Best Picture Review: “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956)

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Saturday evening, I returned home after spending the day at the office finishing work on my first of two freelance websites.  What should I find when I returned home but Lauren preparing a romantic dinner for two by candlelight!  Dinner was tasty, as expected.  Then we got the great idea to sit down and watch the 3-hour 1956 Best Picture winner, Around the World in 80 Days.

Based on the novel by Jules Verne, it has been said by a variety of experts that this movie is amongst the weakest Best Picture winners, but I didn’t agree.  It was one of the very few comedies on the list to this point, possibly in a category alone with You Can’t Take It with You, and I found it both interesting and whimsical.

80 Days is just as you’d expect.  It’s 1872, and a wealthy English industrialist named Phileas Fogg makes a wager with fellow members of the Gentlemen’s Club that he can make it around the world in eighty days, a most preposterous wager indeed!  He takes with him his servant, Passepartout, and take off in a hot air balloon the very next day.

Along their journey, they run into trouble time and time again.  Between bull fighting in Spain, rescuing an Indian woman from her death in India, narrowly escaping a collapsing bridge on a train, being hunted down by the native Sioux Indians, and managing to escape from detectives who believe Phileas is a robber, they certainly see their share of adventures.  That, and Passepartout keeps getting wildly separated from Phileas but magically they manage to find each other rather quickly.

I think I liked the movie because it was so borderline over-the-top ridiculous and so unlike anything else we’ve seen to this point.  I agree that it will never land in the same category of being a true classic like Casablanca and Gone With the Wind, but it certainly has its charm.  Every scene was actually filmed on location, so there were no pitiful sets.  The whole cast and crew actually went to Bombay, Hong Kong, San Francisco, etc.  Also, this was the first movie to be filmed using a new kind of color process, devised by producer Michael Todd himself.

Some other interesting facts include the 128 miles of film shot.  It was cut down to about 5 miles in the end, but still, wow.  Michael Todd made just one film ever, this one, and he won Best Picture.  Not a bad average.  The racial/cultural stereotypes in this movie would never fly today, but back in the 50s apparently it was okay to make the Sioux out to be cannibals.

Overall, a fun, lively, entertaining movie with some memorable visual scenes, though three hours was overkill.  I would rank it in the middle of the list somewhere.  I’d have to think about it.  Next time I might re-rank everything up to date.

Next up, 1957’s classic The Bridge on the River Kwai. I’ve heard very good things.

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