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The movie that won the Best Picture of 1956, beating out, of all
things, Giant, is a somewhat bloated extravaganza (see It's A Mad Mad
Mad Mad World for another example of this) that crams celebrity after
celebrity while making us try to pay attention to the plot, an
adaptation of Jules Verne's novel.
Speaking of Verne, for those of you who don't know who he is, we spend a rather needless 12 minutes of the first part of the movie exploring his life.. actually scratch that, the only thing we actually get to know is that he wrote 'Trip to the Moon", and we also get to see the 1902 film in it's entirety! Why, I'm not 100 percent sure, as the accompanying film has nothing at all to do with that film.
Anyways, the actual film details Phinneas Fogg, played by David Niven and his resolvement of a little bet he and his mates make down at the Reform club. The bet? Yes, go around the world in 80 days! So accompanied with his faithful manservant, Passepartout (played by the fabulous Cantinflas) he proceeds to do so. We follow them as they go from one exotic country to another, and most of the cinematography is great, but this is mostly spot-the-celebrity here.. Is that Buster Keaton as a train conductor? Was that Frank Sinatra as a saloon pianist? Look! It's Marlene Dietrich! And on and on it goes. Probably the funniest thing here is seeing Shirley Maclaine play an Indian Princess. I mean what were they thinking? The whole movie is not bad, it's 3 hours, but it goes by quickly. And please stay for the credits, they're quite possibly the best part of the movie.
A previous commentator closed by saying, "[O]ne of the most satisfying films
ever made." I could not agree more. Michael Todd was far from a nice man,
but his contribution to world cinema was assured with this one obra
I saw it a couple of times in the 1950s as a boy and walked on air afterward. When the Victor Young score was issued on 33 r.p.m., it was my second "classic" record. AROUND THE WORLD was re-released in 1968 for theatres which did not have the Todd-AO sound system or the wrap-around screen, so ten years on I went (same spring as 2001) wondering what my "mature" response would be . . . and had my breath taken away. The romance! I returned on closing night a week later unable to let it go.
There are a very few movies I refuse to view on the "small screen." AROUND THE WORLD is one of them, so accordingly I have not seen it in over thirty years, but if I do it will be boyhood again for a few hours.
When I was in highschool in 1956 I went with my friend to see Around the
World in 80 Days on the big screen in a theater that had a really big screen
not a little multiplex screen.
We were really thrilled with its' big screen, big budget lavishnous. This
afternoon I saw it again after 44 years. I saw it on my 35 inch TV on one
of those premium stations but it was not in widescreen and half the picture
was missing. Also what might have been funny 44 years ago was not very
funny anymore. That overly long bullfight scene almost put me to sleep.
I think that back in those days producers thought that longer meant better.
A good editor could have turned this from a boring overly long movie into a
nice tight 2 hour movie. I couldn't wait for it to end. Maybe someday a
DVD will come out in the original aspect ratio and I will rent it.
One of the most overrated films of the '50s, the pleasant but undistinguished "Around the World in Eighty Days" edged "Giant" for the Best Picture Oscar of 1956 in one of Oscar's great injustices. George Stevens won an Oscar for his direction of "Giant," yet as one cynic of that time put it, "How could '80 Days' lose if everybody in it voted for it?" A recent viewing of both films verifies that "Giant" has withstood the test of time; "Around the World in Eighty Days" has not.
This is the kind of film you see when you're young and remember with fondness for the rest of your life. Based on the Jules Verne story of an English gentleman who takes his manservant around the world with him in order to try to win a wager he has made to a fellow member of his London club, it combines charm with warmth, humanity and a sense of adventure. David Niven is perfectly cast as the perfect English gentleman abroad. Needless to say, the film was made long before Hollywood decided that the only role for an Englishman was that of nasty villain! The supporting cast is wonderful too. Of course this is not a great film in the accepted sense, but it never set-out to be, and that is part of its charm! Just enjoy it.
This monstrously overblown 'entertainment' didn't just win the Oscar as
the year's Best Picture but was also chosen by that august body, The
New York Film Critic's Circle; it was hardly their finest hour. It's a
producer's movie rather than a director's, (the producer was that
showman Mike Todd), and he assembled a massive cast of 'stars' to
appear in cameo roles to boost the film's box-office appeal and he made
it in his own spectacular widescreen format, Todd-AO. Certainly
everything about it was big and you felt like you were taking 80 days
to watch it.
The main parts of Phileas Fogg, the intrepid gentleman-adventurer, and his man-servant, Passepartout, went to David Niven and the Mexican actor, Cantinflas. Niven was actually very good considering his role never really amounted to more than being host in a large-scale travelogue, while Cantinflas was as annoying as foreign actors can be when cast as comic foils in large-scale 'international' productions. Perhaps the worst piece of casting was that of Shirley MacLaine as an Indian Princess, a performance just marginally less insulting than those of Peter Sellers in "The Millionairess" and Alec Guiness in "A Passage to India".
Lionel Lindon's photography ensures that it's consistently easy on the eye; otherwise all it proves is that the world's a big place and who would want to spend 80 days in this company going round it.
Well, this film simply is a world wind balloon ride, nothing like your
modern day whilrwind baloney rides and that's what I enjoyed most about
it: it's simplicity and quiet elegant charm. It's more like a
travelogue that treks the globe highlighting the wonders of the world
and the stereotypical elements and characters. But then, right there
you have to check yourself when you critique it like that, because if
you're going to fail to place it in context and in its time, one could
even fault Jules Verne's original work for being banal.
So, let's just say that the film through no fault of its own, but rather because of the whole conceptualisation of stereotypes and expected ideas pertaining to the world we live in (e.g. no surprises regarding bisons in America, circus troupes in japan, bullfights in Spain, etc.) that we have now kind of inevitably render a sense of dated backwardness to the film. Yet, let's contextualise it, for technical aspects of the film were superb, the use of set design was phenomenal for one. To recreate on an epic scale the junks of China, the bullrings of Spain and to pat down even the costumes of the 19th Century Colonial era took great effort.
Sure the film was considered big budget material with a $6 million budget but hey, they had to pay for Frank Sinatra, Buster Keaton, a made-up Shirley Maclaine (spray tans didn't even exist then...) and all the celebrity cameos didn't they! Also, even though I was watching a poor quality transfer version (not quite the 1992 Disney re-transfer so hyped about), I found myself gripped by the way in which the script stayed relatively true to the concept of Phileas Fogg (the pedantic timekeeper in true colonial gentleman form), Passpertout (of whom Cantinflas the actor really stole the scenes in this film) and really brought some engaging scenes and panoramic views (not literally for me of course) unseen in film at the time.
The film also serves as quite the time machine-like portal for me now that I've watched it in 2005, where just analysing how films were made and structured (the naievete of it all, etc) in 1956 is as intriguing as watching the content itself. Truly, its main flaw is that it watches as much like a modern day travelogue, simply glossing over the intrinsic sense of adventure and threat or thrills even in the most parts, that really glued the Verne original. There was the sense that the storyline could have better been adapted to screenplay such as in the scene where they rescued the Indian Princess. It could have been filmed to be more exciting, as was the part where Fogg too easily uses deduction to merely relink with Passpertout when it could have been done much more accurately and with twists.
Nonetheless, the best part of this film is that inasmuch as it may not be the perfect adaptation or as entertaining, or even worthy of being compared flawlessly with the original book, it still retains the fundamental touch. What is that? Well, as a fan of the classic, I've always felt Around the World in 80 Days was the definitive guide to being a traveller, whether a universal one, a comfortable one, a backpacker or a thrill-seeker. No matter how one strayed away or lacked story elements, or over dramatised it (i.e. the Pierce Brosnan Mini-Series version), it could never be badly done because it is a story that is based on the universal fact of travel and adventure.
I saw this film in a theater when it first came out, and enjoyed it
immensely, but then I was only 8 years old at the time. I saw it in a
theater just ten years later, and was surprised to see how dated it
already looked. First of all, it has to be seen in it's entirety to be
fully appreciated, and all later releases eliminated the silent movie
prequel, and most of the butler's exciting bike ride through London.
Not until the VHS version, and now DVD can we fully appreciate the film
Basically an excuse to make a widescreen epic, with the new gimmick of major star cameos, the plot is totally "tongue in cheek" with clichés throughout. Cantinflas is totally, politically incorrect today, but exactly what the audiences expected during the racial stereotyping of that era.
A curious blend of location footage, and studio sets, with occasional strange visual shorthand, the movie still looks good today although the plot and casting reeks of standard (cliche) Hollywood formula.
One of the lasting highlights is Victor Young's fine music score which made a great LP record, and sounds even better on a CD. The widescreen process, Michael Todd's own TODD-AO, exhibits it's early weaknesses until it was perfected later (lots of distortion in places); and some shots show a rather poor light distribution (the opening shot of the British band marching across the screen, and many of the bullfight scenes).
An interesting "nostalgia trip down memory lane"...thanks Michael Todd and rest in peace... (His last film, he died in a plane crash 2 years after it's release).
Update: October 2010. After purchasing and reviewing the 2004 2 disc set, I have developed a more forgiving attitude. First, seeing the entire film as originally released and in wide screen makes it much more appealing than all the cut versions through the years. And the passage of time has made the original conception much more apparent and admirable. Good job Mike Todd...RIP.
I watched this movie as a Saturday matinée (rerelease) as a kid and
will tell you it was funny, but not as funny as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad,
Mad World which came almost a decade later with its Cinerama
screenings. Cantiflas was a big Mexican star and I remember his name
being plastered all over the place in the Mission District in San
Francisco. His performance in this movie was excellent and should have
been nominated for an Oscar. He did win a Golden Globe for best actor.
Watching it again about forty years later was still fun, but this time I was watching for cameos and the locations it was shot. The movie is an example of great family entertainment from the 50s (saw it the first time in the 60s). Jules Verne's imaginative story is pretty much straight-forward. I saw it on widescreen DVD which made it a real treat. The biggest treat was at the end for me. I have been reading about the genius and first great title designer Saul Bass and his capture of Around the World in 80 Days was absolutely awesome to watch. It's a movie within a movie.
Based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name, the movie is an
enjoyable adventure that the whole family can watch. David Niven put on
a wonderful performance as wealthy Phileas Fogg, the staunchly English
adventurer who wagers with his friends at the Reform Club that he can
travel around the world in 80 days - not an easy task in 1872, when the
movie is set. From that point on, we follow Fogg's adventures with his
valet Passepartout (Cantinflas) as they battle against time to win the
There's a good use of humour throughout the movie. In particular, I enjoyed several scenes which demonstrate the English insistence on tea time, whatever the circumstances. While perhaps not culturally accurate, the movie also tries to give a flavour of the places that Fogg visits on his journey. So we see a Spanish bullfight, an Indian religious procession, a Chinese dragon dance, an American election and a fight against the "redskins" during a train trip from San Francisco to New York. All in good fun, and all enjoyable. There are also a number of cameos included (Buster Keaton, Frank Sinatra, John Gielgud among others) so keep an eye on who you're watching.
The movie did slow to a crawl in a few places, mind you (I particularly think of the length of time we had to watch Fogg and Passepartout doing nothing in particular in the balloon.) However, overall the movie was quite enjoyable, if a little long at almost three hours. I don't know if this is an integral part of the movie or was just included on the version I saw, but this was worth watching if only for the first ten minutes or so, in which a narrator spoke about Jules Verne and then narrated the wonderful movie from the early 1900's based on Verne's story "A Trip To The Moon" as a lead-in to "... 80 Days."
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