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.