Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) – Film Review
Director: Henry Levin
Starring: James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl
by Roger Crow
It was a bank holiday in 1978 when I last saw Journey to the Center of the Earth, one of the first adaptations of the Jules Verne classic. Back in those days, life was a lot simpler. Three TV channels, and almost everything I saw on TV was in grainy black and white.
Seen almost 40 years later, in glorious HD, widescreen colour, it’s fascinating to see Huddersfield’s finest acting export, James Mason, attempting to steal screen time from crooner Pat Boone. Mason obviously had a taste for Verne adaptations after his work on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea five years earlier.
“Interesting screen presence”
He’s terrific, but both he and Boone are upstaged by Gertrud the duck, especially in a comical scene where our trapped heroes think they’re getting a morse code message from a fellow prisoner next door, not realising it’s a feathered protagonist.
Boone, although not a great actor, has an interesting screen presence. It’s like watching Father Dougal: he’s physically present but his mind is obviously elsewhere. Possibly on his salary due to the impressive deal he struck with the film’s backers. (He’d been reluctant to star in the movie because of its sci-fi element, but wound up having a good time apparently).
The plot centres on Professor Sir Oliver Lindenbrook (Mason) and his eponymous quest to travel to the centre of the planet via an Icelandic volcano. Along for the ride is his dashing student Alec McEwan (Boone), who bursts into song at the drop of a hat.
Obviously as it was made in the late 1950s, the special effects compared to today’s standards leave a lot to be desired. But if you don’t mind iguanas with cardboard fins playing “terrifying” dinosaurs, then this could be right up your street. And it doesn’t hurt that Bernard Herrmann composed the score (a year before terrifying the world with Psycho).
Though it goes on a bit (easily 20 minutes too long), there’s plenty to sustain the interest. Seen as a double bill with 2003’s The Core, a glorious sci-fi B-movie in the same vein, featuring a scene-stealing Stanley Tucci, it would be a great way to spend a few hours on a rainy day.
‘Journey To The Center Of The Earth’ (Eureka Classics) is out now on Blu-ray, £14.99