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Mysterious Island (1961, Michel Craig, Joan Greenwood)

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French author Jules Verne was the writer to whom Hollywood turned during the late ’50s and early ’60s (from 1954’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and 1956’s Around The World In 80 Days to 1959’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth ), and this British science fiction movie perfectly encapsulates his appeal.

Full of fantastic special effects (courtesy of effects wizard Ray Harryhausen – the movie utilises his own invention, Superdynamation), with acts of stiff-upper-lipped bravery and damsels in distress, Mysterious Island is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the South Seas. It’s also got a typically full-blooded score from Bernard Herrmann.

Set in 1865 during the American Civil War, the action starts with three soldiers escaping from a Confederate prison. Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig), Herbert Brown (Michael Callan) and Neb (Dan Jackson) make their getaway in a balloon, accompanied by Gideon Spilett (Gary Merrill), a journalist covering the war, and a rebel soldier, Pencroft (Percy Herbert). The five men are blown out into the Pacific, with the balloon finally landing on a remote and mysterious South Sea island.

Here they encounter two English ladies, Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan), whose boat has been shipwrecked. Their other encounters are far more hazardous, however: the motley crew must battle against a giant crab, a giant bird, a giant bee and a group of cut-throat pirates (not giant, but still pretty dangerous). Just when they begin to think they’ll never escape the island – which also has a volcano about to erupt – they find an unlikely ally in the form of Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom). Now all they need to do is get his broken submarine, the Nautilus, to work.

production details
UK – USA / 101 minutes / 1961

Director: Cy Endfield
Writers: John Prebble, Daniel Ullman, Crane Wilbur (based on the novel by Jules Verne)

cast
Gary Merrill as Gideon Spilitt
Percy Herbert as Sgt. Pencroft
Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo
Dan Jackson as Cpl. Neb Nugent
Joan Greenwood as Lady Mary Fairchild
Michael Callan as Herbert Brown
Michael Craig as Capt. Cyrus Harding
Beth Rogan as Elena Fairchild