Around the World in 80 Days

This article is going to take on a different feel than the others I’ve done so far. Watching this movie was so odd the best way to tell you about it is to give you the play by play of my experience. Think of it a little like live tweeting this movie.

1956 - Around the World in 80 Days
Is this the worst best picture winner of all time? We’re about to find out.

It begins with a 6-1/2 minute prologue about Jules Verne from Edward R. Murrow, lit cigarette and all. This includes footage from Georges Méliès 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, based loosely on Verne’s book From the Earth to the Moon. There’s also something about rockets.

Am I watching the right film?

Shots of 1872 England. Of course it’s a marching band of Beefeaters playing “Rue Britannia.”

Phileas Fogg (David Niven) enters and gives a right proper introduction to the stuffy upper crust of British society at The Reform Club. Flat jokes and stereotypes for everyone!

We learn that Phileas Fogg has gone through gentlemen’s gentlemen (aka “butlers”) like water. But thankfully there’s a new man servant on the scene: Passepartout.

Passepartout is played by “Cantinflas.” He’s a one name star kinda like “Cher” or maybe more like “Charro.”

Passepartout has just arrived in London riding his bicycle. It’s 1872 so of course it’s the kind with the giant front wheel. His entrance features “Giant Front Wheel Bicycle Cam” as he winds through the London traffic.

He arrives at what seems like the headquarters for butlers and takes a seat next to a long line of John Gielguds. Passepartout is quickly assigned to work for Fogg and off he goes. (Update: One of them actually was John Gielgud.)

Later the gentlemen of The Reform Club play cards and discuss the recent robbery of £55,000 from the bank of England and how far the culprit could have gotten by now. This leads to a wager as to whether or not Fogg could make it…wait for it…around the world in 80 days.

The stakes are placed at £20,000 (about £2MM by modern standards) and thus begins Fogg’s quest. Well, after they finish their card game he’ll start getting around to it.

Fogg and Passepartout head out on their journey. In what seems like a 20-minute sequence the two take a handsome cab to a travel agent. What I suspect is a hilarious 1956 cameo, the handsome cab driver mugs for the camera as he gets them there. (Update: I looked him up. He’s nobody. So the mugging is even more weird).

As it turns out Passepartout is a ladies’ man so he learns from the travel agent about all the various lovely ladies he will encounter on their journey.

Uh oh! Bad news! They discover from the travel agent that they can’t take a train (it has a flat tire or something) so he arranges for them to begin their journey in a hot air balloon. Sure. Makes sense. Am I to believe this travel agent has a fleet of hot air balloons ready to transport everyone who can’t take the train?

Nevertheless, Fogg boards the hot air balloon which Passepartout unwittingly unties prematurely and must climb in as it ascends before the large hat-throwing crowd who has assembled for the launch.

Now, according to the film, when the wager was made the train Fogg was set to leave on was departing that night at 8:45pm. How did all these people know about this wager? Why did they care? How could they possibly have knowledge of this departure time and location? Why is it suddenly daytime?

But the two take off in the balloon and off they go.

The next several minutes is filled with scenic, birds-eye vistas across the English countryside.

I’m beginning to wonder if this film is shot in real time.

The vistas are shot in “Balloon Cam” which I would imagine might have caused some motion sickness for audiences.

Meanwhile back at the club the gents discuss Fogg’s progress and their risk of losing the bet.

A contrived malfunction on the balloon forces Passepartout to climb into the balloon’s netting. It’s almost thrilling.

This ultimately lands them unexpectedly in some village of swarthy people. Spain I think.

Because they’re in a tremendous hurry to get…ya know…around the world in 80 days…Fogg and Passepartout hang out in this village to take in some of the local culture. And that means… dance sequence!

I’m 40 minutes in and I’m almost angry that this won best picture. Oh look, a guy just got on a table to do some kind of Spanish stomping dance thing. Neat.

After his 3 minute dance number it’s time for the LADIES! And Passepartout can’t resist joining them in a spirited routine which involves yanking the red tablecloth from one of the tables for some kind of matador routine. And the flowers are still standing!

As it turns out the table was that of the man who owns the ship they need to get to their next destination. But the man was so taken by Passepartout’s matador dance he insists on him entering the local bullfight as payment for the use of his yacht. And Passepartout agrees.

“Please master. I’m not afraid. Let me try it.” – Passepartout

The hell?

The bullfight sequence begins with Passepartout hiding behind a wall watching one of the other matadors in the ring do his bullfighting routine. After nearly 5 minutes (!) the other bullfighters coax Passepartout out from behind his wall to face the bull.

What ensues is a “comical” bullfight with Passepartout narrowly dodging the bull and occasionally just running away from it.

OMG… this bullfighting scene has now gone on for 10 minutes. I’m less than an hour into the film and they’ve devoted nearly 20% of the movie to a bullfight.

Meanwhile back in London the gents (and apparently everyone else in the country) are wagering on the contest. It’s unclear if the story wants me to feel that the odds are good or bad that Fogg will succeed. But since I don’t care it doesn’t really matter.

An urgent telegram arrives letting the gents know that Fogg has arrived in Egypt. It seems maybe that’s…good? Bad? Can’t tell. Don’t care.

In Egypt Fogg has arranged passage on a ship (the R.M.S. Mongolia) bound for Bombay. But because he’s in a frantic race to get…around the world in 80 days…he first has a leisurely lunch.

As a model of the R.M.S. Mongolia tosses to and fro in a bathtub Fogg plays cards and orders a meal.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS!

Fogg uses cash from his big red bag of money to pay off the captain to get him into Bombay two days ahead of schedule (“shedgul” cause he’s British) and Passepartout makes a beeline to find some local ladies to ogle. Of course they’re dancing in the street because that’s what exotic ladies around the world do. But once he’s done with that he insults the entire city by playing matador with a sacred cow. A chase ensues because this movie is dumb.

There’s suddenly a detective on their trail looking for the man who robbed the bank of England. He believes that Fogg is the culprit but he’s having some kind of trouble getting the inspector to issue a warrant. It goes something like this…

Bombay Police Inspector: The matter involves London. And the London office alone can legally deliver the warrant.

Inspector Fix: Once Fogg’s outside British jurisdiction, I’ll never get him.

Bombay Police Inspector: Quite. Good heavens! 4:00. It’s tea time.

Inspector Fix: Yes, l know. But this is a crisis.

Bombay Police Inspector: Crisis or no, nothing should interfere with tea.

I won’t even begin to get into the preposterous legal poppycock but from a logistical perspective isn’t Fogg on his way around the world back to London? Hasn’t he been outside of British jurisdiction when he was in Spain and Egypt? If he was an escaping bank robber why would he go to India which was under British rule at the time?

This movie is so stupid.

Back to the locals chasing Passepartout. The chase culminates with Passepartout just barely making the train, jumping on it as it leaves the station.

Forget “Balloon Cam” and “Giant Front Wheel Bicycle Cam.” It’s time for “Train Cam” as they casually crawl through India.

It’s like a bad EPCOT movie from the 80s. And it goes on for over 5 minutes. Oh, look, there’s an elephant walking by the train tracks.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS!

Thank God we get a break from the action to watch Fogg pass the time by playing cards with a man on the train.

When the train reaches the end of the track in the middle of the Indian jungle they must make alternate transportation plans. Introducing… “Elephant Cam!”

But “Elephant Cam” can’t get them there before dark so they must camp in the jungle overnight. While sitting around the campfire Passepartout hears noises which can only mean one thing… more exotic dancers!

This time the dancers are part of a ceremonial human sacrifice of an Indian princess whose husband recently died. Their (fake) tradition dictates she must die with him in a funeral pyre. Fogg, Passepartout and the card game guy from the train spring into action to save her. He sounds like the Elephant general from The Jungle Book. (Update: I looked it up. It’s not the same guy.)

The rescue plan is this… somehow Passepartout swaps places with the husband’s corpse and comes to life scaring the hell out of the poor natives.

I’m really starting to hate this movie.

But no time for that. Fogg, Passepartout and the princess are off on the next ship out of town. How fortunate for Fogg that the princess is not only beautiful but educated in England which not only gave her perfect British diction, but white skin too! Because this Indian princess is played by… wait for it… Shirley MacLaine.

“Rue Britannia” just played for the third time in this film.

Inspector Fix is back on their trail. And by trail I mean he’s on the boat with them standing a few feet away. It’s like The Fugitive if Tommy Lee Jones just hung out with Harrison Ford for the whole movie.

The princess continues to travel with them as they arrive in Hong Kong.

The detective is now riding in a rickshaw pulled by an ostrich.

The princess is obviously falling in love with Fogg because she’s the only woman in this film with a speaking role.

Princess Aouda: Mr. Fogg, why must you be so British?

Fogg: Madam, l am what l am.

Inspector Fix is getting a little impatient. The way he sees it Passepartout is the lynchpin to Fogg’s whole operation. If he can get him out of the picture and delay Fogg he’ll have enough time to wait for a warrant… or something. I’m not really sure what any character’s motivation is. Well, except for Passepartout. That boy is a playa!

So Inspector Fix gets Peter Lorre to shanghai Passepartout and stick him onboard a steamship literally bound for Shanghai. Fogg is now stuck in Hong Kong and the detective has a casual conversation with him.

Next scene: Fogg and the princess are on a junk bound for Yokohama. I’m not sure what the detective’s plan is here but the film maker’s plan was to put Passepartout in China on his own and watch him bow at people and do weird culturally awkward things.

Passepartout in China! (coming this fall to FXX)

Oh no… Passepartout just walked into a circus. *groan*

OMG… Passepartout is for some reason performing in the circus. Good gravy!

Fogg’s junk (and I mean his Chinese sailing vessel) has stopped off in Shanghai (ok… sure) and he just happened to walk into the circus where Passepartout was performing.

I really, really hate this movie.

“Rue Britannia” #4 quickly followed by “Rue Britannia” #5.

Intermission. Sweet Lord Jesus, there’s still another hour.

Suddenly Fogg is in America. I know this because not only do we see a sandwich board sign that says “Fogg in America” but back in England one Beefeater says to another, “He’s in America.” And in case you weren’t sure the score plays “Yankee Doodle.” So… America then?

Back again to England where we painstakingly watch as servants bring the Queen her breakfast and morning paper with the headline FOGG RACES. On the other side of town two sporting ladies discuss the dreamy Phileas Fogg. I think one of them is Mrs. Banks from Mary Poppins just having a bad day. (Update: It actually is Glynis Johns who played Mrs. Banks).

Back in San Francisco Passepartout follows a group of hookers into a saloon. I just witnessed something I can’t really describe but it involves Passepartout and Red Skelton feeding each other, stuffing food into each other’s faces. It concludes with Passepartout shoving a hard-boiled egg into Red Skelton’s pocket.

Red Skelton isn’t the only cameo while they’re in San Francisco. Frank Sinatra shows up as the piano player in a saloon and Marlene Dietrich the saloon’s hostess. But before too long Fogg has sent Passepartout to buy some guns before they board their next train. Which means…

TRAIN CAM IS BACK!

Cowboys and of course, “Oh Suzanna.”

Passepartout is now dressed in a ten-gallon hat with bandoliers.

The train stops for what the engineer describes as “peaceful Indians” and everyone smokes a peace pipe before, you guessed it… exotic dancing!

More card-playing on a train to pass the time!

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS!!!

The train has to make a stop because the engineer is concerned about the integrity of the upcoming bridge. So they coax the engineer into drinking half a bottle of whiskey before charging over the bridge. Once they are safe on the other side it collapses. So… good luck next train!

More card playing! But this time it’s interrupted by a duel over Fogg’s valor regarding which card game he plays. But the duel gets interrupted by apparently non-peaceful Indians or as this film calls them, “redskins.”

So it’s a shootout as the train barrels through the savage wilderness.

“Hey! The train’s running away!” – Conductor (played by Buster Keaton)

Passepartout is now on the roof the train. He’s shooting as arrows fly by. Just before the train enters a tunnel he ducks down. Whew! That was close.

But wait… oh no! Passepartout fell off the train. Thank God a wagon was riding by at that exact moment to pick him up.

WAGON CAM! And his faithful sidekick… BELOW WAGON CAM!

Wait! Can it be? It is! PASSEPARTOUT ON HORSEBACK CAM!

Sadly, Passepartout is captured and of course is immediately burned at the stake.

Well, he was tied to a stake on a pile of firewood as exotic dancing circles around him.

This movie is suddenly in the running for most racist best picture winner so far and I’ve seen multiple films with blackface.

Stuck outside of Omaha, the gang of four (Fogg, Passepartout, the princess and the detective) build a makeshift sailtrain (not a soul train… that would’ve been much groovier). This is a sail on a railcar that flies them down the rails on a light breeze. Screw you physics!

“Rue Britannia” #6 and #7.

Back in London the gents learn that Fogg missed the steamer from New York to Liverpool and booked passage on a ship bound for Venezuela. This somehow confirms the suspicions that he was the one who robbed the bank of England.

Rue Britannia #8, #9, #10, #11 and #12 as Fogg sails on the Henrietta, forced to tear apart the ship for burnable fuel to keep the steamship going.

Once Fogg and company arrive in England (he wasn’t going to Venezuela after all!) he is arrested by the detective who is waiting for him there.

Wait just one doggone minute movie!

If fleeing to Venezuela was the proof that Fogg was the bank robber how do you explain his return to England?

And just how the heck did the inspector get to Liverpool before Fogg?!?

The movie was very clear that he missed the steamer from New York by five hours and there wouldn’t be another eastbound vessel for three days! Look…

Gent #1: He’s missed it by five hours.

Gent #2: Not another eastbound vessel for three days.

See!

Well, as it turns out Fogg wasn’t the bank robber after all. The real crook was arrested in Brighton. The film decides to it’s more exciting to tell us about it instead of showing. But nevertheless Fogg was delayed enough to cause him to lose the wager.

Once they arrive back at Fogg’s home the princess (who has literally not said a single word in 40 minutes) asks him if he will have her to be his wife. He instructs Passepartout to arrange for the wedding the next day at the club.

Passepartout sees the morning’s paper and realizes its Saturday and not Sunday. Fogg realizes they gained a day by crossing the international dateline. They rush via handsome cab to the club. But the horse stops because… the cabby gets hiccups.

I’m just numb with rage at this movie.

Fogg turns to running by foot but he is delayed by a street temperance group that he… stops to sing with briefly before running on.

Fogg makes it on time, walking into the club just as the clock chimes.

And… oh… it’s over. OK… well… OK.

What this movie really needed was 10 minutes of credits. But not just any credits. Animated Pink Panther style credits but crappier.

The credits also provided “Rue Britannia” #13 and #14 for good measure.

Around the World in 80 Days became the sixth film to win best picture without any acting nominations. The first three were long before there were even supporting acting categories. The other two were An American in Paris and The Greatest Show on Earth. That oughta tell you something. And if you’re not sure how I feel about those two duds you can read about them HERE and HERE.

What really upsets me isn’t just that this terrible, terrible movie won best picture. It’s the fact that it beat out Giant. Giant is one of the finest films ever made. Elizabeth Taylor. Rock Hudson. James Dean. Mercedes McCambridge. It’s on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 films ever made.

It had the most nominations that year (10) including director, three action nominations, screenplay and best picture. Only director George Stevens went home with gold, his second best director Oscar (A Day in the Sun).

Don’t even get me started on Around the World in 80 Days winning best adapted screenplay over Giant or I might go ballistic.

But at least Giant got nominated. The Searchers, the fantastic classic western from John Ford, didn’t even get a single nod.

This movie kinda sucked. If it’s not the worst best picture winner so far it’s at least the goofiest. This movie really only makes sense for one reason: television.

By the mid-50s television was no longer a rare luxury. It had become fairly commonplace.

The numbers don’t lie. Look at the box office totals for the top 10 films for the past decade. By 1954 television was starting to negatively impact movie ticket sales. Why go to the theater when you could stay at home and watch I Love Lucy, Dragnet or The Adventures of Superman?

With TV’s growing popularity films like The Ten Commandment, The King and I, Giant and Around the World presented a spectacle John Q. Public couldn’t see on their 17-inch black and white square RCA Thrifton.

In 1956 they cracked the code. People will buy tickets for big, loud, colorful and exotic movies. Around the World in 80 Days was all of the above. And this was just the beginning.

1947-56 Box Office totals

Yes… that’s an Excel line graph.

Oh, and one more thing… although the Jules Verne book has been adapted into a film on several different occasions over the last 100 years, this film was remade in 2004 with Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan. And it was actually worse.

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