero submarine commander,Captain Nemo,as a misguided Victorian-era
terrorist. Mason brings such feline assurance to the part that he makes
Kirk Douglas' hound-dog overacting as captive harpoonist Ned Land a
forgivable counterpart. Disney milked every promotional angle for the
film's debut which was the studio's first feature to filmed in
widescreen Cinemascope and breathtaking Technicolor. It went on to
become of the top ten highest-grossing pictures of that year,going up
against contenders like "On The Waterfront",not to mention a
horror-film as well intitled "The Creature From The Black Lagoon". It
also went on to win several Oscars for special effects and for its
cimematopgraphy. It was included in the Best Actor category with a
nomination for James Mason's brilliant performance as Nemo.
The film is a classic and it stands behind several other Disney films which include "Old Yeller","The Parent Trap",and also "Mary Poppins".
The DVD version is out on this which includes several batches of goodies including the excerpts from the classic Disneyland TV show cannily plugging the picture,and also includes the theatrical trailer,and interviews with actors Kirk Douglas,James Mason,director Richard Fleischer with footage of scenes where the film was being shot at on locations in Florida and in the Bahamas. The movie itself is a breathtaking achievement and it includes the scene where the submarine the Nautilus rams a ship into the abyss,and the scene where the crew tangles with a bloodthirsty squid,and an encounter with a giant octopus under the depths. See It On DVD in the widescreen format! Rating: 5 stars.
The Walt Disney film of 1954, "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" is nothing
short of a masterpiece within its genre. While comparing it to "Gone With
The Wind" or "Citizen Kane" might be done by others in calling "Leagues" a
'masterpiece', it would be comparing apples to oranges, for this epic, while
not overlong as are most masterpieces, it is completely contained to tell a
gripping story with wonder acting, production values and the special effects
of the day.
It is had to know where to begin to list the wonderful achievements here, especially in adapting a book of almost a thousand pages, much of it filled with endless lists of the fish and fauna of the sea, of which Jules Verne was especially fond. Such was unfilmable, of course, and the script writer, Earl Felton, was wise in paring down the verbosity of the novel, which, of course, was the usual for the prolix Victorian style of Verne's day. From that wonderful opening of the titles shown against lush drapery illuminated by rippling water reflections of the undersea cast upon it, to the beginning of the inspired, majestic score by Paul J. Smith, one is transported to a fantastic time and place and the artistry to come is well intoned. Customarily, the Director is given the lion's share of the credit for a film's success, but here it is an almost perfect melding of the story, the acting and the visuals as well as the music that combine with seeming effortlessness to entertain.
James Mason as Capt. Nemo is superb, with his wonderful bearing and diction lending the aura of both contained madness and yet sympathetic grace to a character who could have been so easily overplayed. Disney wisely selected Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre as the physical foils of Nemo and to provide the comic and action relief. Had this not been done, the intellectual bearings of Nemo and Paul Lukas' Professor Arronax would have overloaded and stilted the film, rather the way they do in the novel. Some take exception to the device of "Esmeralda" the seal, but that too is a needed counterpoint to the otherwise dark theme of the implied mission of the Nautilus: the destruction of warships that spread "man's inhumanity to man." Such is the skill of the spare dialogue in the film that one never is hit over the head with the sermon of the hopelessness and wickedness of war and the nations that sponsor it. This film carries the message of the novel, but it never looses sight of its first purpose, which is to entertain. Even the implied nuclear destruction is not trumpeted, but only alluded to, since such energy source was unknown to Jules Verne in the 19th Century, of course, but was highly topical in the 1950s.
One of the glories of the movie is the marked artistry in all the careful details in the film. It was just then that the USA was planning its first nuclear submarines, the first of which was even named the "Nautilus" in memory of this immensely popular film. But the art director, John Meehan, the production designer, Harper Goff, and the set decorator, Emile Kuri, were never carried away by allusions to then modern technology, but kept faith with the setting of the day, by making the ship a wonderful creature-like form, the interiors a skillful blend of needed science for function, coupled with a lush decor that bespoke not only the Victorian times, but also the sensitivity of man of its genius of design. Look at the touches: the electric iris covering the massive bubble window, the fountain in the captain's drawing room, complete with an artistic pipe organ properly intoning Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D-minor, as most appropriate. Even the uniforms and upholstery are embroidered with the 'N' of Nemo's monogram as are the galloons on the edges of the draperies. The inventiveness of the electric charge upon the hull is also one of the clever devices to invoke the future, yet help make the existence of the undersea ship believable.
Everyone who sees this epic will always remember, the night scene of a hand-to-tentacle fight with a giant squid, as truly unforgettable and most appropriate again, for it was only a few years before that the first complete corpse of such a squid was found in complete form and thereby documented what others had only written of. This film exceeded its class in that day and age, yet even if equal actors could have been found for the earlier versions, they would have been too early to truly depict the vision of Jules Verne's technology of the future.
Some have criticized that the entire novel was not on film, but were the entire book to be filmed, it would exceed five hours, and Disney knows that even with the finest production, a film must be limited to approximately two hours in order to get both an audience willing to sit through it, as well as exhibitors willing to show it. In making a movie, the constraints are much more severe than in writing a novel; a movie is a collaboration of many people and many conflicting desires and egos must be assuaged. The flow of an entertaining story is paramount, since this was never to be a documentary. Each actor's agent works to try to get the maximum time on screen for his client, which gets maximum credit and fee for the actor. The limitations of filming such an imaginative novel also created large costs which the producers would try to show on screen to justify it all to the accountants, since a film is created with the aim of making a profit for the studio and its investors. We must agree that they succeeded in making one of the most interesting and visually spectacular films ever made, whereas the book contained a great deal of unfilmable ichthyology that was more of an excursus into the expertise of Jules Verne than any dramatic device. All in all, I think that were Jules Verne alive in 1954, he would have been well pleased with this celluloid version of his epic story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If one wants to read the best edition in English of Jules Verne's
TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, the edition to turn to is edited
by Mr. Walter Miller, and published by Washington Square Press. Miller
did a wonderful job at showing how the editions of the novel have been
bowdlerized over the last 137 years (it was published in 1870) by
translators who were determined to dampen the
anti-imperialist/anti-British theme of the novel. Miller (who also did
the definitive modern edition of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON) did the
first edition about 1985 and the second edition in the 1990s.
Someone, at the start of the novel, has been attacking various ships on the seven seas, ramming them from underwater. In several cases the ships almost been sunk (in the movie one is blown up). Yet the culprit, from the descriptions of survivors, seems to be a monstrous fish or sea serpent. An expedition is sent out by the U.S. government under a Captain Farragut (Ted De Corsia here), in the brig U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. On board is harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), Professor Pierre Arronax of France (an expert on oceanography - played by Paul Lukas), and Arronax loyal servant Conseil (Peter Lorre). Despite the doubts of Captain Farragut, Arronax is certain it must be a serpent.
Eventually the Lincoln is attacked by the strange creature and Land, Arronax, and Conseil are thrown off the brig and land on the "creature". It turns out to be a submarine boat, and it's owner and navigator is Captain Nemo (James Mason). Although at first willing to sink his boat below the ocean's surface to allow the three men to drown, he changes his mind - but insists that they are now his prisoners. And the three are taken on a cruise of the world's seas by Nemo for the rest of the novel.
Now, it was a novel written in 1870. At that time submarines were experimented with, but with indifferent success. Cornelius Drebbel had built a successful one that was tried in the Thames in the 17th Century. David Bushnell's "Turtle" had tried to sink a British frigate in New York Harbor in 1776. Robert Fulton had designed a successful submarine in 1802, and tried to interest first England and then France in his weapon. In 1859 a French submarine was tried out. Then in 1864 (although it is doubtful if Verne knew about it) the Confederate hand-cranked submarine C.S.S. Hunley successfully sank the U.S.S. Housatonic in the first successful submarine attack in war. The problem was that submarines looked flimsy as opposed to the strong looking frigates and naval surface craft at the time (including early ironclads). Also, to be truthful, there seemed something sneaky about warfare under water.
But Verne took it one step farther - the submarine "Nautilus" is designed for comfort, not only for warfare (more hereafter). It has luxurious accommodations like a parlor with organ, a museum of various nautical curiosities, a library, staterooms for Nemo, his guests, and his crew. So far, in the 108 years since John P. Holland's submarine was bought by the U.S., the idea of a luxury yacht submarine has not caught on yet - particularly the parlor has a thick glass window to allow you to see the creatures of the sea like in a vast fish bowl.
Verne did mention electricity as the key to the motion power of the ship - the film suggests Nemo has discovered a new power to move the engines (i.e. "atomic"). Verne never dealt with atomic power - one of the few examples of a lack of imagination that Verne ever showed. He was a firm believer in modes of propulsion that one could see and feel - hence his attack on H.G.Wells' use of "cavourite" in the FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, which was a chemical based on hydrogen. Verne's moon cannon "the Columbiad" worked with gun-cotton.
The key to the novel was the political attack on imperialism - in particular British. In the attacks of the Nautilus on the ships, it does the worst damage to British based ships. The reason is that Nemo is an ex-Indian Prince named Dakar from the Sepoy Revolt. Unless you read the complete novel you do not realize that the Prince lost his wife and children in the reprisal killings of the Sepoy Revolt, and he and his men are cruising the seas doing damage to the British Empire (financing anti-British activity throughout the empire when they can). The explorations of the seas is secondary to the political reasons for Nemo's actions.
Some of the adventures of the Nautilus and it's crew and passengers are exciting, but now are dismissed as false. The submarine cruised under the ice to reach the South Pole - actually it would not get far due to the Antarctic continent. But in the 20th Century the U.S.S. Nautilus (the first nuclear powered submarine) cruised under the ice to reach the North Pole in the 1950s.
Mason gives a good performance as the tormented Nemo, who is basically a good man but is consumed by hatred (although it is never made clear why). Douglas is good as a happy go lucky (but realistic) sailor, who is determined to escape. Also this film is one of the few where Douglas sings ("A Whale of a Tale"). Peter Lorre does well as Lucas' servant, who gradually realizes that his employer has become besotted by the "learning experience" of staying with Nemo forever - Lucas forgets the danger he and his associates are in. The special effects, for 1954, are first rate - and the film remains quite effective. It is possibly the best film ever made out of a Jules Verne novel.
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