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  Journey to the Center of the Earth Underground Film
Year: 1959
Director: Henry Levin
Stars: Pat Boone, James Mason, Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker, Thayer David, Peter Ronson, Robert Adler, Alan Napier
Genre: Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Professor Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) is walking through the Edinburgh of 1880 one morning and finds everyone is complimenting him on his new knighthood, which he is pleased about, but the edge is taken off his good mood when he sees what is written in the newspaper about him. On arriving at the University, he strides into the lecture hall and is greeted by his class who stand to sing their praises - literally, they sing him a specially prepared song. This is all very well, but he is keen to get back to his work on geological matters, and is delighted when one of his students, Alec McKuen (Pat Boone) presents him with a volcanic rock, which on closer inspection reveals an anomaly...

Well, I say "closer inspection", but what happens is that they explode the rock by mistake; nevertheless there is revealed a plumbob which is obviously of surface origin, and turns out to have belonged to a professor who had mysteriously disappeared on an expedition below the earth - you can see where this is going, can't you? This adaptation of Jules Verne's classic science fiction novel emerged as a firm favourite with audiences, both on its release, and on television for decades afterwards, but while it represents a solid piece of Hollywood fantasy fiction that arrived in the wake of Disney's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (which also starred Mason, surely no coincidence), perhaps this Journey was never exactly imaginative in its production.

In fact, there's something strangely plain about the way it puts the adventure tale over, so while there was a bit of money thrown at it, few of the images it creates are likely to be recalled as classic, memory-searing recollections years later. For a start, it takes about an hour before the party even get underneath the ground, as there's a murder plot to contend with as the Professor and Alec draw up their plans to, er, journey to the centre of the Earth and are hindered by the baddie, a rival who has laid claim to the entire subterranean world called Count Saknussem (not a very Icelandic name for an Icelander, and played by Thayer David). Yes, it's Iceland they head for, as it is there that a hole in the ground leads below...

It's not only Pat and Jim who are on this excursion, as they team up with the widow of the dead explorer, Carla Goteborg (Arlene Dahl), and a strapping native, Hans (Peter Ronson, an athlete in real life in his sole screen appearance). Thus kitted out with the latest in spelunking equipment, they head down into an extinct volcano and there begins a slightly repetitive succession of caves for them to explore, ranging from ones encrusted with jewels to ones filled with salt. It would be a perilous trip even without the Count menacing them, but once Alec is separated from the others, he stumbles across the villain who starts ordering everyone around at gunpoint, or he does until the Professor disarms him.

Then it's off to explore more caves, tempers fray as the situation grows desperate, and back home in Edinburgh Alec's girlfriend Jenny (Diane Baker) suffers sleepless nights with worry. No wonder when there are giant lizards to contend with, alas not of the stop motion variety but of the "let's stick a fin on this creature and magnify it" variety, which always feels second best in sci-fi of this era. Luckily, when the lamps run out of power the environment compensates with luminous algae, which also prevents the audience having to watch a black screen for the latter half hour of the film. Still, for all its bland qualities this effort does throw up a few lunacies, such as the fifth companion being a duck called Gertrude who meets a tragic end thanks to the Count's hunger, and even odder is the way that the production seems intent on parting Pat Boone from his clothes - at the finale he ends up naked with only a sheep to cover his dignity. So if there's a functional feeling to much of this, it's diverting enough for two hours. Music by Bernard Herrmann.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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