Title: Around the World in 80 Days
Release Date: 17 October, 1956
Oscar Ceremony: 27 March, 1957
Director: Michael Anderson
Starring: David Niven, Cantinflas, Shirley MacLaine
Nominees: Friendly Persuasion, Giant, The King and I, The Ten Commandments
“An Englishman never jokes about a wager, sir.” – Phileas Fogg
Most of us are familiar with at least some version of Jules Verne’s famous novel about a man attempting to go around the world in 80 days. I remember having to read an excerpt from it for a French reading comprehension test in grade 7 and being completely overwhelmed. I never managed to get into the Jules Verne books… I guess I owe a lot of my disinterest to the fact that I was forced into them as opposed to having the freedom to choose on my own. Anyways, I respect how avant-garde they were, and I can admit that they’re probably amazing for those who like a good adventure story.
For those of you who’ve never gotten acquainted with Mr. Verne’s tale, Around the World in 80 Days documents the quest of Phileas Fogg, a rich Englishman who claims he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. The whole thing starts after Fogg makes a £20,000 wager with a few members of the Reform Club who don’t believe he can do it. Basically the moral of this story is that rich white men in the 1870s had nothing better to do with their money. I just checked and £20,000 in 1872 is roughly the equivalent of 3.5 million CAD today. Crazy, right?
Anyways, Fogg grabs his devoted valet, Passepartout, and within a few hours they set off on their journey. Eventually, they start running into various obstacles after a police officer suspects Fogg is a thief and makes him jump through several hoops that make his quest harder than he initially suspected. He has to be back by September 21st at exactly 8:45PM. Will he still make it? I guess that’s more of a rhetorical question at this point, because of course he’s going to make it. Otherwise this movie would suck. However, there’s still a pretty cute twist that you might enjoy at the end.
Normally, I wouldn’t peg this type of comedy as an Oscar contender, but it’s actually a 3 hour epic and you can tell that a lot of work was put into this ambitious endeavour. The costumes and the sets are quite elaborate and have to change often; after all, our protagonists are travelling the world. I would call this a very colourful project, so it’s quite a relief that it’s actually in technicolor. A lot would have been lost if we had to watch it in black and white. If Casablanca was appealing to viewers because of its “exoticism” then this must have been the jackpot. It could work really well as an extra-long advertisement for a travel agency… the only problem is that a lot of it feels culturally outdated, especially for modern audiences. Think about it: it’s a view of the world in 1872 as interpreted by people in 1956. It’s definitely enjoyable, but everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
Speaking of culturally outdated, about halfway through the movie, an Indian princess comes along. Naturally, she’s played by an American woman who doesn’t look like she has even a tiny bit of Indian genes in her. I usually don’t see the big deal with cultural appropriation, but in this case it’s a bit distracting. Nonetheless, I still found her really talented and beautiful, which led me to Google her. My jaw dropped when I realized it was Shirley MacLaine! As someone who was born in the 1990s, I’ve only really seen her in her 60s. I knew she was famous for a long time but for some reason I just never came across any photographs of her from her youth. She was gorgeous (and still is)!
In the end, I completely understand why Around the World in 80 Days won, and I support the decision. Unfortunately, it hasn’t aged as well as we would have liked it to, but it stays pretty true to its time period. I mean, it can’t be worse than the 2004 Jackie Chan version, can it?