A splendid, charming film version of Jules Verne’s magnificent travelogue with spectacular sketches from various parts of the world and scores of cameos from an all-star cast.
Niven plays Phileas Fogg – the British gentleman who, in 1872, makes a £20,000 bet with the fellow members of his gentleman’s club that he will circle the world in 80 days or less.
The club members think Fogg is a fool, but they have no qualms parting a fool from his money. Together with the reliable and multi-skilled Passepartout (Cantinflas), Fogg sets out on his journey.
The snags begin almost immediately, as Fogg misses a train and has to travel by balloon. The wild journey takes Fogg and Passepartout into a Spanish bullfight, through the jungles of India – where the two take on a third companion, the princess Aouda (Shirley MacLaine) – to Hong Kong, San Francisco and the Wild West, with dangerous run-ins around every bend.
Throughout, the globetrotters are dogged by the mysterious Inspector Fix (Robert Newton), who believes Fogg may have secured his £20,000 through less-than-legal means.
At every stop, viewers were treated not only to lush location scenery (shot in 70mm widescreen) but also to one double-take-inducing cameo after another. Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Peter Lorre, Noel Coward, George Raft, Buster Keaton, Red Skelton and dozens more popped up in the least expected places, while Edward R. Murrow provided the opening narration.
Production ground to a halt several times as producer Mike Todd (husband of Elizabeth Taylor) ran out of cash, but the result – shot on locations in 13 countries around the world (cast and crew circumnavigated the globe roughly 160 times, clocking up a total of over four million miles) and on 140 sets and a variety of Hollywood backlots – was spectacular.
Nearly 8,000 animals were used in the film, including four ostriches, six skunks, 15 elephants, 17 bulls, 512 monkeys, 800 horses, 3,800 Rocky Mountain sheep and 2,448 American buffalo. 68,894 people were involved in the film’s production, with 10,000 extras used in the bullfighting scenes alone.
The end credits, created by Saul Bass, were the longest (six minutes 21 seconds) and costliest ($65,000) ever created.
Even at nearly three hours, both kids and adults sat spellbound as one exotic location after another filled the screen. The Academy was duly impressed as well, awarding the film five Oscars in 1956, including Best Picture.
Sadly, Robert Newton died a few days after filming ended. Producer Mike Todd died in a plane crash in New Mexico 18 months after the film’s release.
Verne’s tale was later adapted into a single season Saturday morning cartoon and a handful of TV miniseries, but for most, the definitive version will always be this lavish star-studded epic.
Foster, Fogg’s Ex-Valet
Bank of England Governor (Ralph)
Sir Francis Cromarty
Col. Stamp Proctor
Barbary Coast Saloon Owner
Barbary Coast Saloon Pianist
Barbary Coast Saloon Bouncer
Drunk in Barbary Coast Saloon
London Carriage Driver
Ahmed Abdullah’s Henchman