I had a patron come into the library where I work one day and ask for Cantinflas movies. I had no clue what he was talking about. He wrote the name down for me because I couldn’t spell it well enough to look it up in the catalogue, and I found some Spanish-language movies for him. The patron was honestly surprised that I had never heard of Cantinflas. I was surprised, but very pleased, to find Cantinflas in Around the World in Eighty Days. I’ve read the book, but I hadn’t seen the film before this week. The entire movie was a delightful surprise.
So what’s the story? Phileas Fogg, a wealthy, eccentric Englishman, bets the men in his club that he can travel all the way around the world in just eighty days. With nothing more than his newly hired manservant Passepartout and a carpetbag full of money, Fogg sets out on an amazing adventure.
The Good: This is another epic with thousands and thousands of people in it. It seriously boggles the mind that movies like this can come together. Coordinating all the details must have been ridiculous, but the work paid off. There are very many good things in this movie.
The cinematography is gorgeous. Many scenes were filmed on location, which takes extra work, but was absolutely worth it. Besides the beautiful scenery they were able to capture, it means that there were no places where you could tell that the actors were standing in front of a screen with a movie projected behind them. (I’m sure there’s a technical term for that, but I have no idea what it is. If anyone knows, please enlighten me!)
The music, by Victor Young, is also fabulous. At times it is sweeping and beautiful; other times, it is cheerful and jaunty. It fits the movie very well.
The cast was fun. Cantinflas, a Mexican comedic actor, is really good as Passepartout. He has a wide range of skills that fit the role and brought some good comedy to the movie. David Niven is good as a very English Englishman. But what is really fun about this movie is the cameos. So many famous people are in this movie, from Noel Coward to Marlene Dietrich to Frank Sinatra. My personal favorite was Buster Keaton, who talks! I’ve seen lots of his movies, but I’ve never heard him talk before. And he was a train conductor like in The General, which may be literally the funniest movie I have ever seen. Anyway, if you like classic movies, then you will enjoy spotting the stars.
The Bad: Shirley MacLaine was cast as an Indian (eastern, not American) princess. It was an odd choice. She didn’t do a horrible job, but she never convinced me that she was Indian, either.
The Ugly: This movie needed some more editing. Some scenes are fine for a while, but then they don’t end. The bullfighting scene was the worst offender here. It just went on and on. Around the World in Eighty Days didn’t need to be a three-hour movie. It would have been just fine at two and a half hours. As it is, there are some boring times.
Again, there is some ugly racial stereotyping because not only was this movie made in the 1950s, it is based on a book written in 1872. It’s not surprising, but it’s not good, either.