Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959 film)

Journey to the Center of the Earth (also called Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth) is a 1959 CinemaScope science fiction adventure film in color by De Luxe, distributed by 20th Century Fox. The film, produced by Charles Brackett and directed by Henry Levin, stars James Mason, Pat Boone, and Arlene Dahl. Bernard Herrmann wrote the film score, and the film's storyline was adapted by Charles Brackett from the novel of the same name by Jules Verne.

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Directed byHenry Levin
Produced byCharles Brackett
Written byCharles Brackett
Walter Reisch
Based onJourney to the Center of the Earth
by Jules Verne
StarringJames Mason
Pat Boone
Arlene Dahl
Music byBernard Herrmann
CinematographyLeo Tover, ASC
Edited byStuart Gilmore
Jack W. Holmes
Cooga Mooga Film Productions, Inc.
Joseph M. Schenck Enterprises, Inc.
Distributed byTwentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Release date
  • December 16, 1959 (1959-12-16)
Running time
129 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.44 million[1]
Box office$10 million[2]


In 1880 Edinburgh, Scotland, Professor Sir Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason), a geologist at the University of Edinburgh, is given a piece of volcanic rock by his admiring student, Alec McEwan (Pat Boone). Finding the rock unusually heavy, Lindenbrook, mostly due to carelessness by his lab assistant, Mr. Paisley (Ben Wright), discovers a plumb bob inside bearing a cryptic inscription. Lindenbrook and Alec discover that it was left by a scientist named Arne Saknussemm, who had, almost 300 years earlier, found a passage to the center of the Earth by descending into Snæfellsjökull, a volcano in western Iceland. After translating the message, Lindenbrook immediately sets off with Alec to follow in the Icelandic pioneer's footsteps.

Professor Göteborg (Ivan Triesault), upon receiving correspondence from Lindenbrook regarding the message, opts to try to reach the Earth's center first. Lindenbrook and McEwan chase him to Iceland. There, Göteborg and his assistant kidnap and imprison them in a cellar. They are freed by a local Icelander, Hans Bjelke (Pétur Ronson), and his pet duck Gertrud. They find Göteborg dead in his hotel room. Lindenbrook finds potassium cyanide crystals in Göteborg's goatee and concludes that he was murdered.

Göteborg's widow, Carla (Arlene Dahl), who initially believed Lindenbrook was trying to capitalize on her deceased husband's work, learns the truth from Göteborg's diary. She provides the equipment and supplies her husband had gathered, including much sought after Ruhmkorff lamps, but only on condition that she go along. Lindenbrook grudgingly agrees, and the explorers, including Hans and his duck, are soon descending beneath the Earth.

They follow marks left by Arne Saknussemm. However, they are not alone. Göteborg's murderer, Count Saknussemm (Thayer David), believes that, as Arne Saknussemm's descendant, only he has the right to be there. He and his servant trail the group secretly. When Alec becomes separated from the others, he almost trips over Saknussemm's dead servant. When Alec refuses to be his replacement, Saknussemm shoots Alec in the arm. Lindenbrook locates Saknussemm from the multiple echoes of his pistol shot and sentences him to death. No one is willing to execute him, however, so they reluctantly take him along.

The explorers eventually come upon a subterranean ocean. They construct a raft from the stems of giant mushrooms in order to cross it, but not before narrowly escaping a family of dimetrodons. Their raft begins circling in a mid-ocean whirlpool. The professor deduces that this must be the center of the Earth: The magnetic forces of north and south meet there and are powerful enough to snatch away even the gold in their rings and tooth fillings. Completely exhausted, they reach the opposite shore.

While the others are asleep, a hungry Saknussemm catches and eats Gertrud. When Hans finds out, he rushes at the count, but is pulled off by Lindenbrook and McEwan. Reeling back, Saknussemm loosens a column of large stones and is buried beneath them, killing him. Right behind the collapse, the group comes upon the sunken city of Atlantis. They also find the remains of Arne Saknussemm. The right hand of his skeleton points toward a volcanic chimney, whose strong updraft suggests it leads to the surface, but a giant rock partially blocks the way. Lindenbrook decides to blow up the obstruction with gunpowder left by Saknussemm, and they take shelter in a large sacrificial altar bowl. A giant megalosaurus attacks, but it is completely covered by molten lava released by the explosion. The bowl floats atop the lava toward the passage and is driven upward at great speed, finally reaching the surface. Lindenbrook, Carla, and Hans are thrown into the sea, while Alec lands naked in a tree in a convent's orchard.

When they return to Edinburgh, they are hailed as national heroes. Lindenbrook, however, declines the accolades showered upon him, stating that he has no proof of his experiences, but he encourages others to follow in their footsteps. Alec marries Lindenbrook's niece Jenny (Diane Baker), and Lindenbrook and Carla kiss, a pledge of their coming wedding.



The film was a co-production between 20th Century-Fox and Joseph M. Schenck, who had been instrumental in helping establish Fox in 1935.[3] The film was produced by Charles Brackett who said:

Our picture describes action and events, with not the slightest shadow of Freud. The serious thing about Jules Verne is that all he does is tell a story in exciting episodes, but his stories have always pushed man a little closer towards the unknown. What we've tried to do is retell his story in the best way of all - in the Verne vernacular.[4]

Brackett called the original story "a delightful book, written for young people. We simply couldn't have any solemnity about it. I wanted very much to do it at this time. I'm tired of all these films based on thoughts at the back of sick minds."[5]

The script was written by Walter Reisch who later said:

I had written a lot of science fiction for magazines, and Charles Brackett knew about that. They also knew that I had written magazine articles on Jules Verne. I had studied Jules Verne, and always wanted to write his biography, but I never got around to doing it. When they bought the Jules Verne novel from his estate and assigned me, I was delighted. The master's work, though a beautiful basic idea, went in a thousand directions and never achieved a real constructive "roundness". With the exception of the basic idea, there is very little of the novel left in the film. I invented a lot of new characters—the Pat Boone part, the part of the professor's wife played by Arlene Dahl, the [part of the] villain—and the fact that it all played in Scotland.[6]

Pat Boone was the first star announced.[7] He said he was reluctant to make the film because it was science fiction, even after Fox promised to add some songs. It was only when they offered him 15% of the profits that he agreed at the urging of his management. He said, "Later on, I was very glad I did it, because it was fun to do, it had some good music and it became a very successful film".[8]

Following up on that point, Diabolique magazine later observed:

It remains a mystery why Boone never appeared in another fantasy/sci-fi adventure in his entire career. Boone was believable in them, and he could easily sing a song over the credits if he wanted. He wouldn’t have to worry about kissing any of his co-stars or “morality” issues. And it wasn’t as though Fox weren’t making them. When he was under contract they turned out The Lost World (1960), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) and Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962). The last two even featured pop stars Frankie Avalon and Fabian respectively, but no Boone. Was he too expensive? Did the dates not work out? Did he insist on playing the lead? Whatever the reason it was a great shame. For me, this is the biggest misstep Boone made in his film career.[9]

The role of the professor was meant to be played by Clifton Webb. Reisch said:

That was absolutely the most beautiful idea, because Clifton Webb had a certain tongue-in-cheek style, suited to playing a professor with crazy notions, which could be paired with Pat Boone as his favorite disciple. Every week Clifton visited Brackett's office, where we described scenes to him and he became very excited at the prospect of playing that kind of part. Maybe two or three weeks before we actually began to shoot, Clifton Webb went to the hospital for a checkup, and they never let him out. He had to undergo major surgery. Unless my memory fails me completely, it was a double hernia, and he was, as you can imagine, a very sensitive man, very touchy about sickness. He called Zanuck himself on his private line, and said he could not play the part because it was such a physical part.[10]

Webb was replaced at the last minute by James Mason, who had previously appeared as Captain Nemo in Disney's earlier adaptation of Jules Verne's novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).[11] Reisch:

I think it was [longtime head of Twentieth Century-Fox casting] Billy Gordon or Lew Schreiber [Twentieth Century-Fox production executive] who suggested James Mason. James Mason was, of course, British, with a beautiful voice, and he liked the idea [of the part]. He felt it was his duty as Clifton's colleague to take over. From there on it was clear sailing, except that Pat Boone had about three or four songs, if not more, and I think all of them died in the end, with the exception of one or two. The moment that Zanuck saw [their effect on] the action, those songs just fell by the wayside.[12]

Some of the underground sequences for Journey to the Center of the Earth were filmed at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Other shooting locations included Amboy Crater and Sequit Point, California, as well as Edinburgh, Scotland. Principal photography took place from late June to mid-September 1959.[13]

Originally, Life magazine editor and science writer Lincoln Barnett was to write the screenplay and later acted as one of the technical advisers on the film.[14][15]

The giant Dimetrodon depicted at the center of the Earth action sequence were actually rhinoceros iguanas with large, glued-on make-up appliances added to their backs. The giant chameleon seen later in the ruins of Atlantis scene was actually a painted Tegu lizard.[16]

Boone recalled filming the climax:

James Mason, Arlene Dahl, Peter Ronson and I were on a raft, caught in a giant whirlpool. It was a tricky thing to shoot — the raft was on a revolving platform that tilted when it went around. It had to look like we were being tossed violently. Hundreds of gallons of water were being dumped on us to simulate a stormy sea. The noise was deafening, but not enough to drown out Dahl, who started screaming as she held on for dear life. She screamed at the director, Henry Levin, 'Get me off this thing. Get me down. I'm going to pass out!' She kept yelling. Mason had little patience for it. He thought Dahl had already overplayed the role of a dainty creature when we had to wear very heavy parkas, feigning winter amid very hot July weather, for another scene (Dahl complained then of heat prostration). Mason was not amused as this time he yelled back at her, 'Shut up woman! We're going to have to do this ten times if you don't keep quiet.' We were going to have to dub dialogue anyway, and they got the shot.[17]

Dahl became unconscious and it took 30 minutes to revive her.[18]


Box office

At the time of release, Journey to the Center of the Earth was a financial success, grossing $5,000,000 at the box office (well over its $3.44 million budget).[1]

Critical response

At the time, New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther said Journey to the Center of the Earth) is "... really not very striking make-believe, when all is said and done. The earth's interior is somewhat on the order of an elaborate amusement-park tunnel of love. And the attitudes of the people, toward each other and toward another curious man who happens to be exploring down there at the same time, are conventional and just a bit dull".[19]

Ian Nathan, writing for Empire, gave the film four stars, stating that "it has dated a fair bit, but it's a film that takes its far-fetchedness seriously, and delivers a thrilling adventure untrammelled by cheese, melodrama or ludicrous tribes of extras, shabbily dressed bird-beings or lizard men", ultimately concluding that the film is "still captivating despite the obviously dated effects".[20]

At the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 86% of 29 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, Journey to the Center of the Earth is "a silly but fun movie with everything you'd want from a sci-fi blockbuster – heroic characters, menacing villains, monsters, big sets and special effects".[21]

Academy Awards

Journey to the Center of the Earth was nominated for three Academy Awards: for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Lyle R. Wheeler, Franz Bachelin, Herman A. Blumenthal, Walter M. Scott, Joseph Kish), for Best Effects, Special Effects, and for Best Sound (Carlton W. Faulkner).[22][23] It won a second place Golden Laurel award for Top Action Drama in 1960.

Comic book adaption

See also



  1. Solomon 1989, p. 252.
  2. "Journey to the Center of the Earth". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  3. Pryor, Thomas M. (October 7, 1958). "SCHENCK TO MAKE A MOVIE FOR FOX; Plans Screening of 'Journey to Center of Earth' - Pearl Buck Novel to Be Film". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. 40. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  4. Thompson, Howard (December 2, 1959). "BRACKETT IN CITY FOR BOW OF FILM; Writer-Producer's 'Center of Earth' to Open Dec. 16 - Double Bill Today". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. 55. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  5. A Producer Lightly Bucking the Tide: Hollywood Letter By Richard Dyer MacCann. The Christian Science Monitor 19 Apr 1960: 7.
  6. McGilligan 1991, p. 243.
  7. Pryor, Thomas M. (March 19, 1959). "DIANE VARSI QUITS CAREER IN MOVIES; Actress, 20, Retiring to Live in Vermont - Boone in Film Based on Verne Book". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. 40. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  8. Verswijver 2003, p. 13.
  9. Vagg, Stephen (10 September 2019). "The Surprisingly Interesting Cinema of Pat Boone". Diabolique Magazine.
  10. McGilligan 1991, p. 243-44.
  11. Scheuer, Philip K. (June 17, 1959). "Mason to Replace Webb in Fantasy: Actor in 'Center of Earth;' Book Reveals 'True' Ingrid". Los Angeles Times. p. A11.
  12. McGilligan 1991, p. 244.
  13. "Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959): Original Print Information". Turner Classic Movies. WarnerMedia. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  14. "Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959): Notes". Turner Classic Movies. WarnerMedia. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  15. "Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959): Full Credits". Turner Classic Movies. WarnerMedia. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  16. Miller, John M. "Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959): Articles". Turner Classic Movies. WarnerMedia. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  17. Redmond, Joe (September 3, 2012). "Catching Up with Pat Boone". ALIVE East Bay Magazine. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  18. "Arlene Dahl Faints on Set". Los Angeles Times. August 25, 1959. p. B2.
  19. Crowther, Bosley (December 17, 1959). "Journey to the Center of the Earth'; Verne Fable Opens at the Paramount". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  20. Nathan, Ian (July 21, 2006). "Journey To The Center Of The Earth Review". Empire. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  21. "'Journey to the Center of the Earth' (1959)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  22. "The 32nd Academy Awards | 1960". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  23. "Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959): Awards". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on March 27, 2010. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  24. "Dell Four Color #1060". Grand Comics Database.
  25. Dell Four Color #1060 at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)


  • McGilligan, Patrick (1991). "Walter Reisch: The Traitor". Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520209084.
  • Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810821477.
  • Verswijver, Leo (2003). Movies Were Always Magical: Interviews with 19 Actors, Directors and Producers from the Hollywood of the 1930s through the 1950s. Jefferson: McFarland & Co. ISBN 9780786411290.
  • Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Films of the Fifties, 21st Century Edition. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2009, (First edition: 1982). ISBN 0-89950-032-3.
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