Based on Jules Verne’s novel, Phileas Fogg makes a bet with his friends at his gentlemen’s club that he could travel around the world in eighty days by way of steamships and railroads. He and his new Hispanic assistant Passepartout head out immediately for their trek in a hot air balloon. Keeping Fogg’s strict meal schedule and rigorous traveling pace, the two make it all the way around the world and back to England, picking up two extra passengers along the way.
I had high hopes for this one. I had associated this film with fond memories of a childhood viewing. Now I’m not sure I actually saw it as a kid. And if I did, my preference for the film has declined significantly over the years. If you know me at all, you know that the name itself, Around the World in 80 Days, sparks interest in me. The idea of traveling the world and capturing multiple cultures and landscapes in one film is intriguing. But one can only handle so much mock bull fighting. If they had cut each “culture” scene in half, the film would have been much more reasonable 90-minute film, rather than the 3-hour monstrosity that it is.
The most difficult aspect to swallow was the inaccuracy of cultural portrayals. Rather than finding an Indian actress to play the lead female role, American Shirley MacLaine gave a very poor performance as rescued Indian Princess Aouda who becomes Fogg’s love interest. In any given culture they visited, inadequately disguised American and English actors played Asians, Indians, Arabians, and Native Americans alike. This cultural insensitivity was an issue for me in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), as well: the Tahitian women wore European 1930s-style plaits in their hair that could not possibly have made it to high fashion in 1780s Tahiti.
I’m not sure how this film beat The King and I or The Ten Commandments at the Oscars. I recommend prioritizing either one of those before you spend time with Phileas and Passepartout.