Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Fox

A Joseph M. Schenck Enterprise and Cooga Mooga Film production.

Based on Jules Verne’s popular sci-fi novel, adapted to the screen by Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett, this entertaining adventure was directed by Henry Levin and was one of the most popular pictures of 1959 as a result of its witty screenplay and good acting.

James Mason plays Professor Oliver Linderbrook, a University of Edinburgh scholar, who leads a team of explorers into an extinct volcano in order to reach the center of the earth.  The geologist travels with his student Alec McEwen (played by the singer Pat Boone) to Iceland, where they meet Carla (Arlene Dahl) whose husband had been killed in a similar effort.

Carla joins the expedition, along with a young local resident named Hans (Peter Ronson) and his pet duck.  They begin the adventurous descent, facing obstacles of prehistoric beasts, rock slides, and the evil Count Saknussemm (Thayer David in outrageous turn), who turns out to be the murderer of Carla’s hubby and is now determined to be the first to reach the core of the earth.

The film is well shot in CinemaScope Deluxe color by the lenser Leo Tover, who did amazing location shooting in Carlsbad, Caverns.  By standards of the time, the special effects and production values are good, particularly score by the brilliant composer Bernard Herrmann, better known for his work for Hitchcock (“Vertigo, “Psycho”). 

It’s hard to tell whether the sexual jokes were intentional, but they are sly and fun to behold. The ultimate professional thespian James Mason renders yet another charismatic performance, drawing on his musical voice, caustic humor, and suave conduct. 

The film was nominated for three technical awards, but lost out in each category to William Wyler’s historical epic, “Ben-Hur.”

 

<b>Cast</b>

 

Professor Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason)

Alec McEwen (Pat Boone)

Carla (Arlene Dahl)

Jenny (Diane Baker)

Count Saknussemm (Thayer David)

Hans (Peter Ronson)

Groom (Robert Adler)

Dean (Alan Napier)

Professor Bayle (Alex Finlayson)

Paisley (Ben Wright)

<b>Oscar Alert</b>

 

<b>Oscar Nominations</B>: 3

Art Direction-Set Decoration (color): Lyle R. Wheeler, Franz Bachelin, and Herman A. Blumenthal; Walter M. Scott and Joseph Kish

Sound: Carl Faulkner, sound director, Fox

Special Effects: L.B. Abbott and James B. Gordon, visual; Carl Faulkner, audible

<b>Oscar Awards</b>: None

<b>Oscar Context</b>

In 1959, “Ben-Hur” swept most of the Oscars, winning 11 out of its 12 nominations, thus becoming the most honored film to date.  Significantly it lost the Screenplay Oscar due to debate about who wrote what; in his acceptance speech Best Actor Winner Charlton Heston thanked Christopher Frye, though, like other writers (Gore Vidal among them), he didn’t get credit.  The winner in that category was Neil Paterson for “Room at the Top.”

<b>Credits</b>

Produced by Charles Brackett

Directed by Henry Levin

Screenplay: Charles Brackett and Walter Reich, based on the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Cinematography: Leo Tover

Editors: Stuart Gilmore, Jack W. Holmes

Music: Bernard Herman

Art Direction: Lyle R. Wheeler, Franz Bachelin, and Herman A. Blumenthal; Walter M. Scott and Joseph Kish

Costumes: David Ffolkes

Sound: Carl Faulkner, sound director, Fox

Special Effects: L.B. Abbott and James B. Gordon, visual; Carl Faulkner, audible

Running time: 132 Minutes

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