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Film / Five Weeks in a Balloon

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Six weeks would have been too long.

Five Weeks in a Balloon is a 1962 adventure film from Irwin Allen, loosely based on Jules Verne's 1863 novel of the same name. It features an All-Star Cast including Red Buttons, Fabian, Barbara Eden, Cedric Hardwicke, Peter Lorre, and Herbert Marshall.

In 1862 in England, inventor Professor Fergusson (Hardwicke) is commissioned to claim uncharted land in West Africa for Britain by flying his giant hot air balloon there.


This film features examples of:

  • America Saves the Day: When the balloon finally comes crashing down at the climax and the race to place the flag that would make official the uncharted territory belongs to the British must be done on foot, O'Shea is the only member of the crew on the correct side of the river.
  • Bling of War: Downplayed: Sir Henry Vining wears his full dress general's uniform whenever it's appropriate. Justified in that it's often worn to impress.
  • Canon Foreigner: Red Buttons' character of Donald O'Shea is not in the original Verne novel.
  • Claiming Via Flag: The plot of the movie involves a race between the British Empire and a group of slavers to claim uncharted land in West Africa near the Volta River. If the slavers succeed, they will be able to use the land in their slavery operations. Whichever side plants their flag first gets control of the land. At the end of the movie, the British flag is planted first, denying the slavers the land.
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  • Cool Airship: Absolutely! The balloon has the form of a ship, including a unicorn figurehead.
  • Darkest Africa: Where most of the film is set, albeit from a bird's-eye view.
  • Description Cut: Professor Fergusson says that he's been told the Donald O'Shea is a "pleasant inoffensive young lad". Cut to him causing havoc in Zanzibar.
  • Diegetic Switch: The film's main theme is played a few times by Fabian's character In-Universe, both sung and played on instruments, and at least once it provides background music to a traveling montage.
  • Disposable Vehicle Section: At the climax of the film, after an Emergency Cargo Dump to try to keep the balloon aloft after it gets damaged doesn't works (it's not enough weight) and the villainous team of slavers are about to cross a bridge to get to the uncharted territory they're all racing for and conquer it, the heroes intentionally allow the balloon's passenger section to hook on to the bridge and then they release the balloon, flying off in a smaller "crow's nest" section while the bridge collapses.
  • Emergency Cargo Dump: Near the end of the film a sword stuck in the balloon rips open the bag and causes a loss of hot air, resulting in the balloon starting to fall. The crew drops every non-essential object they can find overboard to maintain lift.
  • God Guise: Donald gets mistaken for a moon god when they land in Hazek - the citizens think the balloon is the moon. They milk this mistake for all it's worth.
  • MacGuffin Location: The heroes and a band of slavers are trying to get to a piece of territory that no nation owns in order to claim it for their respective governments.
  • Made a Slave: Certain for Susan Gail - she even shows up in her original (and clearly non-African) dress. Unclear for Matia, but she clearly resents it.
  • Multinational Team: The main characters are this, with two Americans, a Canadian, an Englishman, a Scotsman and two mildly-arabian characters, one of whom is from Zanzibar and the other from Hazek. Also a chimpanzee.
    • Although, at the time, the Englishman, the Scotsman and the Canadian would have all been considered British Subjects, part of The British Empire. Although, Professor Fergusson is clear to O'Shea that he's first and foremost a Scot.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Sir Henry Vining is an upper class twit/snob version.
  • Red Baron: Downplayed. Sir Henry mentions that he's formerly known as "The Scourge of the Desert", but it's only mentioned once. His expertise on Africa is what gets him sent on the trip in the first place, however.
  • Slave Liberation: Donald does this twice, both for Matia and Susan Gail. It's noted that he only seems to care when a beautiful woman is involved, however.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Averted. While the heroes are on an adventure to stop a bunch of slavers and they are bringing Ahmed the slaver along to face trial, he sort of becomes part of the group, helping the heroes with his stolen diamonds and even killing the last enemy slaver with a thrown knife.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: While the first thing we hear at the beginning of the film is Sir Henry's high-pitched screaming, he remains perfectly composed the rest of the time.
    Sir Henry: [after his plume is shot from his helmet, without flinching} Good shot sir!
  • Tagalong Reporter: The crew includes Donald O'Shea (Red Buttons), who is sent along to write about the expedition and act as an impartial witness if they succeed in beating the slavers to the unclaimed territory.