Henry Levin / US / 1959 / 129mins
Available on Blu-Ray Now
God bless Jules Verne the French adventure writer, who died in 1905. Fifty years later his works were out of copyright and Hollywood came calling with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days. Journey to the Center of the Earth is a glorious Boys’ Own escapade of exploration. It used to be one of those matinees that would be shown on TV every Christmas because it’s a ripping story and good all-round family entertainment.
At Victorian Edinburgh University professor Lindenbrook (James Mason) hatches a plan for an audacious search for the earth’s core but his Swedish rival Göteborg is about to steal a march until he is found murdered. His widow (Arlene Dahl) agrees to donate all his supplies and steam-punk equipment on the proviso that she is allowed to come too (a woman? surely not!). There’s also the professor’s assistant (teen singing idol Pat Boone) – the bad Scottish accents are an added treat – and a giant blond Swede who is brought in as muscle with his pet duck (brought in for comic relief).
The problem is that someone else has started before them. The probable the killer of Göteborg: sibilant shyster Count Saknussemm (Thayer David).
What follows include death-defying whirlpools, active volcanoes, crystal caves and out-of-control boulders (it’s easy to see where Indiana Jones came from). The spirit of Shackleton and Hillary are alive and well, it seems. The special effects aren’t half bad (even if the giant monster with a 20 foot tongue is clearly a real lizard photographed close-up). The Bernard Herrmann score is very effective and the pace and suspense is kept up throughout. The excellent acting, particularly from Mason, helps make the hokum believable. And although this is not a great classic movie it’s tremendous fun and sure to brighten up any wet Saturday or Boxing Day afternoon.