I still remember the first time I saw Around the World in 80 Days.
It was on television, and my mother allowed me, a mere lad of 8 or 9, to
stay up way past my bedtime to see the end. She told me that I would
be asleep before it was over, but she was wrong. The farther they
traveled the more excited I became. Though I was distinctly disappointed
that they never went to Africa, the film piqued my imagination. Here
werescenes from all over the world, adventure and suspense all rolled into
one. What a great movie.
At the time, I didn't realize how celebrated it was. I didn't
know that it had won five Oscars or that it did good business at the box
office. I just know that I wanted to see what was going to happen
next. Now Warner Brothers has released this critically acclaimed
and popular film in a two disc special edition. How does the movie
stand up after all these years?
Based on a novel by Jules Verne, the movie is set in 1872 and features
Phileas Fogg (David Niven) as a rich, eccentric, British gentleman who
lives his life by the clock. He has his breakfast at precisely 8:24
every morning and he always eats the same menu. He expects things
to always be on his exacting schedule, and consequently goes through valets
as quickly as the agency can send them over. Having lost his last
aide, the office sends over a new man, the jack-of-all-trades; Passepartout
(wonderfully played by the Mexican comedian Cantinflas.)
Fogg's favorite pastime is to play Whist at his club. In the middle
of a game one evening, someone remarks that it would be impossible to circumnavigate
the globe in three months. Fogg states that it not only would be
possible, but that a determined man could do it in less. One needs
only a mere eighty-days to complete the task. When the members scoff
at such a ludicrous idea, Fogg puts his money where his mouth is and wagers
the gentlemen the ?20,000 he has on deposit at the Bank of London.
Accepting the wager and setting the terms, Fogg agrees to start the clock
running immediately. Then promptly sits down to finish the card game.
Returning home a short while later, Phileas informs his new valet that
they will leave for an around the world trip in ten minutes. He then
takes piles of cash from a wall safe, deposits it in a carpetbag, and the
pair catch the night boat to Paris.
Thus begins their journey. Over the course of their trip, the
two run into all sorts of problems and inconveniences. From little
things like trains running late, to larger problems like Indian attacks
and being stranded in the jungle. One other wrinkle is that the Bank
of England was robbed days before Fogg's departure. His leaving London
at a moments notice raises the brows of a detective, Mr. Fix (Robert Newton,)
who takes it upon himself to follow after Fogg and arrest him. Constantly
trying to slow down Fogg's travels so he can get an arrest warrant, Fix
throws quite a few wrenches into Phileas' travel plans.
This movie is fun to watch, but it's more of a travelogue with a little
bit of adventure thrown in than anything else. There are many long,
beautiful shots of the scenery from around the world while Victor Young's
wonderful music plays. And the places Phileas visit play as much of a part
in the movie as the actors do.
But while this is an enjoyable movie that I still like, it is far from
prefect. There really isn't any character development in the film
at all. Fogg starts out punctual and inscrutable, and he ends up
that way too. You never really get to know the people or what drives
them. Everyone one who appears is a two-dimensional character, and
most of them are not that interesting. Shirley MacLaine's role as
Princess Aouda basically called for her to dress up in different colorful
outfits and stand in front of the camera. I would have liked a few
more details about the people that I was watching, and what made them tick.
But none were coming.
The film will appear a little dated to today's audiences. While
the quickly changing scenery and locations were astounding to me as a young
boy over a quarter of a century ago, I'm afraid that today's audiences
will not be as easily impressed. The action scenes are often very
short, (with the exception of the bull fight scene that went on too long,)
and the plot is very simple. Just get from place to place.
The tension doesn't work very well either. The scenes that are
supposed to be nail biting fall a little flat. The director is never
able to ratchet the suspense up enough to create more than mild interest.
Don't get the impression that the movie is bad, because it isn't.
David Niven played the ever so proper British gentleman to a tee. Never
getting flustered no matter what the situation. His unflappable calm
turned into something akin to a running gag. Seeing his calm exterior
in every situation was great fun. Shirley MacLaine wasn't the best
choice for the role of the Indian Princess Aouda. She doesn't look
anything like a native of India. But she does an adequate job of
looking attractive in various costumes, though her character didn't really
have much of a part.
The best part of this movie may be all the guest stars that make appearances.
There are a huge number of movie personalities who have cameo roles in
the film, and it is great fun trying to see how many of them you can spot.
Since the movie was filmed almost 50 years ago, many of the popular stars
of the time have faded from memory, and the rest look much younger than
I remembered them. If you look you can see such stars as Red Buttons,
Buster Keaton, Cesar Romero, Charles Boyer, Charles Coburn, Frank Sinatra,
George Raft, Gilbert Roland, Glynis Johns, Joe E. Brown, John Carradine,
Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Peter Lorre, Red Skelton, Reginald Denny,
Ronald Colman, Sir John Gielgud, and Trevor Howard, just to name a few.
The commentary track does a good job of pointing out people you may have
missed. I consider myself a film buff, and I was surprised by how
many I let slip by.
The cinematography was breathtaking to behold. Lionel Lindon's
camerawork made the film; it would have been a dull and lifeless wreck
otherwise. The sharp and colorful images of elephants walking beside
a train track, a buffalo stampede, and majestic mountains made the adventure
seem real. The movie is worth watching just for his amazing work.
Likewise the music, which plays a large part in the movie, was excellent.
Victor Young's score, for which he won an Academy Award, was very full
and strong. His music set the tone for a lot of the movie, and was
a perfect accompaniment to the many travelogue like scenes that appear
in the movie. Like all good movie soundtracks, Young's composition
manages to enhance the visuals while not distracting from them.
Though the movie may be dated somewhat, it is still a wonderfully fun
romp around the globe. Sure there isn't a lot of plot of character
development, but that's not what this movie is about. It is a spectacle;
a grand colorful movie that provides three hours worth of entertainment.
On that level, it still succeeds.
Unlike many two-disc special editions this movie
is split over the two discs. They properly split the movie at the
The remastered audio sounds very good. They used the full soundstage
in the 5.1 mix, sending a lot of the background music to the rear speakers.
This surrounded the viewer with sound and really made the music come alive.
The dialog was limited to the front speakers but good use was still made
of the left, right and center channels. There were many times when
people were speaking from off camera and their voice would come from the
left front speaker, only to emerge from the front speaker when the person
was on camera.
The sound quality was also excellent. The brass section of the
orchestra was powerful yet crisp. You could distinguish the different
instruments easily and all of them from the tubas to the piccolos sounded
clear. There were a few occasions when I felt that the music was
mixed too loudly. It usually occurred when there was no dialog right
after a scene transition. The music would be blaring. Aside
from that single quibble, it was a very good sounding set. There
are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. and also a 2.0 French language
The anamorphic widescreen image was excellent, though not perfect.
There were occasional dirt and spots on the print that wasn't removed,
and there was a very light moiré effect that was only noticeable
in large fields of a single color. In these instances, there would
be vertical bands where the shade changed slightly. This was subtle
and not distracting, but it was present. Aside from that, the picture
was breathtaking. The Technicolor image was amazing, with brilliant
colors that were bright, vivid and accurate. The blacks were solid black,
and there was good detail even in the shadows. The lines were sharp
and the contrast was excellent. A superb picture only marred by slight
Introduction by Robert Osborne: Turner
Classic Movie's host Robert Osborne give an introduction to the film, and
also to each of the special features on the discs. His comments,
like the ones he gives on TCM, serve to set up the bonus material and give
a little background. They are optional.
Commentary by Brain Sibley:
BBC Radio's Brian Sibley provides a very good commentary to the movie.
He talks about the way the film was shot and mentions some of the difficulties
that were encountered. The most useful and interesting aspect of
his commentary was when he pointed out all of the guest stars that make
cameos. Not only did he point them out, but he also gave a brief
synopsis of their careers and what they were famous for. The delivery
was a little stilted and wooden, as if he was reading his comments from
a script, but he provided a lot of information about the movie. This
is an interesting and insightful commentary.
A Trip to the Moon (1902):
This Georges Méliès film was the first time that a Jules
Verne novel was made into a film. An excerpt is shown in the prologue
to the feature film, and the entire 13-minute film is presented here.
Narration and a string section accompany this silent movie. The former
gets a little irritating since the narrator just describes what is happening
on the screen, but it doesn't ruin the picture totally and he does explain
some things that modern viewers might not understand.
Outtakes: Over fifteen minutes
worth of footage that didn't make it into the film. These eleven
scenes are silent with music from the movie soundtrack to accompany them.
Stills Gallery: An eleven-minute
reel of production stills.
Theatrical Trailers: Trailers for
the 1956 original release and the 1983 re-release of the film.
Commentary by Brain Sibley continues.
Around the World of Mike Todd:
This is a 1968 biography of Mr. Todd written by his son Michael Todd Jr.
and hosted by Orson Welles. Many of his colleagues reminisce about
his life as Welles relates his past. This is a nice show, and I was
especially glad to hear Elizabeth Taylor relate how she and Todd got together.
She shows off the engagement ring he gave her with its 29 7/8-carat diamond.
"Because" as Todd told her, "30 would have been vulgar."
Highlights from the Los Angeles Premiere:
There was a huge premier for the movie in Los Angeles of course, and two
minute reel of the stars attending a preshow party are shown here.
There was no soundtrack to the footage, so music from the show was put
Highlights from the 1957 Academy Awards Ceremony:
Around the World in 80 Days won five awards out of the eight that it was
nominated for including Best Picture. This is the after the ceremony
press Q & A session where Michael Todd and his wife Elizabeth Taylor
talk about how it felt to win the awards.
Highlights for the Playhouse 90 production
of Around the World in 90 Minutes: This is a 45-minute
segment from the famous television show. Walter Cronkite hosts the
1800 people party that Michael Todd threw to celebrate the first anniversary
of the opening of Around the World in 80 Days. This live event in
Madison Square Garden was quite a spectacle. With had palomino horses,
elephants, clowns, and marching bands it was more of a circus than a party.
The interviews with the stars and coverage of the party were interspersed
with staged comedy bits illustrating how the movie was filmed and some
of the problems Todd encountered. I actually didn't care for this
that much. It was spectacle without any reason behind it. Watching
a lot of people watching a marching band just isn't that exciting.
Spain Greets a Lonely Envoy:
A 30 second newsreel covering Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Todd when they
arrive on Madrid while on a European tour.
While Around the World in Eighty Days may not be a great movie,
it is a good movie, and a great spectacle. The color and sound
on this DVD set are both excellent, and the extras are icing on the cake.