Forgotten Film: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
This is the 78th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
Back in 1959 my family moved from Richmond, VA to Fairbanks, AK when my father was transferred by the Army. We had previously lived in Ft. Sill, Ok; Nuremburg, Germany; Ft. Meade, MD; Ft. Knox. KY; and (for a couple of months, Celina, TX). I was 4 years old and living in my 6th home. In 1959 – 1960 I was in the second grade and attended three different grade schools that year in two states. While we were in Fairbanks (September 1959 0 February 1960 when we moved to Eilsen AFB outside Fairbanks) I saw one film at the theater. It was JOURNEY TO THECENTER OF THE EARTH.
This film changed my life, much as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, INVISIBLE INVADERS, and CAROUSEL would in the coming years. I was hooked on science fiction and fantasy films and these were among the earliest.
As I recall (and I have a faulty memory) I went with the family of a friend and they were actually going to see another film but I managed to whine us into JTTCOTE. Not my best moment and (IIRC) I do not think they ever invited me to another film. But we went.
Spectacular color, monsters of enormous size, murder, a vivacious redhead, volcanoes, and a duck! What more could you want.
Professor Sir Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason at his professorial best) receives a small volcanic rock from his student Alec McKuen (a woefully miscast Pat Boone!). Inside the rock is a plum bob belonging to famed explorer Arne Saknussem who 300 years earlier had vanished. This plum bob indicates how one might find a passage leading to the center of the earth. Lindenbrook writes to his colleague Professor Goteborg (Ivan Triesault) in Stockholm asking his opinion of the message. After several weeks he receives information that Professor Goteborg has mysteriously disappeared. It seems he has taken the message to heart and wants to be the first to get to the earth’s core.
Lindenbrook and McKuen arrive in Iceland with barely a day to spare in order to start their journey. But they are assaulted after taking some readings and are deposited in a silo filled with eider duck down and are rescued by Hans Belker (Peter Ronson) who speaks no English. The make their way back to the city and their inn which also houses Professor Goteborg. Investigating his room they find all the supplies that they have been unable to obtain sue to the start of the fishing season. They also find the dead Professor. He has been poisoned.
While puzzling over this predicament, they meet the Professor’s wife, Carla, who is shocked that her husband has died. After some fast negotiations and recriminations, she eventually allows Lindenbrook and McKuen to take her husband’s gear, but only if she can accompany them. Since their crew was to include Hans and since she can speak Icelandic, they allow her to accompany them. Hans is, naturally, bringing his pet duck Gertrude along for comic relief and the occasional burst of animal logic.
But the expedition has competition in the form of Count Saknussem (Thayer David, years before his Dark Shadows roles) who will do anything to claim the titles of the first man to the center of the earth, even if he must kill everyone else. There are false trails, lost travelers, unexpected deaths, lizards disguised as dinosaurs, giant mushrooms and more in store for the crews.
I watched this on TV on a broadcast network since I do not own a copy and as soon as I finished I found it was TCM with no commercials. Sorry me for not checking the schedule.
I still found it to be a fun and exciting film. The color was good. The score was by Bernard Herrmann in the prime of his career. Pat Boone was miscast but I tolerated him. Venerable star Diane Baker was in one her earliest roles and relatively wasted as Pat Boone’s fiancée, Jenny Lindenbrook, the Professor’s niece. The “dinosaurs” were laughable but I still found them fun. I guess some part of me is always seven.
Copies of the film seem to be plentiful and relatively inexpensive. It is probably time to have some fun again. Just do not expect all that Jules Verne wrote to be in here. He did some better scientific knowledge than this displays.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.