Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#436. Mysterious Island (1961)

Directed By: Cy Endfield

Starring: Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan

Tag line: "A world beyond imagination! Adventure beyond belief!"

Trivia:  Producer Charles H. Schneer claimed that he chose this story after reading an article stating that Jules Verne's "Mysterious Island" was the most-looked-at book at public libraries

Any film featuring Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation is worth checking out, but I wasn’t ready for how complete a motion picture Mysterious Island was going to be. Initially expecting little more than the usual Harryhausen magic, I instead was treated to a very pleasant surprise.

Three Union soldiers are being held in a Confederate prison during the waning days of the American Civil War. One of them, Capt. Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig), devises a plan by which he and his two companions, Pvt. Herbert Brown (Michael Callan) and Cpl. Nugent (Dan Jackson), will escape with the help of a hot air balloon the Confederates have tied down in their compound. Despite being forced to bring a New York war correspondent (Gary Merrill) and a Confederate soldier named Pencroft (Percy Herbert) along for the ride, the escape goes off without a hitch, and after a few days in the air, the five land on a remote island, where they hope to survive until a boat can be built to carry them back to civilization. Things get a bit more chaotic, however, when two women, Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece, Elena (Beth Rogan), adrift since their boat sank, also wash up on shore. Together, the seven face not only the difficulties of adjusting to life on an uncharted tropical island, but find they must also do battle with some amazing creatures in the process, everyday animals that live in the surrounding jungle and have grown to hundreds of times their normal size! 

Of course, the highlight of the film is Ray Harryhausen’s animation (the battle with the giant crab is exciting, and the sequence where the humongous bees wall Herbert and Elena up in their honeycomb is really quite brilliant), yet I found Mysterious Island actually worked on many levels, even when the special effects weren’t on-screen. The hot air balloon escape that kicks the movie off is extremely tense and well-executed, and the overall tale of survival on the island, including the hunt for food, was also engaging. It literally seemed as if there was no end to this wonderful story, which, before it's through, also provides a glimpse at an underwater civilization, as well as a face-to-face meeting with the legendary Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom), giving us a first-hand look at his world-famous submarine, The Nautilus

This is a good all-around movie, finely acted and charmingly told from start to finish. With the promise of adventure around every corner and the fine animation of Ray Harryhausen tying it all together, Mysterious Island will surely surprise you as well.


SJHoneywell said...

Back in the day, those who lived around Chicago (or otherwise got "superstation" WGN) could watch a Sunday-afternoon movie show called "Family Classics." On the show, host Frazier Thomas would introduce a family-friendly movie, talk about it for a minute while sitting in an armchair a la Alistair Cooke, and then show the film.

There weren't a ton of movies WGN had access to, so they'd re-run the same movies over and over. Journey to the Center of the Earth, for instance, popped up at least once a year. So did Mysterious Island, and I never missed it when it was on. Few other films remind me so much of my childhood as this.

DVD Infatuation said...

Thanks for sharing...that's a great story!

I'm from Philly, but we did get WGN as part of our cable package back in the late 80's / early 90's. I never did catch the FAMILY CLASSICS show, but now I'm wishing I had.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Wow nice. I'll have to track this one down. Superdynamation lol