Last night, as a part of my effort to clean out my DVR by watching and reviewing 38 movies in 10 days, I watched the 1956 Best Picture winner, Around The World In 80 Days.
Based on a novel by Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days announces, from the start, that it’s going to be a spectacle. Before it even begins telling its story, it gives us a lengthy prologue in which Edward R. Murrow discusses the importance of the movies and Jules Verne. He also shows and narrates footage from Georges Méliès’s A Trip To The Moon. Seen today, the most interesting thing about the prologue (outside of A Trip To The Moon) is the fact that Edward R. Murrow comes across as being such a pompous windbag. Take that, Goodnight and Good Luck.
Once we finally get done with Murrow assuring us that we’re about to see something incredibly important, we get down to the actual film. In 1872, an English gentleman named Phileas Fogg (played by David Niven) goes to London’s Reform Club and announces that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Four other members of the club bet him 20,000 pounds that he cannot. Fogg takes them up on their wager and soon, he and his valet, Passepartout (Cantinflas) are racing across the world.
Around The World in 80 Days is basically a travelogue, following Fogg and Passepartout as they stop in various countries and have various Technicolor adventures. If you’re looking for a serious examination of different cultures, this is not the film to watch. Despite the pompousness of Murrow’s introduction, this is a pure adventure film and not meant to be taken as much more than pure entertainment. When Fogg and Passepartout land in Spain, it means flamenco dancing and bullfighting. When they travel to the U.S., it means cowboys and Indians. When they stop off in India, it means that they have to rescue Princess Aouda (Shirley MacClaine!!!) from being sacrificed. Aouda ends up joining them for the rest of their journey.
Also following them is Insepctor Fix (Robert Newton), who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber. Fix follows them across the world, just waiting for his chance to arrest Fogg and disrupt his race across the globe.
But it’s not just Inspector Fix who is on the look out for the world travelers. Around The World In 80 Days is full of cameos, with every valet, sailor, policeman, and innocent bystander played by a celebrity. (If the movie were made today, Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Handler would show up at the bullfight.) I watch a lot of old movies so I recognized some of the star cameos. For instance, it was impossible not to notice Marlene Dietrich hanging out in the old west saloon, Frank Sinatra playing piano or Peter Lorre wandering around the cruise ship. But I have to admit that I missed quite a few of the cameos, much as how a viewer 60 years in the future probably wouldn’t recognize Kim K or Chelsea Handler in our hypothetical 2016 remake. However, I could tell whenever someone famous showed up on screen because the camera would often linger on them and the celeb would often look straight at the audience with a “It’s me!” look on their face.
Around The World in 80 Days is usually dismissed as one of the lesser best picture winners and it’s true that it is an extremely long movie, one which doesn’t necessarily add up to much beyond David Niven, Cantinflas, and the celeb cameos. But, while it may not be Oscar worthy, it is a likable movie. David Niven is always fun to watch and he and Cantinflas have a nice rapport. Shirley MacClaine is not exactly believable as an Indian princess but it’s still interesting to see her when she was young and just starting her film career.
Add to that, Around The World In 80 Days features Jose Greco in this scene:
Around The World In 80 Days may not rank with the greatest films ever made but it’s still an entertaining artifact of its time. Whenever you sit through one of today’s multi-billion dollar cinematic spectacles, remember that you’re watching one of the descendants of Around The World In 80 Days.