20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Directed by Richard Fleischer

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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Some time in the late Nineteenth Century, the U.S. Navy hires a renowned French scientist, Prof. Pierre Arronax (Paul Lukas), to investigate a mysterious monster that has been terrorizing the South Seas. Unfortunately, when the ship on which he is travelling is attacked by that creature and disabled, the professor, his assistant, Conseil (Peter Lorre), and a harpooner, Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), are thrown into the sea, where they discover that the beast is actually an incredible submarine, the Nautilus. Its captain, Nemo (James Mason), allows these castaways to stay, and they travel with him beneath the waters of the ocean, though they all have doubts about their host's sanity and intentions.

Richard Fleischer's adaptation of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an immensely fun, visually enticing, and often exciting movie.


The film is absolutely filled with marvels and adventures, and these consistently retain the viewer's interest. At different times, Fleischer reveals Nemo's underwater gardens, the captain's hidden base nestled beside a lagoon in the crater of an extinct volcano, a battle with a giant squid, and the Nautilus itself, the design of which, inside and out, is genuinely inspired. In fact, the vessel, with its serrated adornments, spear-like prow, and fin-like rudder, is invariably captivating to watch as it moves beneath the waters or cuts through the waves while rushing to ram some enemy ship, and its interiors, with their vast windows, which exhibit the wonders of the ocean, luxurious furnishings, including a magnificent pipe organ and a library of leather bound tomes, and various complex, archaic mechanisms, are consistently attractive.


The movie is not, however, without faults. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is sometimes too slowly paced, and it is burdened with a frankly racist portrayal of a group of native people encountered by the heroes. The worst of its shortcomings is, however, its characterization of Ned Land. He is clearly the hero of the story, and the viewer is obviously meant to sympathize with him. Unfortunately, he is such an obnoxious, violent bully, who repeatedly intimidates and even physically attacks those around him with apparent joy, that he is entirely repulsive. The moviegoer will probably not only simply fail be to be concerned about what happens to him, but will actually hope that he meets an unpleasant end.


Douglas is, however, competent in his role, as annoying as his character is, and several of the other performers are much better. Lorre is, as always, a pleasure to watch, and he makes the cautious, slightly unctuous, but completely loyal Conseil into a likeable and engaging individual. Lukas is enjoyable as Arronax, revealing that man's infatuation with the marvels that are being shown to him, his respect for Nemo, as well as his abhorrence of that man's behavior, and Mason gives Nemo himself a humanity so that, while the viewer is aware of the character's brutality, his motivations remain understandable.

While far from perfect, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a fun movie that is well worth seeing.

Review by Keith Allen

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