20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

“If we could go deep enough, we’d all be surprised at the creatures down there!”

When a biology professor (Paul Lukas) and his assistant (Peter Lorre), along with a harpoonist (Kirk Douglas), find themselves trapped in a secret submarine helmed by mad Captain Nemo (James Mason), they plot their escape — but not before many life-harrowing adventures ensue.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • At Sea
  • James Mason Films
  • Jules Verne Adaptations
  • Kirk Douglas Films
  • Paul Lukas Films
  • Peter Lorre Films
  • Richard Fleischer Films
  • Submarines

Walt Disney rolled the dice on this big-budget, live-action, Cinemascope extravaganza, made just before he opened the first Disney Land. It ended up costing more than any other movie at that time — and it didn’t make a profit for awhile — but it was an enormous success, and generations of kids grew up adoring it. In addition to still-impressive special effects and art direction (both of which won Oscars):

… the movie features a typically powerhouse performance by Mason as Captain Nemo (what perfect casting):

… and holds our engagement until the end. A definite highlight is the harrowing battle against a giant squid (which had to be completely reshot when the initial conceptualization didn’t work):

While this film isn’t must-see viewing, it will likely be of interest to film fanatics given its place in Disney and cinema history.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • James Mason as Captain Nemo
  • Oscar-winning art direction and special effects
  • Fine Cinemascope cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a one-time look for its historical importance.


2 thoughts on “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A very significant film as it’s Disney’s first big foray into live action fictional moviemaking and it kicked off a trend in producing steam punk / Jules Verne style films that ran on for well over a decade. A big star vehicle with two of the biggest of it’s era (Mason, Douglas) seals the deal.

    Above all that it’s a genuinely great movie. Definitely a must see for FFs.

  2. A once-must, for its place in cinema history – as per my 6/29/20 post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “I’m not what is called ‘a civilized man’, Professor. I have done with society for reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws.”

    ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ (1954): This apparently rather faithful rendering of the Jules Verne novel stands out for several reasons. First the assembly of not only a first-class director (Richard Fleischer) but a number of actors not normally associated with the Disney studio (Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre). As years went on, Disney would sort of jettison films like this – which catered more to the entire family – in favor of stories (esp. animated ones) that made a beeline to the hearts of children… and the adults would, more or less, get dragged along (to pay admission).

    But, here, the adults are very much allowed to stay in the room – and the kids get to squirm, hide their eyes and scream during the film’s main attraction for them: the stunning giant squid attack.

    The film itself is after larger issues having to do with man’s savage nature. The second half of the film is better than the first, as we come to realize just how much good sense Captain Nemo (Mason) makes. Of course, I could listen to James Mason saying anything (Betty Crocker recipes, *anything*) but, in his quest for a pure vision, I did find my heart going out to Nemo. … Oscar winner for Best Art Direction and Best Special Effects.

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