When I put together this year's list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2013, I decided to include a Disney film and chose 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954).
I was really fortunate that the movie was screened today at the Egyptian Theatre so I could see it for the very first time on a big screen! This is the fourth film seen this year from my list of ten movies.
Our evening started across the street with dinner at Miceli's, which opened in 1949 and was seen in the film NIGHTFALL (1957). Robby wrote about the restaurant last May at Dear Old Hollywood. I really enjoyed the restaurant's spaghetti with meat sauce and would happily dine there again. (They do need to work on the bland dinner rolls.) Miceli's had great service and atmosphere, and it was especially fun to eat there after seeing NIGHTFALL just a few weeks ago.
The 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA screening was part of a tribute to the film's production designer, Harper Goff, by the Art Directors Guild Film Society. Goff's fascinating career included designing attractions such as Disneyland's Jungle Cruise and Golden Horseshoe, as well as the World Showcase at Epcot. Goff was also a banjo player in Disney's Firehouse Five Plus Two group and can be seen playing the banjo on screen in PETE KELLY'S BLUES (1955), another film on which he served as production designer.
Goff's design work on 20,000 LEAGUES included the design of the Nautilus submarine, which he first showed Walt Disney as a carving he created over a weekend. At the time the film came out, union politics were such that Goff ended up with a film credit saying "Production Developed By..." The Art Directors Guild has formally announced that they are correcting the historical record and acknowledging that Goff was the film's production designer.
An impressive array of talent gathered at the Egyptian to discuss Goff's work after the movie: Disneyland Imagineering Legends Marty Sklar and Tony Baxter, matte artist Harrison Ellenshaw (son of the great Disney artist Peter Ellenshaw), and Stephen Berger, who worked with Goff on FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966).
One of the stories I enjoyed the most was hearing how Goff led the bulldozers and showed them where he wanted them to dig the Jungle Cruise river. No maps or other paperwork -- Sklar and Baxter said Goff saved the company an enormous amount of money simply because he had the talent to know what he wanted and call the shots for the track layout on the spot. They also said it was his concept sketch of the World Showcase which did more than anything to sell Epcot to higher-ups at Disney.
As a fun side note, I also noticed John and Deborah Landis were among the attendees. My husband and I enjoyed the chance to say hello to our friend Deb of Sidewalk Crossings, who was also there tonight; 20,000 LEAGUES is her favorite movie!
As for the movie itself, I enjoyed catching up with it at long last. I can't really say it's the kind of movie I like best, and indeed, it ends on rather an emphatic downer note; it's also quite long, at 127 minutes. Even with that length, some of the cast were left adrift at sea in a small boat when "The End" came on the screen -- can we assume they were later saved?!
The things I appreciated most were James Mason, always an interesting actor, as Captain Nemo, and Goff's production design, which was truly stunning. There were several times as the Nautilus criss-crossed the screen that I simply thought "Wow!" It was truly an impressive-looking film.
I guess I could summarize my reaction as saying the film didn't deeply engage or move me, but it held my attention and I especially enjoyed simply looking at it. Having the chance to learn more about the movie in tonight's setting made it a much richer, deeper viewing experience which I very much appreciated.
Richard Fleischer (THE NARROW MARGIN) and filmed by Franz Planer.
The 2-Disc DVD has plentiful extras, including a commentary track with Rudy Behlmer and director Richard Fleischer. We have the DVD on our Disney shelf so I'll definitely be checking out the extras in the days to come. The DVD can be rented from Netflix and ClassicFlix.
It also had a VHS release and can be rented for streaming from Amazon.
Related post: I shared photographs of the Nautilus attraction at Disneyland Paris here.