Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island (1961)
Many people consider the 1961 version of Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island to be no more than an excuse for Ray Harryhausen to do his special effects magic. And the special effects are wonderful, but there’s actually more that makes the movie very enjoyable.
The basic story, set during the American Civil War, has five men escaping a Confederate prison in an observation balloon. They get blown off course onto the mysterious island of the title, where they run into pirates. As well as a giant prehistoric bird, a giant, crab, giant honeybees — and Captain Nemo.
The movie is unfaithful to the original novel (giant creatures, adding a pair of lovely women, etc.). But it allows Ray Harryhausen room to work his special effects magic. And the movie is worth watching for that alone. But the acting is also very good, especially Herbert Lom as the anti-hero Captain Nemo. The pace is good, fitting an action movie, and the audience actually cares about the onscreen characters. Proof that the movie works.
Editorial review of Mysterious Island, courtesy of Amazon.com’
Jules Verne’s classic adventure is perfectly matched with Ray Harryhausen’s timeless movie magic in Mysterious Island. Based on Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this rousing Civil War-era fantasy begins when a band of Union war prisoners (and one Confederate straggler) escape in a hot-air balloon, which crash-lands on the titular island of mystery.
Verne’s novel doesn’t include any gigantic creatures, but Harryhausen’s version–under the capable direction of genre specialist Cy Endfield–features giant oysters, bees, a prehistoric Phororhacos (a giant chickenlike bird!), an undersea cephalopod, a giant crab, and enough danger to keep its resourceful ensemble on constant alert. Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom, ably filling James Mason’s shoes) is a third-act hero, pursuing an ill-fated dream to save humanity from hunger and war. The action may be too intense for younger viewers, but Endfield’s pacing and Harryhausen’s stop-motion mastery make Mysterious Island a wondrous precursor to Harryhausen’s follow-up classic, Jason and the Argonauts. —Jeff Shannon
- Michael Craig … Capt. Cyrus Harding
- Joan Greenwood (The Uncanny) … Lady Mary Fairchild
- Michael Callan (Cat Ballou) … Herbert Brown
- Gary Merrill … Gideon Spilitt
- Herbert Lom (A Shot in the Dark) … Captain Nemo
- Beth Rogan … Elena Fairchild
- Percy Herbert … Sgt. Pencroft
- Dan Jackson … Cpl. Neb Nugent
Movie quotes from Mysterious Island
Confederate soldier: All right, now get down.
Captain Cyrus Harding: This was just the beginning. We escaped, but only into the clutches of the greatest storm in American History. Below us, when we could still see through the patches of angry clouds, were smashed cities and forests torn up by their roots. Then finally, the earth disappeared from our view. We were prisoners of the wind, helpless in the storm’s mighty grip. And we wondered, how much longer we’d remain aloft. Would we ever set foot on the earth again?
Herbert Brown: I ran away from a battle. I’ve been running ever since. I got caught running away.
Sgt. Pencroft: Son, your whole Union Army’s been running from mine for the last three years. Now we’re running away from you. You needn’t feel special about it.
[after the men finish eating the giant crab]
Gideon Spilitt: That’s the best crab I ever cooked.
Captain Cyrus Harding: We’d be more impressed, Mr. Spilitt, if you’d put it in the pot by yourself.
[finding an unconscious Elena on the shore]
Herbert Brown: She’s beautiful.
Captain Cyrus Harding: Better than that, she’s alive.
Gideon Spilitt: Captain, why don’t we turn this island into a democracy and elect a leader? One who won’t keep escaping to places which need escaping from.
Captain Cyrus Harding: Because all of us here are still at war, and I just happen to be the ranking officer.
Elena Fairchild: I’m going to ask Captain Harding to marry us.
Herbert Brown: That’d be wonderful, if he were only a minister, but he’s not.
Elena Fairchild: He’s a captain, and captains can marry people at sea.
Herbert Brown: He’s a land captain, not a sea captain.
Elena Fairchild: Well, we’re on land, aren’t we?
Captain Nemo: [to Spilitt] You supply the ink. The soldiers supply the blood.
Captain Nemo: What I did was in the name of peace. Your war, like all wars, glories in devastation and death.
Captain Cyrus Harding: Well, my war will set men free.
Captain Nemo: Now Captain Harding, aren’t you ready to dance with the devil now?
Captain Cyrus Harding: Show me the pumps and the power to raise that ship, and then you’ll have seven new waltz partners.
Captain Cyrus Harding: We deeply regretted we could not save the life of the man who had saved ours. A man who dedicated himself to ending strife among men. And when we returned to civilization, we all pledged ourselves to working for a peaceful and bountiful world, as Captain Nemo would have it.
Trivia for Mysterious Island
- The original novel does not contain any reference to giant or extinct animals or plants. Film makers decided to include this to make the movie more exciting, becoming ever since into the most recognizable and persistent aspect of every subsequent adaptation of this Jules Verne’s work. Interestingly, extinct fauna features predominantly in another Verne’s novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
- The original concept for the film was that it was going to be shot as a straight survival story without the giant animals. However, the producers felt that concept was too boring and decided to include the giant monsters.
- Producer Charles H. Schneer claimed that he chose this story after reading an article stating that Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island” was the most-looked-at book at public libraries.
- The scene with the giant bird was from the original draft of the script, which was to have had prehistoric monsters rather than giant oysters and crabs.
- Ray Harryhausen has related the story of watching a cut of the film with composer Bernard Herrmann. In a sequence involving a giant bird, Herrmann told Harryhausen that he was going to score it with Turkey in the Straw.
- The armature for the crab is covered with the shell of a real crab instead of the usual latex. Ray Harryhausen bought three crabs for the production, having one humanely killed by a museum employee as boiling it would have changed the color of the shell. The other two were used for close-ups of the crabs’ mandibles, which would otherwise have required a huge amount of time to properly animate. These crabs subsequently served as a dinner éentre for Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer.
- Although produced by different studios, it is obvious that the exterior design of the “Nautilus” submarine as seen in the film was heavily influenced by Harper Goff’s “half crocodile/half shark” Nautilus design in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), especially with respect to the sub’s top spar and rounded “eye” windows. In the original Jules Verne novels of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Mysterious Island”, the Nautilus is described as being rather plain, basically a cigar-shaped steel tube with very little outside detailing.