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Professor Fergusson plans to make aviation history by making his way across Africa by balloon. He plans to claim uncharted territories in West Africa as proof of his inventions worth. Written by
Dennis Kytasaari <email@example.com>
I remember when this film came out in 1962. It was one of the first motion pictures that used television to advertise it's scenes and cast and excitement (including it's theme song). And the film did moderately well if at all.
Jules Verne had written several failed plays (boulevard farces) and a few short stories before this novel was written. Taking advantage of current interest in African exploration (the brouhaha regarding Burton and Speke and the source of the Nile - see THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON - as well as the discoveries of the first gorilla by French explorer Paul du Chaillu), Verne joined this to the growing interest in ballooning, and man's conquest of the air. The book was Verne's first published novel, and it turned out to be a success. Ironically, despite it's title mentioning "balloons", most people now think that Verne's ballooning novel is AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. While that is a better written novel (and a more frequently read one) there is no scene in it of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout flying in a balloon. In fact, the first time the heroes of AROUND THE WORLD met ballooning was in the 1957 film. Mike Todd invented the sequence (with an assist by his script writers) to remind the movie audience of Verne as father of modern science fiction.
For a first novel FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON is okay. Professor Samuel Ferguson and two companions decide to do some explorations of Africa by flying a balloon from Zanzibar (where Burton and Speke took off from) and flying westward. They succeed in crossing the continent, and their observations about Africa (it's peoples, flowers, fauna, etc.) mingle with various adventures by the balloonists. In comparison with later novels by Verne it is fairly tame - it is hard to believe he wrote A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1864) only one year later. He was improving by then, but he had to start somewhere.
The movie, despite many nice performances like Hardwicke as Ferguson, Red Buttons as a newspaper owner's spoiled son, Fabian, Peter Lorre (as a reformed villain), and Richard Haydn is not much better than a cute kid's film that gave employment to many character actors. It is nice to see Herbert Marshall in his last role as England's Prime Minister (Lord Palmerston?). He was not looking well, but he did give a nice brief performance - in fact it was necessary to help the pitiably weak plot of the novel. Fergusson is asked to assist the British Government in preventing a group of slavers from planting their flag on some important African territory - by planting the British flag there first. Fergusson agrees to this, and from time to time we actually see the slavers (led by Mike Mazurki) headed by land to the critical land spot. In the end they are defeated.
Because of the infantile direction of the script (Lorre has lines like "Kismet, we are doomed!") the film is never above serviceable for entertaining kids. It remains in my memory only because it was the first film I saw advertised on television that I remember. But I have never run back to the television to watch it on any rerun - if it has had any rerun. For all the famed character actors in it one feels that they wasted their talents on a slightly acceptable turkey.
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