Guess what day it is
Jan 01, 2014
The 2013 What-If College Football Tournament
Dec 08, 2013
Oscars running blog, 2013
Feb 24, 2013
The What-If NCAA football Tourney, 2012
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Road Trip, day ten
Mar 15, 2012
Around the World in 80 Days
At some point it must be said; Jules Verneís prognosticating ability was so good he basically makes Nostrodomus his bitch. However one of the most remarkable works from the man who envisioned submarines and the lunar landings is Around the World in 80 Days, the only one of Verneís works that relied entirely on technology available at the time it was written, a celebration of the technological advances of the 19th century rather than the dream of what would be in the 20th.
Itís also the basis of 1956ís Oscar winner for best picture. David Niven plays globe hopping Phileas Fogg who bets the other folks down at the reform club that he could make it all the way around the globe in less than three months. A Mexican comedian who was allegedly popular at the time named Cantinflas plays his sidekick Passepartout. Shirley MacLaine plays, for some reason, an Indian princess the group picks up along the way. MacLaine seems to have taken the Indian theology to heart, but that doesnít help the fact that she is noticeably not Indian, which is somewhat distracting.
Other than the big names among the major roles you have big names pretty much everywhere else. This movie basically invented the cameo. Frank Sinatra plays a pianist in a San Francisco saloon. Peter Lorre plays a steward on a ship from Hong Kong to Japan. Buster Keaton plays a train conductor. The list goes on and on. Now, since many of these people were prominent in the 1950ís and arenít so famous now, I probably missed some of the cameos, but others stood out. Itís not every day you see Marlene Deitrich pop up two hours into a movie, flirt with the main characters, then disappear.
The movie is fairly close to the book. They do add in a scene where Passepartout tries his hand at bullfighting, more as a nod to Cantinflasí prior bullfighting experience than anything else. Not too much is left out however, and the result is a runtime in the three hour neighborhood. However at no point does the movie drag by. The three hours is filled with great visual comedy, like Passepartout climbing the rigging of a hot air balloon. It also has a lot of great lines, like "follow that rickshaw" or "itís not often one needs an elephant in a hurry."
The interplay between the characters is, for the most part, quite good. The dynamic between the unflappable Fogg and the very flappable Passepartout is especially good, as is the cat and mouse game with Robert Newton, playing a Scotland Yard investigator who tacks himself on with the group thinking Fogg is a bank robber. Fogg treats him respectfully for most of the trip, until an arrest in Manchester prevents Fogg from arriving in London on time, at which point Fogg cuts the detective with the worst insult he can think of, "you play an abominable game of whist." What I donít like is the interplay between Fogg and MacLaineís Aouda. It is Passepartout who saves Aouda, not Fogg, and Aouda completely ignores him so that she can fawn all over the cold, heartless Fogg. But this is Verneís idea, not the filmmakers, and besides, Fogg is the one with money, and that is what all women are truly interested in anyway.
It is nice to see a sweet little caper comedy win out, even if they had to go to the ends of the Earth to film the thing and fill it with cameos and turn it at times into a travelogue. I do like this movie, I honestly do, and I completely recommend it, if you can find a copy. If you look at the other nominees that year, the only one that stands out is James Deanís Giant, which, letís face it, is kind of overrated. I have no trouble with the Academy picking Around the World in 80 Days from the list of nominees. But there was this one little movie that wasnít nominated. Akira Kurosawa made Shichinin no Samurai two years earlier, but it never played in the US until 1956, meaning it was not eligible for Oscar consideration until then. It did get nominations in a pair of minor categories, but nothing major, not even best director where the likes of Walter Lang and William Wyler got nominated and George Stevens won. These guys are all OK, but they arenít Kurosawa. Now, I know I keep harping on the fact that hardly any comedies win the big one, and yet I disagree with the Academy in the cases of two that did, but Iím doing this on a case-by-case basis, and in this case, I have to say that Shichinin no Samurai is the better movie.