Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cantinflas is half the reason to celebrate 'Around the World'

At long last, in 2004, 'Around the World in 80 Days' was released on DVD in all its wide screen splendor. Like so many classic films that have been subject to deterioration and neglect, this fillm was revived, refreshed, and saved. The gorgeous scenery, the fun Jules Verne tale, the dozens of movie stars, and of course Cantinflas will forever be entertaining us. If you have not watched the flick before, or if it's been a while, I hope my review [published Oct. 16, 2004] will encourage you to partake.

By Steve Crum

It took Phileas Fogg 80 days to travel the world in Jules Verne's classic novel Around the World in 80 Days. So why has it taken so long for the 1956 Oscar winning movie to be released on DVD in all of its widescreen glory? We can only speculate, since nowhere on either of the supplemental-packed discs--or on the fold-out cover liner notes--is found the answer.

Is it because producer Mike Todd's widow, Elizabeth Taylor, legally held up the release of this gem for these many years? Were all original prints considered either lost or destroyed? Worry not, the classic spectacular Around the World in 80 Days (Warner Brothers, around $30) has arrived. The audio and video elements are gorgeous, and the extra features are mouth watering. Any liner note complaint I have about this fabulous two disc special edition DVD is comparatively minute, considering all the pluses.

Since a widescreen Around has been at the top of my want list for at least two wives back, I am ecstatic. Around has been available on VHS for years--but in full screen format, which means 1/3 of the film's width was chopped off. The far from sharp quality included soft focused images that were beginning to fade. The soundtrack was acceptable, particularly the Oscar winning Victor Young score. This DVD set boasts an all-new digital transfer with the soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Just rev this one up on your surround sound stereo system. Plot-wise, Around the World in 80 Days opens in Victorian London wherein the eccentric nobleman Phileas Fogg (David Niven, in his personal favorite role) wagers with his men's club he can meet the deadline of the story's title. Along with his valet Passepartout, played by the talented Mexican comic Cantinflas, Fogg sets off via balloon, train, rail pump car, ship, horse, and elephant to win his bet.

By the way, an amazing thing about this film is the casting of Cantinflas as a Frenchman. At no time is his Spanish accent disguised. Yet the role fits him perfectly. Go figure. In fact, Cantinflas is half responsible for making Around the World in 80 Days a successful movie. He is immensely fun to watch.

The other half of the film's sell is the inclusion of dozens of cameo star roles as Fogg and Passepartout circle the globe. Interestingly, producer Mike Todd was the first to coin the term "cameo" as meaning a brief star sequence. So we get to gawk at familiar faces as well as the colorful on-location scenery. Look for Shirley MacLaine in an early role as the rescued Indian princess. See Buster Keaton, John Carradine, Jack Oakie, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Charles Boyer, George Raft, Gilbert Roland, Sir John Gielgud, Robert Newton, Andy Devine, Tim McCoy (yep, the old cowboy star), Red Skelton, and 30 more cameos. Don't forget the memorable introduction by CBS news legend Edward R. Murrow.

Running time is 15 minutes longer than the previous video version, clocking at 182 minutes, including Young's original roadshow entrance, intermission, and exit music. Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, the film's Oscar winning screenplay adaptation is by James Poe, John Farrow and S.J. Perelman. Director Michael Anderson, according to the included 1968 documentary Around the World of Mike Todd, had a frequent co-director in producer Todd.

Also included in this gotta-have set: are: Georges Melies' complete A Trip to the Moon (silent, 1902); the March 27, 1957 Oscar ceremony highlights; newsreels of the Los Angeles premiere and the opening in Spain; excerpts from the Playhouse 90 TV episode, Around the World in 90 Minutes special hosted by Elizabeth Taylor from Madison Square Garden; outtakes featuring Niven, Cantinflas, Keaton, and others (silent, unfortunately, since the sound elements are lost); introductions by Turner Classic Movies Robert Osborne; a stills gallery; and original 1956 and 1983 reissue trailers.

What a glorious trip!
Catch the fun--and lengthy--trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEqkeNTLrcM

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