Cast & Crew
In Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1880, Professor Oliver Lindenbrook is knighted to the acclaim of his colleagues and students. When his prize pupil, Alec McEwen, presents him with a lava paperweight to commemorate the occasion, Oliver discovers that encased within the Italian lava is a rock from Iceland, halfway across the world from the volcano. After Oliver identifies some etchings on the rock as those of Saknussemm, an Icelandic scientist who years earlier descended into the interior of the earth, never to return, he sends a dispatch to his colleague, Prof. Goetaborg in Stockholm, asking him to confirm his findings. Upon learning that Goetaborg has vanished, Oliver realizes that the Swede has decided to conduct his own expedition. Now in a race to reach the center of the earth, Oliver and Alec leave immediately for Iceland and Alec bids farewell to his fiancée Jenny, Oliver's niece. Aware that they must begin their descent on the last day of May when the sunrise will pinpoint the opening into the Earth, Oliver hurries to assemble the equipment needed for his journey, but soon learns that it has all been purchased by Goetaborg. When he goes to confront Goetaborg about the situation, Oliver discovers the Swede lying lifeless in his hotel room, poisoned. Soon after, Goetaborg's wife Carla arrives to join her husband. Oliver breaks the news of her husband's death, but when he requests the use of the equipment, Carla agrees on the condition that she be allowed to join the expedition. With no other choice, Oliver reluctantly accepts, and the three are then joined by a husky Icelandic jack-of-all trades named Hans Belker and his pet duck Gertrude. As they slip inside the Earth on the last day of May, they are secretly followed by Count Saknussemm, a descendent of the original explorer. Their first trial occurs when a boulder, dislodged by an earthquake, tumbles threateningly toward them. After a narrow escape, they discern a series of notches left by Saknussemm, marking the path to the center of the Earth. Unknown to them, the count has sabotaged his ancestor's markings, sending Alec over the side of a precipice. After Hans rescues Alec, Carla uncovers the real markings, and they realize they have been tricked. Becoming separated from the rest when he follows a tunnel, Alec sinks through a bed of salt into a chamber, where he comes face to face with the count. When Alex refuses to carry the count's equipment, the count shoots at him, and the sound of gunfire alerts the others to their whereabouts. Following the echoing gunshots, the three soon find the wounded Alec and the count, who threatens them all at gunpoint. After Oliver tricks the count by throwing salt in his eyes, they accuse him of murdering Goetaborg and find him guilty in a mock trial. Although he is sentenced to die, the three find themselves unable to carry out the sentence. The Count then begrudgingly joins the expedition, and as their lamps begin to fail, he discovers a luminescent algae that renders artificial light unnecessary. Two hundred fifty six days later, Carla and Oliver are still bickering about the journey. When Alec discovers a massive mushroom forest, Carla prepares the mushrooms for dinner while the count orders Hans to chop the plants down to build a raft that will carry them across the ocean of the underworld. Just as they are about to set sail, an army of giant flesh-eating lizards appear, but they escape by fleeing into the water. Once at sea, they are encompassed by a magnetic force field which Oliver realizes is the center of the Earth, whose intense centrifugal force throws them onto shore, exhausted. As they sleep, Gertrude waddles off, and when Hans awakens, all he finds is a pile of bloody feathers. Realizing that the count has eaten Gertrude for dinner, Hans lunges at him, and when the count retreats, he is crushed by a falling pillar of rocks. The collapse reveals the sunken city of Atlantis, where they find the skeleton of Saknussemm, his finger pointing to a shaft that leads to the chimney of a volcano in Stromboli, Italy, the way out of the underground. Oliver sends Hans to inspect the shaft, and when Hans reports that it is obstructed by a giant block of stone, Oliver decides to dislodge the obstruction by using a cache of gunpowder found in Saknussemm's knapsack. The group takes refuge from the explosion in a giant asbestos chalice, but when the gunpowder fails to ignite, Oliver jumps down to relight it and is attacked by a giant scorpion. Escaping with Alec's help, Oliver climbs back into the chalice just as the gunpowder detonates, killing the serpent and destroying Atlantis. The chalice and its inhabitants are swept up though the tunnel and spewed out into the sea, where all but Alec, who lands in a tree, are rescued by Italian fishermen. The party then returns triumphant to Edinburgh, where Jenny and Alec are married. When Oliver asks Carla to stay and collaborate with him on his memoirs, she reacts with indignation at being relegated to the role of his secretary until he proposes and embraces her.
Thomas F. Martin
L. B. Abbott
Herman A. Blumenthal
Charles [g.] Clarke
Warren B. Delaplain
James B. Gordon
Jack W. Holmes
Emila Kose Jr.
Joseph M. Schenck
Walter M. Scott
James Van Heusen
Lyle R. Wheeler
Best Art Direction
Best Special Effects
Journey to the Center of the Earth
The film opens in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1880, where geology professor Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) is congratulated by peers and students for his recent knighthood. One of the professor's prize pupils, Alec McKuen (Pat Boone) gives Lindenbrook an interesting piece of lava. When the professor examines the sample, he discovers that it contains an Icelandic rock, despite the fact that the lava is Mediterranean. When he tries to melt the lava, it explodes and reveals a plumb-bob which contains an etched message from Swedish explorer Arne Saknussem, who years earlier had sought the center of the Earth and disappeared. Lindenbrook sends the inscription to Swedish geologist Goetaborg for the translation, but Goetaborg travels to Iceland with the information. Lindenbrook and Alec also head to Iceland, leaving Alec's fiancée Jenny (Diane Baker) behind. In Iceland they find Goetaborg dead, but recover instructions for passage within a volcano crevice to the center of the Earth. Goetaborg's widow Carla (Arlene Dahl) will give the explorers her husband's supplies only if they take her along. Husky Icelandic jack-of-all-trades Hans Belker (Peter Ronson) is enlisted to help the team; Belker also brings Gertrude, his pet duck. The team descends deep into the Earth, initially not knowing that they are being tailed by the evil Count Saknussem (Thayer David), a descendant of the original explorer. Lindenbrook and his friends encounter a wild variety of danger and wonder in their quest, including flooding chambers of rock, a forest of giant mushrooms, a tumbling boulder chasing them through a narrow crevice, a spinning vortex of salt, enormous and angry prehistoric reptiles, a vast underground ocean, and much more, including nothing less than the lost city of Atlantis.
The producer and co-screenwriter of Journey to the Center of the Earth was the witty and talented Charles Brackett, best known for his long collaboration with writer-director Billy Wilder which resulted in such classics as Ninotchka (1939), Ball of Fire (1941), The Major and the Minor (1942), The Lost Weekend (1945), A Foreign Affair (1948), Sunset Blvd. (1950), and many others. As a producer and sometimes writer for non-Wilder projects, Brackett had scored with releases like Niagara (1953), Titanic (1953), The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955), and The King and I (1956).
Although it does not have the Intermission-demanding epic length of Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth stills clocks in at a longish 132 minutes. Even so, it is full of unexpected twists, interesting visuals, and incidents that lend color to the characters. Pop crooner Pat Boone does an adequate job as the juvenile lead and manages a few harmless songs which do not seem out-of-place; his presence adds to the "something for everyone in the family" vibe of the picture. The always-interesting James Mason adds distinction and gravitas by his presence; perfectly believable as the enthusiastic scientist Lindenbrook, Mason's performance also often adds to the film's light touch. As the determined Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mason was a no-nonsense, villainous instigator of mayhem in the cause of science (and revenge), but here he drives the plot in a different way, reacting to situations with an infectious sense of wonder and delight.
Make no mistake; some of the situations encountered by the band of adventurers in Journey to the Center of the Earth are quite ridiculous. The prehistoric dimetrodons on view are merely iguanas with fins attached to their backs, enlarged by high-speed photography and rear-projection screens. This method of creating "dinosaurs" had appeared in Hal Roach's One Million B.C. (1940), and that black-and-white footage was subsequently reused as stock footage by legions of low-budget filmmakers needing a quick view of prehistoric animals. Requiring color and scene-specific battle footage, the producers of Journey to the Center of the Earth at least improved greatly on the look of the earlier Roach lizards. There are several other perils and wonders encountered that defy logical science, such as the vortexes of salt and the convenient "luminous rocks," which light the way for the underground journey just as the lamps our heroes are using die out. These situations never feel like lapses in logic, however, thanks to the sly, whimsical tone established early on. After all, any story in which a duck becomes one of the supporting characters is, by definition, lighthearted in tone.
One of the highlights of the picture (and one of the reasons it does not feel repetitive during the many scenes of characters climbing down treacherous pathways during their journey) is the evocative score by Bernard Herrmann. Celebrated for his music for the films of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and the fantasy works of special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen, Herrmann wrote a superlative score for Journey to the Center of the Earth, and it remains one of his most underrated. Herrmann wrote in the liner notes of an album (The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann, Phase 4, 1974) containing a suite from the film, "I decided to evoke the mood and feeling of inner Earth by using only instruments played in low registers. Eliminating all strings, I utilized an orchestra of woodwinds and brass, with a large percussion section and many harps. But the truly unique feature of this score is the inclusion of five organs, one large Cathedral and four electronic. These organs were used in many adroit ways to suggest ascent and descent, as well as the mystery of Atlantis."
In his exhaustive genre survey Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties (McFarland, 1986), Bill Warren praises the film for the most part, writing, "Journey to the Center of the Earth is one of the best SF movies of the declining 1950s. It isn't so much of its era as just in it. It's the kind of film that could easily have been produced, even on this scale, if the 50s SF boom had never existed." Warren notes some of the movie's flaws as well: "...Its delights are best appreciated on one viewing. The overall buoyancy of the film deflates when it is watched again and again. There's a certain plodding quality to the picture, perhaps inherent in the plot, and some elements seem overly farcical. The mismatch between the constructed sets and the few scenes actually shot underground in Carlsbad Caverns becomes apparent on repeated viewings."
Reviews at the time of release were mostly good, although a few critics, such as Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, panned it. Crowther wrote, "It's really not very striking make-believe, when all is said and done...even those horrible giant lizards are grotesque without being good. Their only service is to frighten little children who should be the best customers for this foolish film." The critic for Variety was confused by the tone, writing that it "...takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the Jules Verne story, but there are times when it is difficult to determine whether the filmmakers are kidding or playing it straight... If one is willing to accept the film as one big spoof, it can turn out to be a fairly amusing entry." Jack Harrison raved in the Hollywood Reporter, "Juveniles of all ages and all lands will be fascinated and thrilled, their elders and caretakers will be entertained and amused... Many of the titillations bear a sharp resemblance to those in the classic cliffhangers."
20th Century Fox must have found Journey to the Center of the Earth to be a big success for them, because they went on to partner with producer Irwin Allen to turn out other science-fiction and fantasy films that mimicked its basic structure, such as The Lost World (1960, based on the book by Arthur Conan Doyle), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) and Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962, based on another Verne novel). Irwin Allen never displayed much good taste or subtlety though, so these films are markedly inferior to the Charles Brackett-produced movie they are patterned after.
Producer: Charles Brackett
Director: Henry Levin
Screenplay: Walter Reisch, Charles Brackett (screenplay); Jules Verne (novel)
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Art Direction: Franz Bachelin, Herman A. Blumenthal, Lyle R. Wheeler
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Film Editing: Stuart Gilmore, Jack W. Holmes
Cast: Pat Boone (Alexander 'Alec' McKuen), James Mason (Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook), Arlene Dahl (Carla Göteborg), Diane Baker (Jenny Lindenbrook), Thayer David (Count Saknussem), Peter Ronson (Hans Belker), Robert Adler (Groom), Alan Napier (Dean)
by John M. Miller
Journey to the Center of the Earth
I never sleep. I hate those little slices of death.- Count Saknussem
The screenwriter evidently thought that since English-speaking people can have surnames like London or York then Swedes can be named Goetaborg (Goteborg is the second largest city in Sweden) - which is most unlikely.
The film's title card reads "Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth." The film closes with the following written acknowledgment: "Carlsbad Caverns National Park served as the background for portions of the motion picture. Twentieth Century-Fox expresses its appreciation for the cooperation extended by the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior." According to studio publicity contained in the film's production files at the AMPAS Library, filming was allowed only at night because of daily public tours scheduled in the caverns. Location filming was also done in Edinburgh, Scotland; Amboy Crater, CA and Sequit Point, CA.
A number of studios and producers considered filming Verne's novel prior to Twentieth Century-Fox's production. According to December 1955 and February 1956 Los Angeles Times news items, producer Eugene Lourie planned to film a version in Italy with Gerard Philipe and Michele Morgan as the stars. According to September 1956 items in Hollywood Citizen-News and Daily Variety, producer Bryan Foy bought the rights to the novel for release through Columbia, but Columbia withdrew its plans upon learning that RKO had begun extensive pre-production work on the same subject.
In October 1958, a Los Angeles Examiner news item stated that Charles Brackett, in association with Twentieth Century-Fox, had bought the rights to the novel from the Korda estate and wanted Clifton Webb to play the role of "Oliver Lindenbrook." Although an April 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item added that Lincoln Barnett was to write the screenplay for Brackett, Barnett's contribution to the released film has not been determined. According to a March 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, Cooga Mooga Film Productions was Pat Boone's production company. Under Boone'e deal with Twentieth Century-Fox, Boone was to produce and star in the film for a share in the profits, as well as a salary. Journey to tne Center of the Earth marked Boone's first production. In Verne's novel, the character of Lindenbrook was German. The characters "Carla" and "Saknussemm" were added for the film.
Journey to the Center of the Earth was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Best Set Decoration, Best Sound and Best Special Effects. Modern sources add that Anna Jane Sitton worked as Arlene Dahl's stand-in and that Alexander Scourby was orginally cast as Saknussemm. According to modern sources, Pat Boone wrote and recorded a theme song that was never used in the film.
Verne's novel has been filmed several other times. In 1976, Almena Films, a Spanish company, released Viaje al centro de la Tierra, starring Kenneth More and directed by Juan Piquer Simón, and in 1989, the Canon Group/Golan-Globus released a version directed by Rusty Lemorande and starring Erno Philips. From 1967-69, ABC television broadcast an animated series loosely based on Verne's novel. Although several new feature film versions of Verne's novel were announced in the early 2000s, none was in production as of spring 2005.
Released in United States Winter December 1959
Released in United States on Video August 25, 1988
Released in United States 1998
Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.
Released in United States Winter December 1959
Released in United States on Video August 25, 1988
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.)