[May 11, 1960] Spelunkers Unite! (Journey to the Center of the Earth)

With so much schlock crowding out the marquees at our local cinemas, it’s nice to get a chance to see a quality production for a change.

Last weekend, my daughter and I managed to finally catch the Cinemascope epic, Journey to the Center of the Earth, loosely based upon (read: with the same title as) the Jules Verne classic.  Thankfully, mine eyes are virginal—I have never read the Verne novel.  Rather, I was always partial to Burroughs’ Pellucidar series (about which a movie is coming out this Summer!), so while I am sure there are egregious departures from the original story, they did not and could not offend me.

There is much to like about this charming movie about a priggish Scotsman geologist (who sounds a lot like James Mason), a fresh-faced geology student (who sings a lot like Pat Boone), a strong-willed and competent widow, a strapping Icelandic farmer, and (the true hero of the story), a duck named Gertrude.  This team forms the Lindenbrook Expedition, which aims to penetrate the depths of the Earth.  The access point is an Icelandic volcano, this entry having been pioneered by Arnie Saknussemm decades before.

Four of the five intrepid explorers

Did you know Pat Boone could sing?  Who’da thought?

The science is silly, of course, but that’s acceptable since this is based on a novel of Victorian (3rd Republican?) vintage.  Beneath the Earth, there are giant mushrooms (all edible, of course), ubiquitous phosphorescent algae, intelligent cannibal Dimetrodons, and a giant subterranean ocean.  And, of course, none of our heroes need shave or brush their hair.  Apparently, in the deep vaults of the Earth, little invisible gnomes keep chests, underarms, and coiffures in perfect order.

Less palatable is the rather artificial conflict between the Mason party and his rival, an Icelandic self-styled “Count,” the descendant of Saknussemm, who attempts to derail and vanquish the expedition.  I would have been just fine with a Human vs. Nature spectacle rather than an obligatory Man vs. Man piece.

A most charming aspect, however, is the movie’s streak of feminism.  The Widow Goteborg, who came to Iceland at her husband’s request (Professor Goteborg having attempted to get the jump on Lindenbrook) convincingly argues herself onto the Lindenbrook expedition.  Lindenbrook sputters on about the uselessness of a female explorer, and is then shown up at every turn by the cleverer, more capable Goteborg.  The cleverest member of all, however, is the duck, Gertrude; she unerringly guides the team to safety and profit, and she was my daughter’s favorite character. 

At one point, I noted, “The message of this film is that women are always right.”  My daughter replied, “I’m fine with that message.”

Gertrude leads the crew across the Nonestic Ocean

In sum, it is an absolutely stunning film, in gorgeous color and with fantastic visuals.  I was engaged throughout, even on the several occasions when the movie nearly careened into the musical theater genre.  Immediately upon finishing the movie, I wanted to find my own mustard-coloured traveling outfit.  Sadly, they are in short supply these days.

Coming up, more science, more television, more books, and more magazines.  May is proving to be a month of embarrassing riches.  Stay tuned!

9 thoughts on “[May 11, 1960] Spelunkers Unite! (Journey to the Center of the Earth)”

  1. I’m glad you had a film with all that quality, and quantity, too. I admit I dislike either sex claiming superiority, let alone infallibility.  I was thinking recently how effectively feminist WE Johns’ Worrals books are. Does your daughter like them?

    But definitely a thumbs up for Gertrude.  And Nonestic Ocean’s a great name.

    The dimetrodons sound good, too. Also, it confirms all my suspicions about the Permian Extinction.

    1. I don’t think the Widow Goteborg was denigrating the male gender; just pointing out that a particular male was being foolish, and that she, a particular female, was perfectly qualified to join the expedition–which proved to be true.

      What are your suspicions about the Permian Extinction?

  2. This was a fun film, taken in the right mood.  It was a smart idea to make it a period piece (like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”) instead of updating it (like “War of the Worlds.”) This kind of 19th century pseudo-science fiction (shall we call it “steam fantasy”?) can be quite enjoyable.

    My main objection is the use of lizards as “dinosaurs.”  Not only does this look less convincing than good stop motion animation (like the work Ray Harryhausen is doing) , it also involves the possibility that these animals might be harmed.

    1. It certainly had its steamy moments…  I liked it when the Widow Goteborg shot down Pat Boone.

      My favorite thing about the movie is the chance to do James Mason impressions.

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