Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

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Jules Verne brought us wonderful stories, and Hollywood has both good and bad luck adapting them. This 1959 adaptation is one of the best, and still a classic which people never get tired of seeing. The main cast is small, James Mason as Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook, a genius geologist who does not care for the fripperies and little details of fashion and entertaining the people of his class in Scotland are so worried about. He is all about the science, and even his housestaff scolds him when he gets lost in his work. Dr. Lindenbrook’s ward is his niece, Jenny (Diane Baker). Jenny also is the fiancee’ of Lindenbrook’ student,
Alexander ‘Alec’ McKuen (Pat Boone). McKuen is often doing whatever he can to gain the professor’s approval so he can impress him and make himself look better in Lindenbrook’s eyes. He is torn between devotion to his science and to his intended bride, but when he comes across a an unusual rock in a curiosity shoppe, he brings it to the professor. The rock is a igneous sample native to the volcanoes in Italy, but its weight is way too heavy. The professor takes the rock to his lab, and due to a small explosive accident, he finds a plumbob inside the rock with three notches on it. The plumbob is made from one of the heaviest rocks on Earth, one native to Iceland. The mystery is, how does a rock from Iceland pop out of a volcano in Italy?

The professor decides to take an expedition to Iceland to find out why this happened after consulting with a colleague from Sweden, Professor Göteborg. In Reykjavik, things get even more crazy, as it turns out another geologist wants in on the game, Count Saknussem. Count Saknussem claims to be a descendant from the explorer, Arne Saknussem, that first theorised there might be a lost world inside the Earth. Later Professor Göteborg is found dead by poisoning, just as his wife, Carla Göteborg (Arlene Dahl) comes to join him. After much deliberation, Carla Göteborg joins the team of Lindenbrook, McKuen, and Hans Belker (Peter Ronson), a big strapping local young man whom has been hired on as a valet. She has come along to represent her late husband’s name. Also joining the team is Gertrude, Hans’ pet duck.

The story is simple, but intriguing as we watch the team explore the depths of the Earth, using Arne Saknussem’s notch marks as a guide. Even then, they are not alone, and they are being plagued by mayhem in the form of Count Saknussem. They encounter earthquakes, rockslides, and other general geological phenomena along the way, and find all kinds of colourful and dangerous surprises.

This movie never gets old with its historic setting, and James Mason is the perfect Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook, but the only weak part I found in this movie was the casting of Pat Boone as Alec McKuen. Surely there was some young well-known British actor that could have done better. It seems Sean Connery was in the process of making Darby O’Gill and the Little People at the time, so there you go. Arlene Dahl was ever the brilliant and fiery redhead widow as Carla Göteborg, and Hans and Gertrude made so some good laughs. Celebrate Jules Verne’s birthday this week by watching one of the best adaptations of Journey to the Center of the Earth.

I give this film a Musing review of ★★★★★☆