Retro Review: ‘Mysterious Island’

Producer Charles H. Schneer signed a lucrative deal in the late 50’s to produce a series of movies for the famed studio. One such film was a 1961 adaptation of the Jules Verne novel Mysterious Island. A science fiction/adventure film which is nothing short of an entertaining blast.

While escaping a POW prison during the Civil War; three Union soldier led by Captain Harding and a wartime journalist find their way to a hot air balloon. Using a the expertise of a captured Confederate they take off to what they hope is freedom. But bad weather and mechanical mishaps send them to an isolated island. This island is filled with large and monstrous animals, forcing the men to band together. Soon, they are joined by Lady Farichild and her niece who also crash on this mysterious island. A suspicion begins to arise that they are not the only people there, a suspicion which is confirmed when they discover the legendary Nautilus and the enigmatic Captain Nemo. With the island’s volcano inching towards an eruption, they must join with the strange scientist in the hopes of escaping.

Make no mistake about it, no matter who is in the cast the true star of Mysterious Island is special fx legend Ray Harryhausen. This was the thrid collaboration between Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer who knew he could count on the artist to bring the fantastical to life. From a hot air balloon drifting through a storm to a massive wild bird, his talent shines throughout. The special fx pioneer took this job seriously, in order to create a giant crab monster, he went to the market where he purchased and actual crab and aided a professional at the British Museum in dissecting it in order to examine the anatomy of the crustacean.

Needless to say a movie which has: pirates, monsters, soldiers, Harryhausen fx, AND Captain Nemo with the Nautilus; I was sold on Mysterious Island. These are all fantastic ingredients to put into a rollicking adventure flick. This is the kind of movie where something is always happening, even if it means pirates randomly show up to attack. Columbia Pictures tried to tempt James Mason to reprise the role of Captain Nemo which filled in the Disney classic 20,000 League Under the Sea. While the famed thespian turned it down, Herbert Lom proved to be a worthy captain of the Nautilus. Director Cy Endfield was a protege of Orson Welles and built a career in Hollywood making harsh noirs. Unfortunately he became one of the casualties of Senator McCarthy’s attacks on Hollywood. He took his talents to Britain and since Mysterious Island was filming off the coast of Spain he was able to helm the project with no repercussions. This rollicking action-packed flick gave him the chance to make a different kind of movie than people were used to from him.

This is a move where no scene goes to waste and it is all the better for it. Mysterious Island provided a showcase for some of Ray Harryhausen’s best work. If you are a fan of old school monster flicks and/or rollicking adventures this is a movie well worth watching.