David Niven and Cantinflas in Around the World in 80 Days (1956)



(director: Michael Anderson; screenwriters: James Poe/John Farrow/S. J. Perelman/based on the Jules Verne novel; cinematographer: Lionel Lindon; editors: Howard Epstein/Gene Ruggiero; music: Victor Young; cast: David Niven (Phileas Fogg), Cantinflas (Passepartout), Robert Newton (Mr. Fix), Shirley MacLaine (Princess Aouda); Runtime: 175; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michael Todd; Warner Bros.; 1956)

“Just goes to show you what dreck can win the Oscar if you got the money and know how to promote your product.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Just goes to show you what dreck can win the Oscar if you got the money and know how to promote your product. Flashy showman Mike Todd’s big-budget Todd-AO undertaking of Jules Verne is more noted for its all-star cast (44, if you’re counting like I did; some of the noted include the following: Marlene Dietrich, Charles Boyer, Jose Greco, Frank Sinatra, Peter Lorre, Red Skelton, Buster Keaton, Noel Coward, John Gielgud, John Mills, Beatrice Lillie and Ronald Colman. Newscaster Edward R. Murrow provides the opening narration) and sheer spectacle than for any artistry. It’s one of those lighthearted wide-screen pageants built around numerous sketches and dropping in on beautiful looking locations to undergo some exciting adventures; if you will, an international travelogue posing as a movie. When viewed today it seems a slow slog at 175 minutes and not as breathtaking as what many thought upon its theater release. More than anything else, it seems to be a tribute to the energetic producer Michael Todd and his ability to put such a big project together. There are so many shots of trains and boats, that one can easily become travel sick during the viewing. It’s held together more as an event than a movie under the direction of Michael Anderson (“Logan’s Run”/”Orca”/”Pope Joan”).

In 1872, David Niven as the unflappable and fastidious Victorian gentleman Phileas Fogg and his valet, the Mexican comedian Cantinflas as Passepartout, win a bet of 20,000-pounds with Fogg’s fellow members of the London Reform Club that they can go around the world in 80 days and we get to see how they do it. Fogg and his travel companion start off going from London to Paris. By balloon they reach Spain and it’s off to the bullfights with Cantinflas in his element. In India, the duo rescue a widowed princess played by Shirley MacLaine, from committing suicide on a funeral pyre. It goes on interminably in such locales as Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco across the States by train to New York, and back to England. To complicate things, they are chased around the world by a British detective, Mr. Fix (Robert Newton), who suspects they might have robbed the Bank of England. It was shot in more than 100 natural settings and on 140 special sets.

If this is your kind of pic, then go for it. It’s not my kind of pic, and I didn’t go for it.

It was the winner of five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Score and Best Film Editing.