Making the Grades
In 1872, Phileas Fogg's (David Niven) pronouncement that he could go Around the World in 80 Days seemed like a preposterous boast. When the other old boys at the Reform Club suggest wagering a tidy sum against his swaggering assertion, the proud gentleman determines to prove his claim. Because his word is his bond, the very proper English man sets off to transverse the globe with only ten minutes of preparation, a satchel of British currency and his newly hired manservant Passepartout (Cantinflas).
His haste to embark on such a rash expedition, coupled with the abundance of cash at his disposal, soon have the police speculating about the possibility of the fastidious fellow being the perpetrator of a recent London bank robbery. Private detective Mr. Fix (Robert Newton) is so sure of Fogg's guilt that he tails their journey in hopes of getting an opportunity to arrest the aristocrat -- and collect the offered reward.
Blissfully unaware, the unflappable man plods his path, completely confident his ingenuity and money can surmount any obstacle. By hot-air balloon, boat, train, and elephant, the intrepid pair wends their way, making a few detours to fight bulls in Spain, rescue a Princess condemned to death in India, and check out the can-can dancers in San Francisco.
The film takes time for sightseeing as well. Shot in Todd A-O (a wide angle, 70mm film process pioneered by the movie's producer Michael Todd), the travel log offers many panoramic scenery shots and first person camera angles of riding the rails, drifting in a balloon and the like.
Yet that's not the only tourist attraction to be found here. The other is spotting the stars. Remembered as a smooth-talking salesman, Michael Todd coined the phrase "Cameo Appearance" for this production, and talked many entertainment celebrities into filling small "gem-like" roles. The first feature to do so, film buffs will enjoy identifying these famous folks from the fifties. (The DVD menu includes commentary and a section that identifies these notable personalities.)
However, as that's the most exciting part of the trip, the causal observer may feel like it takes 80 days to watch this three-hour, low-plot epic. Other viewer concerns include the womanizing Passepartout, some scanty female costumes and mild innuendo, as well as portrayals of people drinking and smoking. The movie's worst offence is its political incorrectness. A shootout with North American aboriginals and references to natives of India as heathens are amongst the most glaring. Casting choices may cause questions too. How did Shirley MacLaine land the part of an Indian Princess?
The other obvious issue is that gambling is the primary premise of the story, both on and off the screen (as explained in the DVD bonus materials). Michael Todd, who won and lost several fortunes in his lifetime, bet everything he had on this high-risk adaptation of Jules Vern's novel. 1957 proved to be his lucky year. He not only won the "Best Picture" Oscar for Around the World in 80 Days, but also the hand of Elizabeth Taylor. This turned out to be his final hurrah, as he died in a plane crash in March of 1958.
Although the world has gotten a lot smaller since the book was written in 1873, or this landmark movie was made in 1956, the secret to enjoying this story remains the same: Remember, it is the voyage -- not the destination --that matters most.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Around The World In 80 Days.
The film captures an attitude of British supremacy (sometimes with some sarcasm), which was likely prevalent in 1872. Is it likely pound notes would be accepted or viewed as valuable in the various countries Fogg travels through?
What is immortality? Michael Todd contributed to the film industry with the Todd A-O technology, and the various Cameo performers who can be spotted here were well known at the time this movie was made. Still, how many of these people are you familiar with today? If you were to leave a legacy, what things would you like to be remembered for?