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Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

  • Review: *** (out of ****)
  • Starring: David Niven, Cantinflas, Finlay Currie, Robert Morley, Ronald Squire, Basil Sydney, Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Harcourt Williams, Martine Carol, Fernandel, Charles Boyer, Evelyn Keyes, Jos Greco, Luis Domingun, Gilbert Roland, Cesar Romero, Alan Mowbray, Robert Newton, Cedric Hardwicke, Melville Cooper, Reginald Denny, Ronald Colman, Robert Cabal, Shirley MacLaine, Charles Coburn, Peter Lorre, George Raft, Red Skelton, Marlene Dietrich, John Carradine, Frank Sinatra, Buster Keaton, Tim McCoy, Joe E. Brown, Andy Devine, Edmund Lowe, Victor McLaglen, Jack Oakie, Beatrice Lillie, John Mills, Glynis Johns, Hermione Gingold, Edward R. Murrow
  • Director: Michael Anderson
  • Screenplay: James Poe, John Farrow, S.J. Perelman (Novel: Jules Verne)
  • Length: 183 min.
  • MPAA Rating: Approved

It remains one of the largest casts in film history. Around the World in 80 Days was showmanMichael Todd’s only big screen venture and it was a huge success.

Based on the classic novel by futurist Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days stars DavidNiven as the chronically punctual Phileas Fogg. Fogg’s wealthy and apparently abit strange. With dozens of clocks in his house, we find that Fogg has toreplace his manservant because of the strenuousness of his timetable.

Looking for a job, the manservant Passepartout (Cantinflas)is sent to replace the previous servant not knowing what he’ll be in for. Aftera discussion ensues at the Reform Club, Fogg wagers that he can make it aroundthe world in just 80 days. He then embarks on an arduous journey across fourcontinents to attempt to achieve victory.

80 Days wouldn’tbe much of an adventure if things didn’t get in the way for Fogg. An avalancheblocks his initial choice of transportation and he must fly by hot air balloonto the south of France totake a boat to Turkeyto catch his connecting train. The line through India he chooses to take has notbeen finished, so he must ride an elephant across the subcontinent. Then, he’sdelayed leaving India whenPassepartout get drunk and passes out on the slow boat to China. Whiletraveling from San Francisco to New York, the train isbesieged by natives. And that’s not even half the turmoil that occurs.

Niven has always played the straight man well. His energyand deadpan delivery make his intellectual a more interesting character thanmost actors could have pulled off. Spanish comic Cantinflas does suitably wellas the sometimes-klutzy acrobat whose background antics help keep their trip ontrack.

Todd, desperate to have all of the great faces of Hollywood appear in hispicture, albeit in brief roles, wasn’t meeting with much success until hecrafted the term cameo for their benefit. Some of the legendary names thatgraced the screen for him included John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Charles Boyer,Cesar Romero, Ronald Colman, Peter Lorre, Red Skelton, Marlene Dietrich, FrankSinatra, Buster Keaton, Victor McLaglen, Jack Oakie and Beatrice Lillie. Heeven managed to coax Edward R. Murrow into providing the narration over thefilm’s rather unusual introduction.

All said, Around theWorld in 80 Days is little more than a glossy adventure film with a pair ofdecent performances and an array of stars. The film also served as ademonstration of Todd’s new one-camera wide screen process he’d call Todd-AO.Not fifteen minutes go by without a gratuitous visceral depiction of thetechnique. Long processions of people marched in multiple scenes from one sideof the screen to the other. Instead of being for narrative necessity, they wereused as examples only.

Though the images are beautiful, the slight rounding at thecorners served as a reminder of its technological infancy. The process became asuccess thanks to Todd’s grandiose production and, also thanks to its AcademyAward for Best Picture, Around the Worldin 80 Days now serves as a benchmark in filmmaking.

Setting aside the film’s technical artistry, Around the World in 80 Days is littlemore than a popcorn flick. There are plenty of dull moments and, after awhile,Cantinflas’ shtick becomes irritating. There are more entertaining pictures outthere but this one is certainly worth the three hours.