Mysterious Island (1961)

  

I’m happy to be included in BLOG OF THE DARNED’S Sci-fi marathon, BLOGATHON FROM ANOTHER WORLD!


Mysterious Island
(1961) reverberates in some ways with Disney influences from Swiss Family Robinson, future references in popular television programs, and the frightful, but ever-mesmerizing special effects of stop-motion animation hero Ray Harryhausen.  

 
When I was 9 or 10 years old, I wasn’t thinking anything about those aspects of science-fiction filmmaking and didn’t have a clue who Harryhausen was. I was too busy playing outside, riding my bicycle, reading Nancy Drew books and creating my own Barbie doll dresses. 

The synopsis, completely courtesy of Cinematic Autopsy, reveals that the film centers around Union soldiers escaping in a gas balloon from a Confederate prison camp during the American Civil War. They end up crashing in the ocean, only to find themselves washed up on an unknown island where gigantic animals abound. It would later be revealed that the animals were the result of experiments by the presumed-dead Captain Nemo. He has been an unknown benefactor to the castaways as they struggled to survive on the island. The island’s volcano threatens to erupt. After a skirmish with pirates, the stranded group manages to escape from the island on the pirates’ ship as the volcano destroys

But one dreary, rainy afternoon, I had to stay inside, and I sat down to watch television. Mysterious Island was screened on the local afternoon movie channel.Bernard Hermann, Hitchcock’s hard-driving harmonizer, created a score that grabbed me right from the beginning, and I settled in for an uneasy journey from Civil War era America to an island somewhere out in the mist (but actually on the coast of Spain).

  

That spooky organ music in the salon of the Nautilus….

I remember Gary Merrill in this film with his Simian-like features and edgy, liberal attitude, and now I realize those were probably some of the qualities that attracted Bette Davis to him offscreen while they made onscreen love in All About Eve. But in Mysterious Island, he was the castaway with ideas about fixing huts, making fires, conserving water, and most other duties that would eventually be assigned to The Professor on Gilligan’s Island. 

A sneaking suspicion overcomes me, and I feel that the writers on Gilligan’s Island had seen this film. There were a few too many parallels between Mysterious Island and the “Pass the Vegetables, Please” episode where the professor grows literally tons of radioactive vegetables with, what else? Radioactive seeds! Maryann’s eyesight improves 100-fold with all those carrots she’s eaten, but luckily the legumes didn’t rise up and attack the forlorn, coconut-juice swilling inhabitants of the ill-fated three-hour tour.

  
Ooh. Why didn’t I pay more ttention to Michael Craig as a Captain Cyrus Harding?

The characters in Mysterious Island have a different kind of luck with island fare. A giant crab, a huge, flesh-laden bird ripe for barbecuing, and menacingly bulbous-eyed bees relentlessly attack so as to keep the castaways well-fed by their tenacious, ruthless attacks on the oversized invaders. 

The film also began an early crush on scantly-clad Michael Callan which finally ended with his portrayal of an impulsive, sex-starved cowboy in Cat Ballou. (After Callan, Sean Connery assumed my attention.) Callan fights off huge bees to save the scantily-clad, ingenue-niece of Lady Mary, Elena (Beth Rogan), who has become the object of his desires.

  

Herbert Lom is excellent as an intense, globally-concerned Captain Nemo, evoking a bit of James Mason from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mason’s character in Pandora and The Flying Dutchman. But the most exciting aspect of Nemo is the fact that he could scuba dive with a huge conch shell. Watching him emerge from the ocean and begin his liaison with the ship-wrecked, balloon-tossed crew increased the moment of awe for me as I pondered how such things might be possible in my adolescent cognition. If I had a huge conch shell and strapped it to my back, could I descend deep into the ocean?

Joan Greenwood plays the civilizing influence and brings her no-nonsense, aristocratic British lady to smooth over the rough edges of the wilderness. Her performance as the self-seeking Sybilla in Kind Hearts and Coronets is unrelated to her compassionate hut-living, cave-sweeping survivor in this popular sci-fi offering.
  

But for me, the giant crab was the most fascinating. A few years after seeing this film, we moved to Florida, and I realized how delicious boiled crab could be, and the image of a huge, delicious crustacean stayed with me. I discovered I could ride around our island on my bike with my friends, and we could actually catch crabs, cook them and eat them. And I would spend every sunny, summer day crabbing, swimming, and soaking up the sun. For me, I actually found a Mysterious Island near Tampa, Florida, where we were to live for several years.  

The synopsis, completely courtesy of Cinematic Autopsy, reveals that “the film centers around Union soldiers escaping in a gas balloon from a Confederate prison camp during the American Civil War. They end up crashing in the ocean, only to find themselves washed up on an unknown island where gigantic animals abound. It would later be revealed that the animals were the result of experiments by the presumed-dead Captain Nemo. He has been an unknown benefactor to the castaways as they struggled to survive on the island. The island’s volcano threatens to erupt. After a skirmish with pirates, the stranded group manages to escape from the island on the pirates’ ship as the volcano destroys their habitat.

  
Having its 55th anniversary, the film still captures my imagination, and I feel grateful to have discovered one of Ray Harryhausen’s most unusual films. I’d love to experience on a larger theater screen at the TCM Classic Film Festival.
SOME SUGGESTIONS FROM THE LINKDOM OF MYSTERIOUS ISLAND:
Synopsis courtesy of…. http://www.cinematicautopsy.com/2011/11/mysterious-island-1961blu-raytwilight.html
Ken Turner on Ray Harryhausen’s legacy: http://kenturner.blogspot.com/2013/05/ken-turner-blog-series-influences-and_10.html
21 Essays devotion to the music of Ray Harryhausen: http://21essays.blogspot.com/search/label/Mysterious%20Island
Journalist Brian Sibley discusses the London exhibition celebrating Ray Harryhausen: http://briansibleysblog.blogspot.com/2010_06_01_archive.html
Selected screenshots from “Mysterious Island” highlighting Ray Harryhausen’s special effects: http://ukanimation.blogspot.com/2013/06/ray-harryhausen-in-uk-mysterious-island.html
Cinema Retro reviews the Blu-ray: http://www.cinemaretro.com/index.php?/archives/6632-BLU-RAY-REVIEW-MYSTERIOUS-ISLAND-1961-TWILIGHT-TIME-LIMITED-EDITION.html
What Jeff Stafford said about “Mysterious Island” on the TCM Database: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/246633%7C28071/Mysterious-Island.html
 Crazy Film Guy Blogspot: http://crazyfilmguy.blogspot.com/2012/07/mysterious-island-1961.html

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8 thoughts on “Mysterious Island (1961)

  1. I love Mysterious Island and loved it even more so as a kid. When I watch it now, I get that nostalgic feeling that is usually coupled with, what were we thinking. So not the case here. The film still holds up really well today. I grew up in San Diego and remember snorkeling in the summer. I thought the seashell scuba gear was about the coolest thing ever.

    Great post. Had a blast reading it. Thanks for jumping in.

    Chris

  2. I love Ray Harryhausen films, but thank goodness I never ate any monsters from the first of his films I recollect The Clash of the Titans, otherwise it would be Kraken Rice Soup or Gorgon-zola Cheese! Fun post!

  3. I LOVE Michael Callan!!!! I got a major crush on him after seeing Gidget Goes Hawaiian a couple years ago (he’s the only point to watch the film). I then rewatched Cat Ballou with even more appreciation andvwatched several of his other films and television appearances. I have got over my major crush but he’s still cute 😉

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