Saturday, April 2, 2011

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

No, not the one with Jackie Chan.
Nominees: "Around the World in 80 Days" "Friendly Persuasion" "Giant" "The King and I" "The Ten Commandments"

He Said: Style over least a bit of style.

Oh boy, where to begin on this one. I guess it started off pleasantly with an odd rich businessman making a bet to travel around the world in 80 days alongside his odd and cooky man-servant Passepartout. But it quickly devolved into a parade of cultural stereotypes and borderline racism; and at times, actual parades. The man-servant is clearly the Falstaff here, the comedic piece. He really is the only reason to watch this movie, you really feel for him and get connected to his character and he has a fair bit of comedic value. That being said, he is a total horn-dog and at times it was almost groan-inducing the way he would chase after the women, non-stop all over the world.

Basically this movie was long boring travel pieces with stops at various locations in the world where some sort of accident or blunder occurs. I really could have done without the 6 minute long bull fight that Passepartout was forced into, and the god knows how long balloon ride across Europe, and the lengthy train ride through India with the camera mounted on the train, and the numerous ship scenes. Now the cool thing is, that apparently they did film some of these scenes in the actual locations, which is pretty neat for a 1956 film, but these shots were just too long and drawn out. This 2.5 to 3 hour movie could have been shortened by at least an hour with the proper editing, but if that was the case there wouldn't have been much of a film left in the end.

Now they didn't use black face, but why stop there when you can have brown-face, yellow-face, and red-face. At one point they rescue the poor Indian princess from being burned alive, as we all know Indians can't help but constantly burn their princesses to death. And it took me a while to actually figure it out for sure, but they used a white American actress for the Indian princess, just dressed her up different and slapped on a slight accent. Interestingly they almost never did a close-up shot of the “Indian” princess, I am certain that this is to try and hide the fact that she is in fact white. At another point, in Hong Kong, they have a ship captain who is supposed to be Chinese, but he is just a white man with not so carefully construed camera shots. Then when in America they encounter both the stereotypical peaceful peace pipe Natives as well as the stereotypical train-jacking evil Natives, and I am damn sure that all those actors were not Natives, but no way of knowing for sure, although I am pretty sure they wouldn't have wanted that many Native people acting back in 1956, apparently the same goes for Indian women as well. This movie used almost every stereotype of the different regions they passed through, from the procession of Indian Sikhs and other Indian stereotypes to the Chinese and Japanese stereotype and the Native American stereotypes. Apparently all Indian people are Sikhs, complete with harems too. Sure some of the scenes were filmed on site, but it seemed to be more of a racist display of different cultures than any truths of the cultures. I could probably go on with more examples of stereotypes and racism, but I think I would have to take notes for that, and there is no way I am sitting through this again.

As for the ending, it is rather abrupt and anti-climatic, although I think they were going for the old adage of it's not the end that's important, but how you get there; as well as a gestalt feeling of the whole being more than the individual pieces. All in all, much better and more entertaining than Oliver! but certainly not worthy of a best picture. I am not at all familiar with the other nominees but I suspect something else must have been better than this racist piece of crap.

Next up the 1943 classic Casablanca, another long and drawn out film...

She Said: It should've been called "Around the World in 80 Stereotypes."

I have a few complaints with this movie, but let's begin with most basic. It was boring. The basic plot was kind of neat, and I really like the character of Phileas Fogg as he was set up at the beginning: an eccentric man who likes everything just so, from his papers (unread) to his breakfast (precisely on time). I would've liked more of that and less around-the-world-ing. The movie basically consists of 5 sequences repeated over and over:

  1. The old men at the Reform Club talking about how Fogg couldn't possibly do it.
  2. Passepartout getting into trouble.
  3. Fogg and his counterparts talking about what they need to do next and how fast.
  4. Fogg paying somebody to do what he wants
  5. Beautifully shot scenery of the kind I would skip over if I were reading the book.
And then there are the stereotypes. Oh, the stereotypes. It begins with bull fighting in Spain and a bloodthirsty Tunisian prince no one is allowed to talk to, moves on to the constant bowing and acrobatic acts in Shanghai (where apparently a small Hispanic man blends right in), takes a turn through India, a land of nothing but Sikhs who burn fair maidens on funeral pyres, and finally winds up in America, with the very best line of all...
"Don't worry. Those are the friendly Indians. You can tell they're friendly by the peace-pipes they're smoking."
But don't worry: the bad Indians come soon and ambush the train, but then the Calvary rides out to kill them and save Passepartout before he's burned at the stake: Thank heavens! I don't seem to remember that particular practice from my social studies days... oh, wait! Now I do!! The Puritans (aka white people) did it!

I can see why the film's locations would've impressed the audiences back in the 50s, but nowadays, everything is filmed on location or in front of a green screen, so lots of that mystery is gone. There just wasn't enough plot or action to move the story along: I'm sorry, but 10 minutes of bull fighting just doesn't cut it. I felt like I was stuck in a choose-your-own-adventure book where the adventure was chosen for me.

When are we going to get a "modern" movie?

Verdict: The Academy was wrong.


  1. I remember liking this a lot when I was a kid. But I think it was maybe not the 1956 version (obviously not the Jackie Chan version either, as I was not born in 2005). I remember really liking the Indian princess, she must have had nice dresses or something.

    Poor you, having to watch Casablanca next. HATE. THAT. MOVIE. SO. BORING.

  2. 10 Commandments is terrible... you didn't miss out by them not winning. We used to watch it every year in sunday school.

  3. Ann: they made a 1989 TV mini-series remake starring Pierce Brosnan and Eric Idle, that's probably the one you watched as a kid.

  4. The movie takes longer to watch than the book takes to read. I agree with the wrong verdict, The King and I kicked this one's butt.