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Around the World in Eighty Days: A review
by Asa Butcher
2010-03-07 09:42:13
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Around the World in Eighty Days
Directed by Michael Anderson
1956, Warner Bros.

In the history of the Academy Awards, who has been the most successful producer? No, it isn't Hal B. Wallis, with an impressive 19 nominations, nor Sam Spiegel, Saul Zaentz or Darryl F. Zanuck, each with three wins; it is Michael Todd, who boasts a 100% success rate on Oscar Night. Okay, he may have only produced one film in his career, but that one film walked away with Best Picture and four other gold statuettes, so, percentage-wise, he tops the list as most successful producer. The film was Michael Anderson's Around the World in Eighty Days.

As ever with my Best Picture reviews, I have to begin by querying whether Around the World in Eighty Days really was the film that embodied the craft of cinema in 1956. Firstly, its fellow nominees were William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion, George Stevens' Giant, Walter Lang's The King and I and Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, while John Ford's The Searchers wasn't even nominated and Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Seven Samurai received its U.S. release in 1956. This was certainly some tough competition and I would declare it worthy had it not been for Giant

Despite your or my opinion concerning its worthiness, the first full-blown screen adaption of Jules Verne's 1873 novel Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours is dazzling, exciting, overwhelming and crammed full of what we now call 'cameos'. Michael Anderson may have the director credit, but it thanks to the tour-de-force of Michael Todd that this film ever made it to the screen. Deemed "unfilmable", Michael Todd begged and borrowed to ensure the birth of this production and it is tragic to know that this is his legacy - Todd died at the age of 50 in a plane crash in 1958.

Filmed in Todd-AO 70 mm, an extremely high definition widescreen film format co-developed by Todd that he described as "Cinerama outa one hole", you must take advantage of the advent of large-screen televisions in order to fully appreciate the work of Lionel Lindon, the film's Academy Award-winning director of photography. It is testament to the combined talents of Anderson, Todd, Lindon and art directors James W. Sullivan, Ken Adam and Ross Dowd that you would never know a large majority of the film was shot on Hollywood sound stages.

Logistically the film is immense: 140 sets built at six Hollywood studios, as well as in England, Hong Kong and Japan, 74,685 costumes were used, the cast and crew flew over 4,000,000 miles, 68,894 extras were used across 13 countries and 90 animal handlers managed the record 8,552 animals, which included sheep, buffalo, donkeys, horses, monkeys, bulls, elephants, skunks and even ostriches. Add to this over 40 cameos by famous actors and actresses, you are looking at a behemoth.

Mike Todd's version of Jules Verne familiar tale is almost faithful to the original novel, albeit with a few Hollywood tweaks and creative additions. Granted, the outright departure from Passepartout as a Frenchman to a Mexican and casting a young Shirley MacLaine as an Indian princess may cause the Vernians to choke on their glass of Muscadet, but to nitpick these minor points in a film made in the 1950s, set in the early 19th century, is to overlook the other glaring cultural insensitivities that will make you wince .

For many familiar with the Verne novel, Phileas Fogg is acknowledged as the primary character and the driving force of the story. However, the casting of Cantinflas, Mexico's most successful actor of the time, as Passepartout resulted in the "Charlie Chaplin of Mexico" stealing the film from David Niven, who was the headliner as Fogg. Cantinflas is simply brilliant, funny and hugely lovable throughout, while his continuous ability to perform stunt after stunt leaves you wondering how the insurance company allowed him such freedom - watch him really bullfight. Around the World in Eighty Days was actually Cantinflas's American film debut and it deservedly earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a musical or comedy.

I have read that Cary Grant was wanted for the lead and I am sure if the film had been made a few years later then Rex "Bloody" Harrison would have been Fogg, but fate and time were kind enough to provide us with the quintessential man to play the renowned globetrotter, Phileas Fogg. Sporting an upper lip that has been starched and exuding Englishness within a hair of stereotype, David Niven brings charm and humour to the role. Cantinflas may have many of the best scenes, Niven delivers the best dialogue: "Madam, will you join me on the verandah? I understand they serve an outstanding lemon squash."

Forget the 2004 travesty that was Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan's Around the World in 80 Days, find a copy of this family adventure and a really large screen then sit back for three hours as you are transported around the world by hot-air balloon, elephant, train, ostrich, boat and more. I also challenge you to spot all of the cameos and then compare your list during Saul Bass' excellent closing credits: Sir Noël Coward, Sir John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Buster Keaton... there are plenty more.

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Lily2010-03-07 14:57:26
Around the world in 80 days (1956) is a treat for young and old. The cast was fantastic and well worth the time to see it.

Rosie2010-03-19 07:35:32
How can I put this? I don't think that the 2004 version of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS was that terrible.

On the other hand, I don't think that the 1956 version was that hot. And I'm still astounded that it won the Best Picture Oscar.

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