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Film / Mysterious Island

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Directed by Cy Endfield and featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen, the 1961 adventure film Mysterious Island was based on the novel The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne (no word on why they dropped the "The" from the title). In addition to Harryhausen's wonderful stop-motion animal used for the creatures of the island, the film also boasts a typically bombastic score by Bernard Herrmann, who'd previously worked with Harryhausen on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

During the American Civil War, a group of Union soldiers are held inside a Confederate prison camp. They stage a daring escape during a storm and steal an enemy observation balloon, only to find themselves blown out to sea, where they wind up stranded on a seemingly deserted island. The gang includes Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig), his men Herbert Brown (Michael Callan) and Neb Nugent (Dan Jackson), war correspondent Gideon Spilett (Gary Merrill), and a Confederate soldier named Pencroft (Percy Herbert) who cooperates with the Yankees mostly out of mutual benefaction. They're soon joined by two survivors from a sunken ship, Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena Fairchild (Beth Rogan), who quickly begins making goo-goo eyes at the virile young Herbert.

Very quickly, the castaways discover that the island isn't so uninhabited after all! Giant versions of ordinary animals live there, and naturally prey on the new arrivals. In addition, the place turns out to be a hangout for a pirate crew, as well as — unbeknownst to the pirates, of course — the secret base of the infamous Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom). Oh, and the island's central volcano is due to erupt, meaning their stay will have to be drastically shortened unless they want to get barbecued.

This film contains examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The escape from the Confederate prison camp.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The addition of the two female castaways, as well as the entire plot of Nemo creating the gigantic animals and the battle with each creature was all added to the film. The novel focuses solely on the castaways plight, and their ingenuity to make what they need with the available materials on the island, and Capt. Harding's knowledge. As for Nemo, in the novel he's the last surviving member of the Nautilus' crew, and aids the castaways in small ways. He doesn't reveal himself until near the climax, when he's on his deathbed.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Pencroft. Sort of. At least at first. In the novel, he's a Northern sailor. Here, he's a Confederate soldier and the heroes' enemy at the beginning.
  • Adapted Out: The dog Top and the orangutan Jip.
  • The American Civil War: Plays a large role in the beginning, but is more or less forgotten about after they arrive at the island.
  • And Starring: And Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo.
  • And Your Reward Is Edible: The castaways' reward for slaying the giant crab by knocking it into a gigantic hot spring? The thing boils to death and they have crab meat for weeks! This also proves to be the case with the giant chicken although they didn't kill it, Nemo did.
    • Also the case for at least some of the real crabs that provided the close-ups of the giant crab's mandibles. As Harryhausen put it, "We had a delightful lunch when they had served their purpose."
  • The Artifact: According to Ray Harryhausen, the ammonite and the giant chicken that looks like a phorusrhacos were holdovers from a prehistoric theme.
  • The Atoner: Nemo. He's left behind his violent ways and decided to try and solve the problem of war through feeding the starving nations of the world.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The castaways are able to escape the volcanic eruption, but Nemo dies taking his fantastic discoveries to the grave.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Subverted. While Neb is constantly in danger, he doesn't die.
  • Canon Foreigner: Lady Mary and Elena.
  • Captivity Harmonica: While in the prison camp, Herbert plays a harmonica.
  • Cat Scare: Done with an iguana.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The sunken pirate ship. With the Nautilus out of action, it becomes the castaways' only means of escape. They're able to devise a means of floating it to the surface so they can escape aboard it.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: Early on, the castaways climb the mountain and discover it's actually an active volcano. Guess what chooses to blow its top at the climax?
  • Combat Tentacles: Deployed by the giant ammonite when it attacks the divers.
  • Cool Boat: The Nautilus.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Pencroft and Spilett.
  • Death by Adaptation / Posthumous Character: Ayrton.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the novel, Nemo is the last surviving crew member of the Nautilus and has settled on the island waiting to die. In fact, he only reveals his presence to the castaways on his deathbed, before dying of natural causes and being buried when the castaways scuttle the Nautilus. In the film, Herbert Lom is quite a bit more perky, and is willing to accompany the other castaways in escaping but he's killed by the collapsing Nautilus in the volcanic eruption, and the Nautilus is sunk.
  • Dem Bones: Poor Ayrton is found as nothing but a skeleton dangling from the cave ceiling.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: To get out of the prison camp, Harding and the gang jump some Confederate Mooks and steal their uniforms.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ayrton. His journal reveals that after being abandoned on the island by the pirates, he Went Mad From The Isolation and decided to kill himself. Considering how his skeleton is found, one assumes he hanged himself.
  • Drunken Song: Pencroft's tipsy rendition of "Yo-Yo-Ho and a Bottle a' Rum."
  • Emergency Cargo Dump: As the balloon starts losing altitude, the soldiers throw overboard everything they can in an attempt to keep it aloft for as long as possible.
  • English Rose: Lady Elena and Lady Mary are the more spirited variant.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook / Stay in the Kitchen: Lady Mary and Elena end up falling into this particular role after joining the group. Despite Mary's insistence that she knows how to use a rifle, the menfolk still handle most of the "dirty work" while she and Elena perform more "womanly" tasks like sewing new clothes.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: One of these attacks the castaways, but ends up being boiled in a hot spring and eaten.
  • Giant Food: Behold! The world's largest drumstick and crab legs!
  • Gone Horribly Right: Nemo's experiments to create larger animals to increase the world's food stock have done precisely that - but now the embiggened creatures roam the island freely and cause havoc.
  • The Good Captain: Harding definitely fits this trope. He's A Father to His Men and an Officer and a Gentleman throughout the film.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Played for Laughs when Pencroft samples Ayrton's (apparently very strong) bottle of booze they find inside the cave.
  • Isle of Giant Horrors: The film is about a group of castaways who find an island populated by giant animals like crabs, chickens and bees. They were all the work of Captain Nemo as a solution to world hunger. The island is full of Nemo's experiments in gigantism.
  • Meaningful Name: Gideon Spilett is a reporter. He also later serves as the cook, where his name takes on a more humorous meaning (i.e. "spill it").
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The ammonite. Almost all of the giant creatures are explained as being the results of Captain Nemo's experiments to solve world hunger by making giant versions of ordinary animals, except for the ammonite. It appears to be a prehistoric survival instead of one of Nemo's experiments gone wrong.
    • Similarly, the giant bird, although identified as one of Nemo's experiments, is clearly modeled on the extinct terror bird Phorusrhacos (though its coloration does make it look like a giant chicken).
  • Mook–Face Turn: Pencroft does a relatively quick one. Initially, it's purely self-serving (as he doesn't want his captors to throw him out of the balloon). Over time, however, it becomes a genuine one as he learns to cooperate with the group.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Lady Elena once she changes into her tight goatskin outfit featuring prominent cleavage with a short skirt and several Panty Shots.
  • Noble Confederate Soldier: Pencroft, after the aforementioned Mook–Face Turn. Despite the occasional snark, he gets along relatively well with his Union comrades, even saving the life of Neb, despite the fact he's black (and in fact, Neb's race never comes up at all where Pencroft is concerned).
  • Obsessed with Food: No matter what new development occurs, if it involves something edible, Neb will usually be sure to point it out to his comrades. "Look, Captain! Food!"
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Both Mary and Elena.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Ayrton's skeleton in the cave.
  • Perma-Stubble: Justified in that the men are stranded on an island without shaving utensils. Oddly, this really only seems to apply to Harding, Spilett and Pencroft; Herbert and Neb remain mostly cleanshaven (especially dreamboat Herbert).
  • Pirate: The pirates featured in the film are definitely Type 1 examples. In addition to sinking the ship Lady Mary and Elena were on, they also cut out Ayrton's tongue and stranded him on the island For the Evulz. They're not missed when Captain Nemo sinks their ship.
  • Plummet Perspective: Used in the balloon scenes, particularly when Harding and co. are considering throwing the unconscious Pencroft out. The sight of how high up they are makes them change their minds and keep him aboard. Also used in the scene of them crossing a log bridge and when Spilett is examining the volcanic crater.
  • Shout-Out: The log bridge the castaways cross in one scene is a deliberate nod to the one in King Kong.
  • Staircase Tumble: How the captured Yanks get the drop on the Confederates. They tamper with one of the steps leading down into the dungeon, and when the enemy soldiers are bringing Spilett in, the sabotaged step gives way under the men's weight, and down they go.
  • Stumbling Upon the Lost Wizard: Five American balloonists are marooned on an island in the South Pacific. They eventually discover the aged Captain Nemo still living in the Nautilus, which is hidden in a cave under the island. Nemo turns out to have been behind a number of strange but helpful events in the story
  • Tongue Trauma: The pirates cut out Ayrton's tongue.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: In the novel, the mystery of who the castaways' mysterious benefactor is carried on through most of the story, only revealing towards the end that it's actually Nemo himself. The trailer (as well as the poster) by way of billing, tips off the audience from the start that Nemo is in the film. The trailer also reveals the gigantic animals and the key plot point of the volcanic eruption, even showing the island awash with lava at the end of the trailer.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Pretty much the entire subplot involving Captain Nemo's experiments to solve world hunger, and the giant animals that result, is lifted straight out of H.G. Wells's The Food Of The Gods.