Sunday, February 25, 2024

Rewind Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Back in 1864, Jules Verne penned "Journey to the Centre of the Earth", a novel about a group of intrepid individuals who undertake a subterranean journey to discover the very center of our Earth. Why would anyone want to take such a journey? As one of the explorers in this expedition explains, "Why does man freeze to death to try and reach the North Pole? Why does man drive himself to suffer the steam and heat to discover the Amazon? Why does he stagger his mind with the math of the sky? Once a question arises in the human brain the answer must be found, whether it takes a hundred years or a thousand years." 

It is the spirit of adventure that is celebrated in the act of exploring the unknown, and the ultimate aim of all Science is to penetrate this unknown. Scientists spent years exploring the many features of the earth's surface but who has penetrated its depths? Arne Saknussemm has! Or so this movie claims. The 16th-century Icelandic alchemist was ridiculed for his preposterous attempt to reach the Earth's core, but 350 years later, Professor Oliver Lindenbrook ( James Mason ) stumbles upon evidence that proves he did just that, and ventures forth to go there himself. 

By the time he leaves, the party has grown to five members: Alec ( Pat Boone ), a student of his at the University of Edinburgh; Carla ( Arlene Dahl ), the widow of a fellow explorer; a burly Icelander named Hans ( Peter Ronson ) and his pet duck Gertrude ( excellently played by herself ). Spending a year beneath the surface, they encounter a cavern of luminescent crystals, large deposits of salt, an ocean, the lost city of Atlantis, and even another explorer...bent on making sure his own name goes down in history as the first man to reach the center of the Earth!

Journey to the Center of the Earth was released in 1959 by 20th Century Fox and was the first film adaptation of Verne's popular novel. Producer Charles Brackett called the original story "a delightful book, written for young people. We simply couldn't have any solemnity about it. I wanted very much to do it at this time. I'm tired of all these films based on thoughts at the back of sick minds......Our picture describes action and events, with not the slightest shadow of Freud. The serious thing about Jules Verne is that all he does is tell a story in exciting episodes, but his stories have always pushed man a little closer towards the unknown. What we've tried to do is retell his story in the best way of all - in the Verne vernacular."
Indeed, the film captures all of the excitement of the original novel without getting bogged down with Verne's scientific details. Walter Reisch ( Gaslight, Niagara ), who had written a number of science fiction stories, was called in to adapt the novel into a script. He cleverly added story elements that made it more palatable for filmgoers, including adding an extra member of the expedition - Carla Thompson. This provided an opportunity for a touch of romance between her and Professor Lindenbrook. Arlene Dahl was excellent in this part. She made Carla an independent-thinker, strong-willed and capable and yet retained her feminine charms. Carla took on the mother-role of the group providing moral support and cooking skills and enjoyed letting the men provide for her and the rest of the group's practical needs.

The comradery between all of the members of the expedition - and the actors who portrayed these characters - is what makes Journey to the Center of the Earth particularly enjoyable to watch. They strike out on an adventure into unknown territory and, like true Victorian explorers, are heedless to the dangers that lie ahead. In jolly spirits, they take all they encounter in stride, carefully making detailed observations for those who may follow in their path, never doubting that they will return to the surface of the Earth to show others the way.

Reisch also added some introductory material to his adaptation and set the events in Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, we witness Professor Lindenbrook in his native habitat, teaching geology at the University of Edinburgh. The events leading up to the journey unfold when his prize pupil Alec, gifts him with an unusual volcanic rock, a lump of lava that contains a hastily scrawled message from long-lost explorer Arne Saknussem. The intrepid professor endeavors to set off at once to follow in Arne's footsteps, but soon discovers that his secret discovery is not so very secret. Two men are already on his trail and set to foil him, one of them being the villainous Count Saknussem ( Thayer David ), a burly descendant of Arne. 

James Mason was tailor-fit for the part of the professor and gives a rousing performance. Surprisingly, Mason was not the first choice for the part. Clifton Webb was originally cast but, having recently undergone surgery, had to withdraw from the production just before shooting began because the physicality of the role would have been detrimental to his health. 
Pat Boone was obviously cast to make the film appealing to younger audiences. He does an excellent job as well, singing only two songs throughout the film ( he had more musical numbers but they were later cut ). Diane Baker was added as his love-interest, the lovely Jenny Linden. The poor girl patiently waited two years to see her sweetheart re-emerge from the depths of the earth. Also in the cast is Alan Napier, Ivan Triesault, and Edith Evanson. 

Journey to the Center of the Earth did extremely well at the box-office, raking in nearly $10,000,000 ( it had a $3.4 million budget ). It had incredible fantasy elements and showed its audience that a whale of a good time could be had beneath the Earth's crust. The Lindenbrook expedition encountered everything from man-eating lizards and giant mushrooms to the lost city of Atlantis, all without the benefit of CGI. 
The film was nominated for these special effects as well as for its art direction. The talented Lyle Wheeler was responsible for these sets, which were highly imaginative and colorful. Wheeler captured the atmosphere of old Edinburgh in the opening scenes, created the beautiful interior sets of Lindenbrook's house ( including an impressive library ), and served up a veritable smorgasbord of fanciful sets for the center-of-the-Earth sequences, including a beautiful cavern of fluorescent rocks. 

Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) was one of the first color film adaptations of a Jules Verne novel and its success created a whole new genre of Victorian adventure films. Like Leagues, Journey to the Center of the Earth not only boasted beautiful sets but a striking color palette that set the tone for all other films in its genre, including The Time Machine (1960), The Lost World (1960), Mysterious Island (1961), and First Men in the Moon (1964). 
It also had an impressive score by Bernard Herrmann. The opening theme heralds the approaching adventure to be enjoyed and the rest of the score captured all the beauty, thrills, and wonderment to be found in the caverns of the deep.

Sixty years after its release, Journey to the Center of the Earth remains one of the best adventure films ever made because at the core of the film is rock-solid entertainment, pure movie magic that ignites your imagination and inspires you to set off on your own adventure. And that is the stamp of excellence for any adventure flick. 

Friday, February 23, 2024

Sh! The Octopus (1937)

"Gripping!..Daring!....Too Too Touching"

So reads the advertisement. 
I thought I saw 'em all, but this film tops the Beyond Incredulous list.

Kelly and Dempsey, two befuddled detectives, are driving along a secluded road one dark and stormy night when they hear a scream and out from the woods dashes a young Joan Crawford look-alike. She promptly faints in front of them as any good Joan Crawford look-alike ought to do and then proceeds to tell them that she saw the body of her stepfather... muuuurdered....  hanging by his feet from the top of the lighthouse.... dripping blood!

"What lighthouse?" 

"The lighthouse a few miles from shore." 


"My stepfather is the inventor of a radium ray powerful that whoever controls it controls the world. Every nation is searching for it!"

The super-duper high-power radium ray gun is gone? Stolen by the arch-villain The Octopus??!! ( Shhh.. )

Holy tentacles, Batman! 

Our intrepid heroes, not ones to leave a lady in distress (even though Kelly's wife is having a baby and he is leaving her in her distress), decide to pop on over to the lighthouse to investigate. After all, it's only a few miles across the ocean via motorboat in a thunderstorm...with seven foot waves. What's a little water? 


And so begins one of the wackiest films to ever be churned out of Warner Brothers studio. 

Sh! The Octopus (1937) has rather a cult reputation of being a wild parody of old-dark-house parodies themselves. When you find a film with supporting actors such as Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins playing the leads, you know you are in for watching a B movie, but in this case the "B" should be for "bewaaare". It truly is surreal, folks. 

A remote lighthouse, octopi, stolen plans, secret panels, an old sea captain, a hag with a witch's cackle...all prime ingredients for a thrilling mystery are thrown in this soup and then heaped on with a goodly dollop of unabashed burlesque. 

You can tell this was originally a stage play. For a lighthouse that is miles out at sea, it can get awfully crowded and the cast members are continually disappearing into rooms we never see. There is the so-called artist who purchased the lighthouse, then a retired seaman comes into the picture, Captain Hook (don't ask), the damsel's nanny (she was out for a stroll and stumbled upon the lighthouse), and a wise-cracking dame who happened to come ashore after her ship went down. Margaret Irving plays this role and she really is the highlight of the film. If this was an Abbott and Costello picture co-starring Joan Davis this would be a six-star picture. Casting can make all the difference. 

"Sh! The Octopus" was the concoction of Donald Gallagher and Ralph Murphy, who wrote the original stage play. Donald Gallagher had scored a success with The Gorilla on stage (later made into a film) and so in 1928 he teamed up with Murphy to bring this play to the Royale Theatre in New York, where it continued on for 47 performances. Harry Kelly and Clifford Dempsey starred as Kelly and Dempsey (who else?). 

In the film version, Allen Jenkins, the Irish Brooklynite, is excellent in his role as straight-man Dempsey, while Hugh Herbert performs his routine flibberity-jibbit quite flibberly. 

My sister and I watch movies in parts just before we head off to slumberland, usually 20 minutes per night, and we laughed ourselves silly with this film. Obviously, it held our attention for 3 days! The old witch's unmasking at the end is truly harrowing too. It has amazing special effects for its time (if you don't look at the strings on the octopus). 

" Quiet, while I do a little deducting...I'm just commencing to add two and two"

" Next week you'll be working on the alphabet"

There were a number of good one-liners and alot of "woo-woo"s but the funniest aspect of the picture is the film itself. Sh! The Octopus has a hypnotic attraction that makes you want to continue watching it even though it is woefully incoherent and just plain rotten. That's the beauty of it. The playwrights either thought their audience were complete idiots or just assumed that they can feed the public any mumbo-jumbo and get away with it so long as they take on the "Surprise! it's all a dream" ending. It didn't work this time, Mr. Gallagher.

Actually, I enjoyed the exploding lighthouse end much better. They should have cut the umbilical cord right there and left the audience walking out of the theater wondering "did we really just watch that??"...something we are left wondering anyway. 

You really need to see it to believe it. 

This post is our contribution to the So Bad It's Good Blogathon being hosted by Rebecca Deniston at her blog Taking Up Room. Be sure to stop by to read more reviews of awful films that are so bad you just have to see them! 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

By Candlelight (1933)

Paul Lukas stars as Josef, a butler employed to Prince Alfred, portrayed by the dashing Nils Asther. Josef loves working for the prince because he not only admires him but wishes to emulate him... especially when it comes to the prince's wooing technique, for the prince has a reputation of being a "great lover". 

One of his favorite methods of enchanting women is by candlelight. This method involves Josef turning off the electricity in the apartment while the prince is entertaining his latest lady love. In her surprise state, the prince steals a kiss, at which point Josef enters with candles in hand and declares, "It is a power outage, milord." A simple trick, but one that the prince enjoys.

Sometimes the prince's romances are interrupted by his lover's husbands. After his latest encounter with an irate husband, Josef suggests that the villa in Monte Carlo be opened to provide the prince with a change of scenery. "A capital idea!" the prince declares. 

Josef then takes the train a day ahead of the prince to make preparations and, onboard, meets a young woman named Marie (Elissa Landi) in the dining car. He sees this as a marvelous opportunity to apply the mannerisms and phrases he learned from the prince for impressing women. Unfortunately, his play acting the prince goes a bit too far and Marie believes that Josef really is a prince, a charade he then tries to keep up in Monte Carlo. When the real prince arrives, he amusingly takes on the role of the butler!

By Candlelight, released in 1933, is an entertaining and surprisingly fast-moving romantic comedy from Universal Studios. Paul Lukas was ideally cast as the butler Josef and is charming in the role. However, it was hard for him to hold his own in any scene with Nils Asther. That Swedish actor had a mesmerizing way of stealing the spotlight. Asther played a debonair and quite convincing cad of a prince.

Since By Candlelight was filmed before the Hays Code was strictly enforced, the dialogue and visual situations are much more straight-forward then the subtle hinting techniques employed in the late 1930s sex comedies. Prince Alfred pinches women and openly flirts with married socialites while Josef proudly looks on. 

Director James Whale did a wonderful job of keeping the film amusing and not letting it get stage-bound, something that could have easily been done since it originated as an Austrian stage play. P.G. Wodehouse (the Jeeves and Wooster author) adapted "Candle Light" by Siegfried Geyer and Karl Farkas into an English play which, in turn, was purchased by Universal Pictures for filming. 

While James Whale is best known for directing horror films (The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, etc) he had the right touch for comedies and could have made a name for himself in that genre had he pursued it. He later filmed an equally amusing - and forgotten - comedy called Remember the Night? (1935).

Fortunately, By Candlelight is not so rare as to be unreleased and is available both on regular DVD and on Blu-Ray. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

From the Archives: The Light Touch (1951)

George Sanders is looking as affable as ever in this still from the 1951 thriller The Light Touch starring Stewart Granger and Pier Angeli. Pier looks like she is falling in love with Stewart..which is a shame because the film's poster foretells: "If she knew what he was, she'd never give him her youth and innocence!" You'll have to watch the film to find out if she really goes that far. 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store:

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game


"This is a most serious matter, a most serious matter!" 

At least, that is what it appears that this man is saying. He certainly is standing in the right environment to have a serious matter on his mind, but we'll not sway you too much by sharing our thoughts. Let's see how many of you remember this scene. It's trickier than you might think!

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Our Debut Book! - Classic Films is now available on Kickstarter

 After ten years of writing posts for Silver Scenes, I have finally decided to publish a book! It is called "Classic Films - Famous and Forgotten Films" (Volume 1). This has long been a pet project that I kept putting off working on but now the gears are in motion and this book is set to become a reality in the summer of 2024. Hoorah!

Every January, the crowd-funding site Kickstarter hosts an initiative called "MAKE 100" where creators must offer a reward limited to only 100 editions. I usually take part in the MAKE 100 by restoring historic photographs, but this year I launched Classic Films and, surprisingly, it was funded within 4 days! The campaign still has 11 days to go before it concludes but I have already begun work on the book. Such fun!

If you would like to support this project, just click on the link below:

The paperback costs $14 and the deluxe limited-edition set (includes a signed book, DVD and photo) costs $40. This will, hopefully, be the first volume in a set of 4-5 books. As most of you well know, there are thousands of films that can be reviewed so a series like this could be endless. 

Ten years' worth of reviews now being put into book-format

Each book will have about 45-60 film reviews as well as lots of themed lists to get you to explore other films in similar genres. It will also be profusely illustrated in the style of the old movie magazines of the 1930s. If there is room, I may even sneak in a few bios. 

I'm having a ball putting this project together! It is re-capturing the feelings I had when I was young and first fell in love with classic films...and I hope that anyone who reads the book will get these feel-good sensations, too.  

"Put it in me book exactly as I dictate!"

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Night Ferry (1976) - A CFF Film

An ancient Egyptian mummy is stolen from The British Museum and young Jeff (Graham Fletcher) witnesses the criminals carrying the mummy case to their hiding place at the railyards. He wants to go to the police but is afraid to since it would mean confessing that he trespassed on railway property while searching for his model plane. This dangerous act caused a railway worker to be injured. Instead, he recruits his two friends, Nick (Engin Eshref) and Carol (Jayne Tottman) to keep an eye on the master criminal known as Pyramid (Bernard Cribbins) and see if they can track down the mummy themselves.

Night Ferry was one of many Children's Film Foundations distributions released in the United Kingdom during the 1970s. This one is a cut above the rest since the criminals are not the usual bungling sort, although it still is very much juvenile fare. The location scenes around London's Victoria and Clapham stations are nice and the film clips along at a good pace. It actually builds up a fair amount of tension towards the climax when the criminals discover that the children are on their trail. 

Night Ferry was directed by David Eady and written by Michael Barnes who also teamed up to produce the film. This is one of several films that they made together for the Children's Film Foundation. The child actors do an adequate job, although young Jeff was a bit wooden. Bernard Cribbins (The Railway Children, Jackanory) stars as the criminal Pyramid, a master-of-disguise who arranges crimes to order. In this case, a private collector in France wants the mummy for his own collection so they are delivering him via the night ferry across the channel. 

Also in the cast is Aubrey Morris, Jeremy Bulloch and Carole Rousseau...whom some may recognize as the host of the BBC French instructional video course A Vous La France (1984).

Since Night Ferry is only one-hour long, it was later aired on television as one episode of the children's anthology series called Once Upon a Classic, hosted by Bill Bixby. It is currently available on DVD as one of three films on the BFI's Children's Film Foundation Collection "London Tales".