Author Archives: Todd

Watching IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962)

Images © Disney.

I remember liking this live-action Disney film when I saw it at age 11 in a theater, and after reading the original book, I wanted to see it again. The film has its flaws, but both Ellen and I enjoyed watching it.

The book is quite long, and the film is well under two hours, so I expected it to be much abridged, and it is, but the script does a good job in the time allowed. For starters, headliner Maurice Chevalier as the Frenchman Paganel and co-star Hayley Mills as Mary Grant, daughter of the missing Captain Grant they are searching for are teamed up from the beginning. In this version, Paganel has brought Mary and her brother Robert (Keith Hamshere) to the steam yacht of Lord Glenarvan with the message in a bottle he’s found telling of Captain Grant’s shipwreck. Lord Glenarvan (Wilfred Hyde-White) is dismissive and skeptical, but his son John Glenarvan (Michael Anderson Jr., not in the book, but essentially replacing Lady Glenarvan) is attracted to Mary Grant and sympathetic to her desire to find her lost father. He convinces his own father, Lord Glenarvan, to undertake the search for his lost Captain. (Unlike the book, Captain Grant worked for Glenarvan in the film, which ties them together nicely.)

The story cuts quickly to the first adventure in the Andes of South America, where an avalanche becomes a Disneyland ride with effects that look pretty silly today. Excellent background paintings by Peter Ellenshaw in this film, but some other effects seem poorly done by today’s standards. There are more adventures in the pampas of eastern South America, including the group being stranded in a giant tree by a flood, one of the best moments of the book, and handled well in the film.

This is not a musical, but there are a few songs for Chevalier and Mills by the Sherman Brothers, nothing very memorable or helpful to the plot, but entertaining enough. Soon the story moves on, skipping most of the Australia third of the book except to introduce villain George Sanders as Thomas Ayerton, former shipmate of Captain Grant, who promises to help the search party, but has other nefarious plans. The finale takes place in New Zealand, and involves laughable Maori warriors and a volcano, which again has poor effects by current standards (this was a Disney B-picture, so budgets were constrained). Wilfred Brambell is entertaining as a half-crazed shipmate of Captain Grant long held prisoner by the Maoris, who helps the party escape them.

In all, still fun to watch. Hayley Mills was not only charming, she was an excellent child actor, and it’s easy to believe each character she portrays, at least for me. Chevalier is also fun and entertaining. The rest of the cast is pleasant enough, but those two are the standouts, and deserved their top billing. So, while the book has lots more story, the film is not a bad abridged version.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS by Jules Verne

An early edition of this book in English, probably from 1873. The original French edition was first published in 1867-68, it was Verne’s fifth adventure novel. I read a free digital version on iBooks.

Like “Five Weeks In A Balloon,” this is an episodic travel adventure, but this time with a more important goal, to find and rescue the captain and two men of a wrecked Scottish ship. As the story opens, Lord Edward Glenarvan, his wife Lady Helena, his cousin Major McNabbs, and the ship’s crew under Captain John Mangles are on board The Duncan, a new sailing/steam ship owned by Glenarvan. It’s on a trial run in the Firth of Clyde. A large shark is spotted, and on a whim, they decide to catch it. Inside the shark is a worn but whole and sealed bottle, and inside the bottle is a handwritten message from Captain Grant of a long-missing ship, The Britannia of Glasgow, asking for help. The message is tattered and much is missing, but one thing is clear, Grant and his ship have been wrecked in the southern hemisphere on the 37th parallel, which runs primarily through southern South America and Australia, as well as New Zealand and some smaller islands.

Lord Glenarvan puts notices in the papers looking for information about Captain Grant, and soon his two children arrive, Mary and Robert. Mary is an older teen, Robert a younger one. Lord and Lady Glenarvan, touched by the children’s hopes and fears for their father, decide to take their ship, The Duncan, in search of the castaways, and Mary and Robert convince them they should come along. Once they’re well underway to South America, where they’ve decided to search first, an unwitting stowaway turns up: French Geographer Jacques Paganel, who it turns out got onto the wrong ship in the night, and has been asleep for several days. When Paganel finds out the ship’s mission, he volunteers to join their expedition willingly, adding his knowledge of the world to their resources. Paganel is a cheerful, somewhat absent-minded fellow who produces some laughs and is soon a friend to all.

This is a very long book with three main sections: the searches in South America, Australia and New Zealand. There are many exciting adventures and thrilling events. The party (or some of them) cross the Andes in South America, then the pampas, where a flood strands them in a giant tree. Later the tree catches fire in a thunderstorm! In Australia they are beset by bandits, one of whom has infiltrated their party, and they have great difficulty returning to their mission. Finally, in New Zealand, they are caught up in a Maori war against the British and taken prisoner. They escape with the help of a volcano. Those are just a few of the more memorable events.

This was a fun adventure story, despite the unlikely starting point. How did a shark from the south seas get to Scotland, for instance? The characters are memorable, and the many twists and turns of the plot surprising and often improbable, but entertaining all the same. I liked it more than “Five Weeks In A Balloon,” and intend to move on to more Verne novels soon.

Recommended.

SDCC 2017 Sunday

The first thing I did at the con today was attend the annual Jack Kirby Tribute panel. Lots of Kirby panels this year, but this one is a fixture. Here are just some of the pros and friends who turned up to tell stories about Jack and comment on his work. I can’t name them all, but seated are Mike Royer, Louise Simonson, Marv Wolfman. Standing are Bill Finger’s granddaughter, Mark Evanier, Brent Anderson, Walt Simonson, Jim Chadwick (mostly hidden). The most memorable comment for me was something Kirby said when told that some artists who loved his work were going to bring back some of his characters. Jack said, effectively, “They got it wrong. If they want to be like me, they should come up with new stuff.” Continue reading

SDCC 2017 Saturday

Another full day at the con, and I was able to spend more time in the Exhibit Hall today. Above is Keith Pollard, a busy comics artist in the 1970s-1990s. I probably lettered some of his DC work for things like GREEN LANTERN, and I know some of the “Tales of the Green Lantern Corps” stories I wrote were in issues where he drew the main story, but we’d never met. I applaud the San Diego staff for finding and inviting guests like this that are long out of the current comics business, but of interest to older fans and an important part of comics history. I think this is the only con that makes this kind of effort. Continue reading

SDCC 2017 Friday

As I made my way from my hotel to the con center this morning, I had to wait for some of the long line of folks to enter Hall H, the one many of them had been waiting to get into for days. I was amused by this lady with the sign who was “preaching” to the line as they entered, things like “Your long wait is almost over, enlightenment is just ahead!” Her group is the Line Monks. Quite a clever and funny idea to keep spirits up. Continue reading