How I Spent Academy Awards Night, 2017

(Typical of illustrated movie books sold in bookstores of the day is Michael Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days Almanac, Random House, 1956)

Well, obviously not watching the televised fashion show overflowing with egos, agendas, and political correctness. Again, I chose to watch a classic movie, this time the popular 1956 Best Picture, Around the World in 80 Days, which was such a labor of love spectacular for producer Mike Todd that it nearly bankrupted him.

Based on Jules Verne’s classic, there are many references to the original including the famous Indian attack on the American train and the one-day-confusion in the climax. The movie is largely a travelogue with lots of music, with a pretentious prologue with Edward Murrow (a popular commentator of the day), a famous George Melies silent film short, and a clever animated titles closing by Saul Bass. Countries featured include Spain, India, China, Japan, the U.S., and England (which is the starting, concluding, and reference point throughout the film).

David Niven stars as Phileas Fogg, a stereotypical, proper, stiff-upper-lip Brit, Cantinflas as his acrobatic Charlie Chaplinesque manservant, and Shirley MacLaine as a politically-incorrect Indian princess. Cantinflas has many featured scenes (too many) unnecessarily padding out this three-hour movie ( much like Morrow’s intro, the Meiles film, and Bass’s closing sequence); Todd was a showman and wanted to give people their money’s worth. With guest stars, the cast included 47 established actors including Charles Boyer, Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, Jose Greco, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, George Raft, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, and John Gielgud.

Victor Young did the soundtrack music (of which there is plenty) including the famous theme song. Lionel Lindon was responsible for the cinematography which makes the movie a delight to watch in widescreen still. Todd pulled out all the stops to entertain including a balloon ride, a humorous bullfight, an extended Spanish dance café scene, an Indian-pyre funeral, Japanese acrobatics, an ostrich ride, an Indian chase, and points-of-view Cinerama-like camerawork from atop a tall Victorian bicycle, a train, and an elephant.

By now you get the general idea, this is still an entertaining film despite all its shortcomings and nostalgic charm. Would it win an Academy Award today? Not likely. But those times were simpler and much more innocent. People warmed to truly entertaining movies that tried hard and offered many possibilities. What Todd’s film might lack in CGI effects, more accurate realism, political correctness, cynicism, and coarseness, does not matter as it harkens back to a time when people went to the movies for straightforward comedy, adventure, romance, and purest escapism.

No, I haven’t watched an Oscar evening in this century and, happily, will go on watching genuine classics and examples of truly great, classic film-making instead, for the rest of my life. Who needs to watch all those clothes, surfaces, egos, pompous speeches, agendas, political statements, and gratuitous shows of political correctness? What does all of that that have to do with truly great filmmaking per se?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply