Mike Todd’s gone and done it!
His first production, “Around the World In 80 Days,” lensed in the Todd-AO process, is a smasheroo from start to finish. He has brought the vintage Jules Verne novel to the wide screen with a roll and a flourish, embellishing the story with big and colorful visual values and a healthy sense of humor that shapes it into perhaps the most entertaining global story travelog ever made.
With a smash lineup of stars in major and minor parts, Todd has turned out a surefire hit.
What American hasn’t, at one time or another, delighted in the fantastic adventures of that intrepid English man, Phileas Fogg, who, to win a bet, journeyed ’round the world in the “record time” of 80 days, using every mode of transportation, from train and boat to elephant and balloon. Well, it’s all here on the screen, every penny of the $5,000,000 to $6,000,000 that went into the making of the production.
The cast, led by David Niven as Fogg, the Mexican Cantinflas as Passepartout, Robert Newton as Mr. Fix and Shirley MacLaine as Aouda, the Indian Maharanee, has been shrewdly chosen and, with a witty and clever script by S. J. Perelman (at least he’s the only one getting screen credit; others who worked on it are John Farrow and James Poe), they act out the piece against some of the most impressively lensed backgrounds on view in a long time. It all adds up to a mixture of spectacle and comedy, that should capture audiences young and old, and without reservation.
This is another long picture — two hours and 55 minutes plus intermission. But this time there’ll be few complaints. Little time has been wasted and the story races on as Fogg and company proceed from London to Paris, thence via balloon to Spain and the bullfights; from there to Marseilles and India, where Fogg and Passepartout rescue beautiful Miss MacLaine from death on a funeral pyre; to Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, across the country by train to New York (notwithstanding an Indian attack) and thence back to England where Fogg thinks he has lost his bet, but discovers in the last minute that, by traveling East, he has gained a day and is the winner yet.
Credit Todd with going all-out in giving the customers their money’s worth. “80 Days,” lensed by Lionel Lindon with Kevin McCrory doing the foreign locales, is a bouncy, riotous, action-packed picture that still stakes time out for hearty laughs and the magnificent scenery. The Todd “touch” is rich in evidence throughout. This picture was made with showmanship in mind and the customers are guaranteed to eat it up.
Script and director (Michael Anderson), have balanced the story cleverly, weaving in the mass of top names without ever losing track of the main line. It’s a neat trick, and it comes off socko. There is never scenery just for scenery’s sake, and never story without the rich backgrounds. Todd-AO syustem here, for the first time, has been properly used and fills the screen with wondrous effects. Images are extraordinarily sharp and depth of focus, aided by Lindon’s lensing, is striking in many scenes. Eastman color, processed by Technicolor, helps compound the rich effects of landscape and costumes.
Niven, as Fogg, is the perfect stereotype of the unruffled English gentleman and quite intentionally, a caricature of 19th Century British propriety. Matching him in a standout performance, is Mexican star Cantinflas (Mario Moreno) as Passepartout. He has a Chaplinesque quality that endears him immediately, and his antics provide many laughs along with amused chuckles. A master mimic, Cantinflas makes a big contribution to the success of the film. His bullfight solo is a classic. Robert Newton ini the role of Mr. Fix, the detective who trails Fogg whom he suspects of having robbed the Bank of London, is broad comic all the way through, and Miss MacLaine ia appealing as the princess.
There’s rarely been a picture that can boast of so many star names in bit parts. Just to name a few in the more important roles: John Carradine as the pompous Col. Proctor; Finlay Currie, Ronald Squires, Basil Sydney, A. E. Matthews and Trevor Howard as members of the Reform Club who bet against Fogg; Fernandel as a Paris coachman; Robert Morley as the stodgy governor of the Bank of England; Sir Cedric Hardwicke as a Colonial militarist; Red Skelton, as a drunk; Marlene Dietrich and George Raft. There are many others, including Frank Sinatra in a flash shot as a piano player. Jose Greco, early in the footage, wows with a heel fandango.
Todd, wisely, hasn’t relied on just names. They’re all well integrated. And the names must compete with the effects — from the breathtaking balloon launching in Paris, to the hilarious bullfight sequence, to the funeral parade in the Indian jungle, to the collapse of the railroad bridge, to the attacking Indian hordes and the riotus street scene in San Francisco. The combination of talents has turned these scenes into eye-filling and exciting spectacle that roars, then segues into placid, perfectly composed shots of kaleidoscopic beauty.
“80 Days” could have been just a travelog. Instead, thanks to a large part to the Perelman-Todd humor, it chuckles along tongue-in-cheek, without ever a dull moment. Asks Miss MacLaine of Cantinflas (about Niven): “Have there been women in his life?” Says he: “I assume he must have had a mother.” Another time, when Cantinflas tips a waiter in San Francisco, Niven fixes a stern eye on him with “I told you before — don’t spoil the natives.”
The humor is subtle at times, broad elsewhere. The Indian attack bit, with the Redskins invading the train and the cavalry riding to the rescue is reminiscent of Mack Sennett; the scene of Fogg and party sailing past the broken-down train in a wind-driven cart is hokum and pure joy. So is the dismantling of the steamer to provide fuel for the boilers. The whole, crazy, wonderful story is faithfully produced. Pic’s sound is extraordinarily vivid and effective and a major asset.
Introducing the picture, Edward R. Murrow,in a prologue, is a bit stuffy and too long, but he serves to set “time.” Included is the 1901 Melies version of Jules Verne’s “A Journey to the Moon.” Saul Bass’ final titles are a tribute to the kind of taste and imagination, the ingenuity and the splendor that mark this entire Todd production. Victor Young’s musical backgrounds are firstrate and strongly underscore the various moods of the film. His mock use of “Rule Britannia” makes a telling point.
As for Todd himself, “80 Days” is his answer to his many critics. If anyone bet against him on this one, they might as well start paying up right now.
1956: Best Motion Picture (Michael Todd, Producer), Cinematography (Color) Lionel Lindon, Film Editing (Gene Ruggiero, Paul Weatherwax), Music (Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) Victor Young, Writing (Screenplay–Adapted) James Poe, John Farrow, S.J. Perelman
Nominations: Art Direction (Color) — Art Direction: James W. Sullivan, Ken Adam; Set Decoration: Ross J. Dowd, Costime Design (Color) — Miles White, Directing (Michael Anderson)