Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) is a screen spectacle that was highly anticipated among fans of adventure and science fiction. This color film, distributed by 20th Century Fox and produced by Charles Brackett, stars James Mason, Pat Boone, and Arlene Dahl.

Based upon Jules Verne’s novel of the same title, the film tells the story of an Edinburgh-based professor and his colleagues who follow a trail down a former Icelandic volcano to the center of the earth. The film was written by Brackett and Walter Reisch, with cinematography by Leo Tover, ASC, and music by Bernard Herrmann.

Pat Boone was the first main player who joined the cast after Fox incorporated songs as well as an offer of 15% of the profits. The professor, played by James Mason, was initially supposed to be portrayed by Clifton Webb; unfortunately, Webb had to back out due to illness and major surgery. The final cast for the film was as follows:

  • James Mason as Sir Oliver Lindenbrook
  • Pat Boone as Alec McEwan
  • Diane Baker as Jenny Lindenbrook
  • Arlene Dahl as Carla Göteborg
  • Peter Ronson as Hans Bjelke
  • Thayer David as Count Saknussemm
  • Bob Adler as Groom (Listed as Robert Adler)
  • Alan Napier as Dean
  • Ivan Triesault as Professor Göteborg
  • Alex Finlayson as Professor Boyle

Behind the scenes, Mason and Arlene Dahl had a contentious relationship. On the other hand, Dahl and Gertrude II, the duck, got along very well.

In addition to being beautifully shot, the film is also scored exceptionally by Herrmann. In the liner notes of The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann, Herrmann wrote: “I decided to evoke the mood and feeling of inner Earth by using only instruments played in low registers. Eliminating all strings, I utilized an orchestra of woodwinds and brass, with a large percussion section and many harps. But the truly unique feature of this score is the inclusion of five organs, one large Cathedral and four electronic. These organs were used in many adroit ways to suggest ascent and descent, as well as the mystery of Atlantis.”

In addition to sequences shot at the studio, several underground scenes were filmed at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico. Additional filming locations included Amboy Crater, California; Sequit Point, California; as well as Edinburgh, Scotland.

The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Effects, Special Effects; and Best Sound.

About Annette Bochenek

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is an avid scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
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1 Response to Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

  1. I remember this one well from my childhood — I think I saw it on Family Classics. I can’t imagine Clifton Webb in the lead role!

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