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RAY HARRYHAUSEN EFFECTS JULES VERNE'S 'MYSTERIOUS ISLAND'

Title: MYSTERIOUS ISLAND Year: 1961 Rating: ***1/2

Known for Ray Harryhausen's giant crab and some kind of lethal chicken, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is really about the characters, and if you're not "way into films" they're mostly no-named actors, bookended by two handsome fellas, the Alpha in Captain Cyrus Harding, played by a tough and swarthy Michael Craig, and the boyish, semi-cowardly yet endearingly helpful Michael Callan as Herbert Brown...

These are Northern prisoners from the Civil War who, right from the start, escape during a raging tempest and steal a hot air balloon that's moving back and forth right outside the prison gates, for some reason... as to why the South has this vessel it's never explained... 

Twilight Time cover of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND

And there's one Confederate on board, a rough and tumble fella who can kinda fly the contraption, which turns out in vain as the film's actual direction (ala Cy Endfield) flows wonderfully as the boys go up and up and then down and down, landing on the title location harboring those stop-motion creatures mentioned in the beginning and several more goodies...

Thus this ISLAND really lives up to its MYSTERIOUS name since much of the film is the group chartering the territory and happening upon various pockets along every twist and turn, eventually discovering a washed-up lifeboat, in a somewhat convenient yet fitful fashion... 

Beth Rogan in Mysterious Island with Joan Greenwood

With two ladies, one young, perfect for Callan played by the voluminously gorgeous DARLING inspiration Beth Rogan, and the other older, classy (Joan Greenwood with Bette Davis's affected voice), who blends with another good actor and the third of importance, scene-stealer Gary Merrill as a War Correspondent, very stubborn and, like Ernest Borgnine in THE BLACK HOLE years later, seeking answers wherein the rest just want to go back home...

All the while they're not alone, protected somehow... and that's when Jules Verne's stock legend, the co-lead in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, only Herbert Lom instead of James Mason, comes in and, alas, we don't get to fully flesh our characters given how the movie veers towards a rushed conclusion... 

Beth Rogan and fittingly handsome mate Michael Callan in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND

As a whole other film begins with the presence of Nemo, not as good as the first half (except wonderful Harryhausen bees in a honeycomb scene), quickly witnessing a kind of "Atlantis" and then a giant squid attack...

Meanwhile, during the third act, the titular island... which is sadly not so mysterious or dangerous any longer... is about to be taken out by a thunderous volcano, both in a different yet similarly rushed and contrived way it did on Volcanvania in Disney's "prequel" 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA...

The giant chicken from MYSTERIOUS ISLAND

Too bad since it was far more interesting when it was MYSTERIOUS. Won't give anything away on who lives or dies, but if you delve deeply into the cherished agenda of Captain Nemo, to destroy ALL warships to end war worldwide, it's downright banal since, with most wars... as even mentioned by the Yankee leader... there are good guys fighting bad guys, and war is often necessary...

And if this ISLAND harbored no Nemo at all, and a few more monstrosities, it would be just fine. The characters would have a more adventurous climb, and we'd get to know them better: As for Nemo; he had his run, seven years previously, and that was enough of him.

The Ray Harryhausen honey bee in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Beth Rogan in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
The Harryhausen chicken moves in on the girls in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Joan Greenwood, the gorgeous Beth Rogan & Gary Merill in Mysterious Island
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