Around the World in 80 Days (1956): Movie Review

It’s another movie that is usually considered one of the worst winners in the Best Picture Academy Awards category, but I have to admit that Around the World in 80 Days (1956) provides some terrific entertainment, even though it still has various flaws which bring the overall quality down. Considering the possibilities that Jules Verne’s novel offered, Around the World in 80 Days surely took many wrong turns. A lot of times, the movie unfortunately focused on too unimportant details and protracted the movie unnecessarily. And yes, at various moments, the whole production becomes a huge bore, which is certainly shocking considering that this is a story of endless opportunities.

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Right from the start, it all takes a rather slow turn – Passepartout beginning his job, all the scenes in the Reform Club, the long moments until they finally start. Not even David Niven and Cantinflas can save the movie at these early scenes, especially since these two actors also lack too much life and energy for this production. The story begins to improve once the duo is alofr in their balloon, even though here, too, the whole movie takes too much time to celebrate its own glory – endless sequences of shots from the air give already the first impression that Around the World in 80 Days was made in a different time and for a different purpose. This movie not only wants to entertain, it wants to be as big as possible, showing audiences in America as much of the world as possible. While this may be a noble effort, the whole concept of almost never-ending shots of different landscapes, cultures, events is far too static, far too self-concerned to really work. Was it really necessary to include five minutes of flamenco dancing and what feels like a full hour of bullfighting? Maybe audiences in 1956 were thrilled to see these figureheads of exotic cultures, but even they must have felt a slight boredom at one point. Also not really working anymore are the famous cameos – while it may be nice to see Frank Sinatra playing the piano, this is just another aspect that doesn’t serve the story and only makes the movie longer than it had to be. In fact, it’s rather shocking that a movie that tells about a journey around the world in 80 days could have been half as long as it is – not because of a lack of plot but simply because a good 50 percent of the movie feel superfluous.

Okay, I really complained a lot so far, so maybe Around the World in 80 Days deserves some praise now. Well, I have to say that after the duo leaves Spain and the trip really begins, the whole movie improves very quickly. Also David Niven and Cantinflas become much more relaxed in their parts and later Shirley MacLaine also feels like a breath of fresh air. The interstations in India, Hong Kong, Japan and the USA are terribly entertaining (for the most part) and it is in these scenes that the movie actually manages to put the characters in the foreground instead of the story or the scenery. In a lot of scenes, Around the World in 80 Days offers some exciting, original and hilarious images and story lines and it’s in those scenes that the whole movie suddenly comes alive. If the whole production had been able to maintain the excellence that it shows during the crossing of the Atlantic or the journey on the train, it would have been a very deserving winner of this Oscar. As it is now, Around the World in 80 Days is a mixed bag that often becomes too spectacle for its own good but it also manages to offer some grand entertainment, brought to life by a cast that, once they warmed up, carries the story wonderfully.

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