By Glenn Dunks
March 5, 2014
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. Hey, whatever. It fits! In honour of this week’s Oscars, we’re looking back on some Best Picture winners.
Considering the 1950s brought such indelible Best Picture winners as All About Eve, On the Waterfront, and The Bridge on the River Kwai, it’s perhaps easy to forget that the Academy also gave their highest honour to a film as frivolous as Michael Anderson’s Around the World in 80 Days. This is an admittedly rather grandly staged adaptation of Jules Verne’s famous novel of the same name that occasionally thrills and delights, but which also reeks of excessive indulgence. Viewing it in a modern context where such gargantuan runtimes are predominantly reserved for the most prestigious of pictures – the 2004 remake with Jackie Chan, for instance, was two-hours – the whole enterprise can’t help but exhaust.
Opening with a smart prologue featuring George Melies’ A Trip to the Moon, Around the World in 80 Days soon sets about telling the tale of Phileas Fogg, who makes a bet that he can, as the title suggests, travel around the world in his hot-air balloon. Throughout his adventures he comes across all sorts of wacky shenanigans, famous actors in cameos, and a wide variety of exotic locales that, for an audience in 1952, would have surely felt far more fantastical than they do today.
Amongst the star-studded cast are David Niven as the intrepid Mr. Fogg, Shirley MacLaine, John Gielgud, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, and Peter Lorre. And then there are the nearly 70,000 extras and 7600 animals (including a sacred cow that eats flowers on cue). This use of real world locations and people certainly amplifies the energetic atmosphere, lending the feature a retro charm that would likely be further multiplied if viewed in its original 70mm format on a big screen.
Its humour is daggy, but has its charms. Likewise, at such a long length, it’s almost impossible to not be charmed by a sequence or two, especially with Victor Young’s Oscar-winning score on top. It is by far too long and has lost a significant amount of its wonder, but spending a rainy Sunday afternoon with Verne’s adventure seeking story is a surprisingly easy, diverting experience.
Around the World in 80 Days is available on Quickflix.