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Sunday, December 30, 2012

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959)

Good fun, though not quite so much as that poster promises! (Click to enlarge it.) The template was Disney’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA/’54 which revealed untapped profit in first-class Sci-Fi family adventure pics. James Mason again plays an eccentric genius type, but a nicer one (the film had been planned for the ailing Clifton Webb). He discovers a tunnel leading 20,000 leagues into the Earth, bringing along Grad Student Pat Boone who systematically sheds his clothes all thru the film until his original outfit resembles a pair of Bermuda shorts . . . and nothing else. And there’s blond beefcake, too, in the pleasing form of Icelandic athlete Peter Ronson in his one & only film role. Also present for the descent is Arlene Dahl as the comely widow of a rival explorer. She offers good company, a bit of turn-of-the-last-century sexual politics and yet another striptease. (Don’t worry, it’s just her corset.) Henry Levin megs in a lively fashion unknown from his later work and there’s a better than expected script from Walter Reisch & film producer Charles Brackett that finds room for comic relief from a duck named Gertrude between the scary underworld culs-de-sac. Most of the effects remain spritely & imaginative, though unconvincing process work fails yet again to turn small reptiles into fierce pre-historic creatures. But a bit of posh location shooting back at the University bookends the pic with some real pomp & circumstance for a handsome finish. Especially in the fine restoration now available. Check out the pre-restoration comparison in the Extras to see just how bad things had gotten.

DOUBLE-BILL: There’s plenty of good-to-awful Jules Verne adaptations to pick from, but why not go for a CD of Bernard Herrmann’s phenomenal score. Heard on its own, it’s an unexpectedly somber, powerful affair that points to a far more serious film, yet works great in this more lighthearted context. Listen toward the end when a huge serpent wakes up and Herrmann references a touch of Fafner the Dragon from Wagner’s SIEGFRIED. Decca once had a suite from this score on a Phase 4 re-release CD called Great Film Music with Herrmann conducting a selection from his own fantasy films.

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