Matinee Spotlight: ‘Mysterious Island’

No time like the present to shine a spotlight on one of my favorite Ray Harryhausen movie classics, 1961’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.

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The film is based on Jules Verne’s imaginative 1874 novel about a group of escaped Civil War castaways stranded on a deserted island (populated by strange, giant-sized animals) who are forced to adapt, survive, evade pirates, and cross paths with Captain Nemo (played by Herbert Lom) and his infamous sub The Nautilus. And, of course, there’s the ticking clock of a suddenly active volcano…

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Verne’s adventure tale had previously been adapted for the big screen in 1929 and 1951, not to mention a Russian serial in 1941, plus several TV versions and 2012’s goofy, CGI-laden JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND starring Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine.

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Watching it on a small black-and-white TV in our suburban den, the ’60s version of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND made a serious impact on my imagination when I was a kid thanks to legendary SFX maestro Ray Harryhausen’s fine, fun stop-motion-animated creatures. I was already a fan of Harryhausen’s Sinbad films and other monster movies, so I was primed for similar antics without knowing a thing about the film when I first sat down to view it.

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MYSTERIOUS ISLAND did not disappoint. The giant crab and the massive, tentacled underwater ammonite stand out in particular as favorite battle sequences. The gargantuan, threatening honeybees and an awkwardly entertaining attack by a curious terror bird made me wary of my own back yard. Bernard Herrmann’s fittingly bombastic score secures the vibe as a bonafide Harryhausen/Charles Schneer production.

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And the bonus appearance of Captain Nemo appealed to my established fandom of the Disney adaptation of Verne’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. Other than seeing the Universal Monsters battle each other in various films and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND may just be my first exposure to the concept of the “shared universe.”

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And speaking of exposure, I have to admit that the skimpy, racy leather island outfit sported by Beth Rogan — one of two beautiful women who conveniently wash up ashore just as the film seems a bit testosterone heavy — gave me tingly vibes reminiscent of Linda Harrison’s Nova in PLANET OF THE APES and Raquel Welch’s prehistoric Loana in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.

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Watch the MYSTERIOUS ISLAND trailer, which touts the wonders of “Superdynamation” (yet another fancy, catchy label for Harryhausen’s unique stop-motion-animated work; for THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD his patented style was called Dynamation) as one of its many selling points, then sit down and watch MYSTERIOUS ISLAND with a bucket of popcorn for the perfect weekend matinee…

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You made it to the end! You are a true Monster Kid. Now, please take a moment to “like” IT CAME FROM… on Facebook and “follow” on Instagram and on Twitter and/or Tumblr for more great retro content.

Then, check out more of my Ray Harryhausen stories and also many celebrity and filmmaker interviews HERE.

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