Mysterious Island (1961)
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During the Civil War, three Union prisoners, a Rebel deserter and a Northern journalist escape from a Confederate prison following the siege of Richmond. They make their getaway in an observation balloon during a violent storm but they don't exactly land in familiar terrain. Because of the freakish weather, the balloon is swept by winds across the Pacific Ocean and drops down on a seemingly uninhabited tropical island. There, the four escapees are joined by two shipwreck survivors - both women - and soon find themselves battling the elements, pirates, and oversized creatures looking for human-sized snacks. Welcome to Mysterious Island (1961)! Was this the original inspiration for TV's Survivor series?
Based on the novel by Jules Verne, Mysterious Island was written as a sequel to Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and continues the exploits of the latter novel's megalomaniacal submarine commander, Captain Nemo, who becomes the true hero of Mysterious Island but doesn't make an appearance until the film's second half. It appears that the Nautilus (with Nemo aboard) was not destroyed at the climax of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Instead, Nemo escaped to this topical paradise where he's been experimenting with animal mutations for the past eight years. That explains the presence of giant birds, crabs, bees, you name it. All were accidental by-products of Nemo's attempts to solve the world's food problems. Of course, these mutant beings are part of the film's eternal appeal and are brought to life by special effects master Ray Harryhausen. Being the consummate perfectionist, Harryhausen wasn't always pleased with his final handiwork, especially in the case of the giant bird: "It was a prehistoric Phorohacos but owing to script deletions its antediluvian origin was discarded. Most reviewers and audiences assumed it to be an overgrown chicken." One sequence that was slated to be filmed but never made it into the final production featured a giant man-eating plant. Harryhausen decided to replace this effect instead with a battle scene between the islanders and a huge sea snail.
For the monstrous crab, Harryhausen used the shell of a real crustacean for his stop-motion model. On the screen it appears to be over 15 feet wide but in reality was no bigger than a toy action figure. Still, it proves to be a major threat to the islanders until it's toppled into a boiling hot spring and transformed into the biggest crab dinner you've ever seen. The horrifically overgrown baby bird a.k.a. Phorohacos, which tries to peck our cast to death, also ends up on the dinner menu and should have you smacking your lips over the massive drumstick sizzling on the spit. Yes, this island is dangerous but one thing is clear - there's good eatin' on Mysterious Island.
Of all the many film versions of Mysterious Island, this 1961 version, directed by Cy Endfield, is generally considered to be the most popular, if not the most faithful. In addition to the wonderful visual effects of Harryhausen, the distinctive music score is by the great Bernard Herrmann, who scored several of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest pictures (Vertigo, 1958, Psycho, 1960). Other versions include the 1929 MGM adaptation starring Lionel Barrymore, a Russian rendition in 1941, a fifteen-episode Columbia serial in 1952 and an international production entitled The Mysterious Island of Captain Nemo starring Omar Sharif in 1973.
Producer: Charles H. Schneer
Director: Cy Endfield
Screenplay: John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, Crane Wilbur, based on a novel by Jules Verne
Cinematography: Wilkie Cooper
Film Editing: Frederick Wilson
Art Direction: William C. Andrews
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Michael Craig (Capt. Cyrus Harding), Michael Callan (Herbert Brown), Beth Rogan (Elena Fairchild), Gary Merrill (Gideon Spilett), Herbert Lom (Captain Nemo), Joan Greenwood (Lady Mary Fairchild).
C-101m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford