#501/#52 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
In 1868, a mysterious sea monster has been apparently sinking ships all across the Pacific Ocean. Attempting to study the creature, French Professor Pierre Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his assistant Conseil (Peter Lorre) join an American naval vessel charged with looking into the matter. When the creature attacks however, they are amazed to find it is actually a technologically advanced submarine helmed by the strong-willed Captain Nemo (James Mason). Along with the naval ships only remaining crewman, Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), the pair are invited aboard to marvel at life beneath the waves but it quickly becomes apparent they are more prisoner than guest.
Having never read the book I can’t comment on how well they keep to the story, but Disney’s live action version is a fairly enjoyable watch. It’s quite slow in a number of places, which does really drag down the whole feel of the film, but the locations and set pieces are grandiose and impressive. The look of Nemo’s ship, the Nautilus, and the battle with the giant squid during a thunderstorm are truly iconic and particularly well done. The underwater elements, while really dragged out, must also have been notable to a 1950’s audience.
From the cast, Lukas was probably the least interesting, having to work as the audience surrogate, but he does well enough as the go between for Nemo and his fellow captives. Lorre gives a good comedic performance as the loyal but put upon assistant and works particularly well when interacting with Douglas’ character Ned. Douglas himself however, is what keeps the longer boring sections from becoming unbearable. He just brings a lust for life to the character and it’s hard not to smile along with him as he gets from one antic to the next.
Nemo is also enjoyable but in a totally different way. He has some depth to him, which is revealed as the story progresses and Mason portrays perfectly, but he’s at his best when he’s acting like a James Bond villain. He genuinely doesn’t give a damn about anyone on land and it really comes across when he’s interacting with Ned. They hate each other and it’s fun to see them spar. Mason allows you to see glimpses of the good man that was once beneath the veneer but now he has clearly gone off the deep end.
There are certainly a great deal of other live action Disney movies which are a lot lower than this early contribution to the genre but at the same time I don’t think I’d be rushing to rewatch it any time soon. Pleasant, with a good cast, but nothing special nowadays. 3/5