Journey to the Center of the Earth (aka Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth) is a 1959 adventure film adapted by Charles Brackett from the novel by Jules Verne. Journey to the Center of the Earth was directed by Henry Levin and stars James Mason, Pat Boone and Arlene Dahl.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1880, Professor Sir Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason), a geologist at the University of Edinburgh, is given a piece of volcanic rock by his admiring student, Alec McEwan (Pat Boone). Deciding that the rock is unusually heavy, Lindenbrook, mostly thanks to the carelessness of his lab assistant, Mr. Paisley (Ben Wright), discovers a plumb bob inside bearing a cryptic inscription. Lindenbrook and Alec discover that it was left by a scientist named Arne Saknussemm, who had, almost 300 years earlier, found a passage to the center of the Earth. After translating the message, Lindenbrook immediately sets off with Alec to follow in the Icelandic pioneer's footsteps.
Professor Göteborg of Stockholm (Ivan Triesault), upon receiving correspondence from Lindenbrook regarding the nature of the message, opts to try to reach the Earth's center first. Lindenbrook and McEwan chase him to Iceland. There, Göteborg and his assistant kidnap and imprison them in a cellar. They are freed by an athletic Icelander, Hans Bjelke (Pétur Ronson), and his pet duck Gertrud. They find Göteborg dead in his room at an inn. Lindenbrook finds some potassium cyanide crystals in Göteborg's goatee and concludes that he has been killed.
Göteborg's widow, Carla (Arlene Dahl), who initially believed Lindenbrook was trying to capitalize on the work of her deceased husband, learns the truth from her husband's diary. She provides the equipment and supplies Göteborg had gathered, including much sought after Ruhmkorff lamps, but only on condition that she go along. Lindenbrook grudgingly agrees, and the four explorers and the pet duck are soon journeying into the Earth.
They are aided by marks left by Arne Saknussemm showing the path he took 300 years before. However, they are not alone. Count Saknussemm (Thayer David) thinks that, as Arne Saknussemm's descendent, only he has the right to be there. He trails the group secretly with his servant. When Alec becomes separated from the others, he almost trips over Saknussemm's dead servant. When Alec refuses to be his replacement, Saknussemm shoots Alec in the arm. Lindenbrook locates Saknussemm from the reverberations of the sound of the shot, and sentences him to death. However, no one is willing to execute him, so they reluctantly take him along.
The explorers eventually come upon a subterranean ocean. They construct a raft from the stems of giant mushrooms to cross it but, not before narrowly escaping a family of dimetrodons. Their raft begins circling in a mid-ocean whirlpool. The professor deduces that this must be the center of the Earth because the magnetic forces from north and south meeting there are strong enough to snatch away even gold in the form of wedding rings and tooth fillings. Completely exhausted, they reach the opposite shore.
While the others are asleep, a hungry Saknussemm catches and eats Gertrud the duck. When Hans finds out, he rushes at the count, but is pulled off by Lindenbrook and McEwan. Reeling back, Saknussemm loosens a column of stones and is buried beneath them. Right behind the collapse, the group comes upon the sunken city of Atlantis. They also find the remains of Arne Saknussemm. The hand of his skeleton points toward a passage to the surface. They decide that they will have to break a giant rock blocking their way using gunpowder left by Saknussemm. A giant chameleon that attacks them, but it is killed by released lava. They climb into a large sacrificial altar bowl which floats atop the lava to the passage, and are driven upward at great speed by the lava, reaching the surface through a volcanic shaft. Lindenbrook, Carla and Hans are thrown into the sea, while Alec lands naked in a tree in the orchard of a nunnery.
When they return to Edinburgh, they are hailed as national heroes. Lindenbrook, however, declines the accolades showered upon him, stating that he has no proof of his experiences, but he encourages others to follow in their footsteps. Alec marries Lindenbrook's niece Jenny (Diane Baker), and Lindenbrook and Carla, having fallen in love, kiss.
Actor/Actress Role Notes
James Mason Sir Oliver Lindenbrook
Pat Boone Alec McEwan
Arlene Dahl Carla Göteborg
Peter Ronson Hans Bjelke
Thayer David Count Saknussemm
Bob Adler Groom Credited as Robert (Bob) Adler
Alan Napier Dean
Diane Baker Jenny Lindenbrook
Ivan Triesault Professor Göteborg
Alex Finlayson Professor Boyle
Some of the underground sequences for Journey to the Center of the Earth were filmed at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Other shooting locations included Amboy Crater and Sequit Point, California, as well as Edinburgh, Scotland. Principal photography took place from late June to mid-September 1959.
Originally, Life magazine editor and science writer Lincoln Barnett was to write the screenplay and later acted as one of the technical advisers on the film.
The giant Dimetrodons depicted at the center of the Earth action sequence were actually rhinoceros iguanas with large, glued-on make-up appliances added to their backs. The giant chameleon seen later in the ruins of Atlantis scene was actually a painted Tegu lizard.
At the time of release, Journey to the Center of the Earth was a financial success, grossing $5,000,000 at the box office (well over its $3.44 million budget. New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther said, in his contemporary review of Journey to the Center of the Earth), that the film is "... really not very striking make-believe, when all is said and done. The earth's interior is somewhat on the order of an elaborate amusement-park tunnel of love. And the attitudes of the people, toward each other and toward another curious man who happens to be exploring down there at the same time, are conventional and just a bit dull." Ian Nathan, writing for Empire, gave the film four stars, stating that "it has dated a fair bit, but it’s a film that takes its far-fetchedness seriously, and delivers a thrilling adventure untrammelled by cheese, melodrama or ludicrous tribes of extras, shabbily dressed bird-beings or lizard men", ultimately concluding that the film is "still captivating despite the obviously dated effects".
Journey to the Center of the Earth was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Lyle R. Wheeler, Franz Bachelin, Herman A. Blumenthal, Walter M. Scott, Joseph Kish), Best Effects, Special Effects and Best Sound (Carlton W. Faulkner). It won a second place Golden Laurel award for Top Action Drama in 1960.
On Rotten Tomatoes, 83% of critics gave Journey to the Center of the Earth a positive review, with the general consensus being that Journey to the Center of the Earth is "a silly but fun movie with everything you'd want from a sci-fi blockbuster – heroic characters, menacing villains, monsters, big sets and special effects."