Journey To The Center of the Earth (1959)
James Mason had already starred in one successful Jules Verne adaptation so why not make it two.
And so he does turning in a splendid performance as the leader of an expedition to reach the inner depths of the earth we live upon. Joining him on the descent is Pat Boone, Peter Ronson and the lovely Arlene Dahl.
Our journey begins with a clue that turns up in the center of a lava rock sample that points towards Iceland and the mountainous cave that will lead our explorers below. It’s not as smooth a journey at the start as one might think. There is skullduggery about and those that seek to steal Mason’s notes and beat him to the prize. Murder is not out of the question either.
Begrudgingly saddled with Miss Dahl on the journey we have some nice interplay between her and Mason’s professor who claims that “To burden myself with a female is sheer stupidity!” Burden himself he does but as one might expect, there may be love in the air by the time this journey comes to an end.
Pat Boone is well suited to his role of Mason’s prize student who takes the plunge below while serenading us with a song or two on the journey. He is of course pining away for his sweetheart above played by the attractive Diane Baker. The fourth member of the group is played by strongman Ronson who brings along Gertrude, his pet duck for comedy relief.
While we journey through the fabulous underworld sets, Bernard Herrmann’s musical score plays along keeping us enthralled with each new subterranean adventure. The journey below does of course need a villain and we have Thayer David turning up in the race for glory.
As for the magnificent sets that dazzle the eyes, my only wish would be for artist Ray Harryhausen treating us with his wizardry for the eventual discovery of dinosaurs as opposed to the projection screen monsters meant to give our cast a good scare.
The film has a good pedigree with Charles Brackett as the credited scriptwriter. Here’s a guy that teamed with Billy Wilder on some of the great films of yesteryear including Sunset Boulevard. He also served as producer while Henry Levin directed giving us a film that still makes for an entertaining diversion.
Looking back, this along with his portrayal of Captain Nemo are probably my earliest recollections of James Mason and so they should be. What else would one expect a boy to be watching for movies on Sunday afternoon re runs. Adventures, westerns and Jules Verne adaptations. Sounds just about right.