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Around the World in 80 Days (1956) is one of those Best Picture Oscar® winners like Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), which is more memorable for its casting and sheer spectacle than for its artistic merits. Based on the Jules Verne novel, the film faithfully follows the story of Phileas Fogg (David Niven), a Victorian gentleman who accepts a wager that he and his valet Passepartout (Cantinflas, Mexico's premier comedian) can journey around the world in record time. The major selling point of Michael Todd's production, besides the all-star international cast and exotic locales, was the added gimmick of Todd-AO, a new 65mm widescreen process that had already been used successfully in Oklahoma! (1955). But even more colorful and excessive than the film was Todd's own promotion of it, which he presented to distributors with this warning: "Do not refer to Around the World in 80 Days as a movie. It's not a movie. Movies are something you can see in your neighborhood theatre and eat popcorn while you're watching them....Show Around the World in 80 Days almost exactly as you would present a Broadway show in your theatre."
Critics of the time were apt to agree with Todd's statement that Around the World in 80 Days was not a movie. It was an event and, for some, an unendurable one that lasted two hours and forty-seven minutes. Yet Todd had a true genius for behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, which transformed his film into a box-office phenomena that ran in one New York theatre - the Rivoli - for 16 months! One of his talents was attracting marquee-name talent through his sheer extravagant nature. When he learned that the Jules Verne novel had been a childhood favorite of David Niven, he casually offered him the role of Phileas Fogg, to which Niven excitedly said, "I'd do it for nothing." Todd's famous remark was "You've got a deal." He enticed other actors with gifts: Ronald Colman received a new yellow Cadillac for half a day's work. Noel Coward was allowed to write his own dialogue for his cameo scene and received a Bonnard painting as a Christmas present. John Gielgud was seduced into appearing in a small role out of sheer curiosity. Todd recalled that "Gielgud asked me, 'Why do you want me to play a sacked butler? I am a Shakespearean actor.' I said, 'Because I know you could do it so well and I know it's right for you.' He said, 'Let me read it.' I gave him the pages and he read it. Then he said, 'My dear Mr. Todd, you really want me to play this? Why?...Who is playing the other part?' I said, 'Noel Coward.' He said, 'I've got to see that.' I said, 'One way for you to see it - be on the set tomorrow.' And he was on the set."
Even more astonishing was Todd's total involvement in every detail of the production. He went to Chinchon, Spain, and hired the entire population of 6,500 residents to appear in a bullfight sequence. He visited his friend, the King of Thailand, who loaned him his 165-foot-long royal barge, complete with 70 glitteringly clad oarsmen, for a scene that lasted maybe 12 seconds. In China, Todd acquired a Chinese dragon used in holiday processions, which was 250 years old, thirty-feet-long, and required 24 men to operate it. In Pakistan, the producer persuaded the Nawab of Pritim Pasha to loan him his private elephant herd. He even convinced the owner of a Durango museum piece - a train that ran from San Francisco to Colorado in 1871 - to lend it after a million dollar bond was secured.
At the end of filming, it was obvious that Around the World in 80 Days had set some new records in film production: the most people (68,894) ever photographed in separate worldwide locations; the greatest distance ever travelled to make a film (four million air passenger miles); the most camera set-ups ever used (200 more than Gone With the Wind, 1939); the most sets ever used (140 actual locations plus interiors on soundstages in London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo as well as six Hollywood studios); the most costumes ever used (74,685); and the most assistant directors (33).
In retrospect, it's easy to see that Mike Todd - born Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen in Minneapolis in 1909 - was an even more colorful and flamboyant film producer than Dino de Laurentiis of Mandingo (1975) and King Kong (1976) fame. A born showman, Todd once aspired to be the next Florenz Ziegfeld and built his theatrical career on the successes of Broadway shows and burlesque revues like Star and Garter, which featured the legendary stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee. In 1945 he entered the film business, later partnered with Lowell Thomas, and eventually became one of the original founders of the Cinerama Corporation. Todd reached his peak with his production of Around the World in 80 Days, and perhaps he could have even topped that had he not been killed in a plane crash in the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico. He was traveling aboard his private jet - named the Lucky Liz after his wife, Elizabeth Taylor - to New York to accept a "Showman of the Year" award when it went down. Around the World in 80 Days is destined to remain Todd's most significant achievement - a showcase for his widescreen process known as Todd-AO, which transforms Jules Verne's story into an eye-popping, international travelogue.
Producer: Michael Todd
Director: Michael Anderson
Screenplay: John Farrow, James Poe, S.J. Perelman
Art Direction: James Sullivan
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Costume Design: Miles White
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero, Paul Weatherwax
Original Music: Victor Young
Prologue Narration: Edward R. Murrow
Principal Cast: David Niven (Phileas Fogg), Cantinflas (Passepartout), Robert Newton (Mr. Fix), Shirley MacLaine (Princess Aouda), Charles Boyer (Monsieur Gasse).
Cameos by Robert Morley, Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Martine Carol, Fernandel, Evelyn Keyes, Jose Greco, Gilbert Roland, Cesar Romero, Cedric Hardwicke, Ronald Colman, Peter Lorre, Beatrice Lillie, Victor McLaglen, Joe E. Brown, Buster Keaton, Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Red Skelton, George Raft, John Carradine, Glynis Johns, John Mills, Andy Devine, Hermione Gingold, Jack Oakie. George Raft, Charles Coburn.
C-182m. Closed captioning. Letterboxed.
by Jeff Stafford