Monday, 8 August 2011

Around the World in 80 Days (1956) - The List Hero Review

A gritty, edge-of-your-seat drama.  If that's what you're after, you're in the wrong place.  Michael Anderson's film adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days is light-hearted, beautifully shot, and - to a modern-day viewer - absolutely hilarious.  To say that this is the most British film I've ever seen would be an understatement.  The movie, like Jules Verne's novel, follows protagonist Phileas Fogg (played as an aristocratic perfectionist by David Niven) and his sidekick Passepartout (a role given to famous Mexican comic Cantinflas) as they shoot around the world in order to win a huge bet with Fogg's Reform Club associates.  

The film is as easy on the eye as it is to follow the plot, but what is it that makes it so funny?  Well, whether they done intentionally or not, there are a number of extremely humorous elements to this film, which - if not taken too seriously - are a laugh-a-minute.  Firstly, there are the ridiculously out-dated stereotypes of Empire (remember that the book was first published in 1873), like the savage natives of the Indian jungle attempting to burn their dead leader's widow (played by Shirley MacLaine, who is about as Indian as myself) alive.  

The point about MacLaine's lack of Indian blood also leads me nicely on to the scene in Bombay in which a number of "blacked up" white actors are performing the usual Indian activities... like snake charming.  How could you not laugh at such a ridiculous scene?!  To be honest, a lot of my personal laughs did come from the out-dated British attitudes; "no crisis should get in the way of afternoon tea" says one cog in the work of the Empire.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think that the colonisation of other countries is funny.  Quite the opposite in fact and it's films like this that show just how ridiculous it was for the British (and other nations) to think that they could just own everything.  As the chords to "Rule Britannia" fade in and out of our sub-conscience throughout the adventure, it simply further emphasises the laughs.

However, the constant references to tea and Empire aren't the only laughs available here.  There are also a number of ridiculous situations that arise; Passepartout fights a bull, Passepartout saves Princess Aouda from those pesky natives, and my particular favourite is when Fogg prizes together a wonderful sail-powered train that actually overtakes the steam engine as they race through the barely-windy American desert.  Brilliant!

Around the World in 80 Days won a number of Academy Awards, including Best Picture (beating The King and I and The Ten Commandments).  Did it deserve such recognition?  I'm not sure, but it is a very good looking movie that's a fantastic viewing on a lazy afternoon.

Rating:  a very jolly 4 out of 5

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