Some books are better imagined than made into a movie. You might think that Around the World in 80 Days would be fantastic on film — take the exciting 80-day journey of Victorian gentleman Phileas Fogg and his manservant Passpartout and go to all the actual locations around the world! In glorious technicolor! The thrills! The chills! And this production did film in 112 locations in 13 countries, showing a 1950s American and British audience more of the world than they probably ever had seen. It’s kind of like a three-hour “It’s a Small World” ride, but without the singing (and I love the singing!).
And like that Disneyland ride, Around the World in 80 Days suffers from the cultural imperialism of the era it was made. Fogg’s stuffy fixation on doing things the way they’ve always been done feels like a reflection of 1950s conformity and regimentation more than a historical look at the Victorian British Empire. Every place he visits is treated as wholly “exotic” and “other,” and most of the main characters look down their noses at the “savages” they are forced to interact with at times. Even the Indian princess Aouda is barely tolerated, and, oh yes, she’s played by Shirley MacLaine, of all people. For that matter, over 40 famous performers made cameos, including Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Noel Coward, Charles Boyer, Ceasar Romero, and John Gielgud (pre “Sir,” natch).
The book and the movie take place in 1872, and Fogg’s costumes are standard-issue Victorian. Aouda gets a shifting wardrobe of exotic-through-1950s-eyes, starting with her “native” Indian garb. She changes in Hong Kong to “Chinese” clothes, wears bustle-gown-with-Indian-accents for the tour through the United States, and switches back to her Indian outfit in London. It’s rather haphazard.
Read the book. It’s charming and suits the period in a way that probably can’t be translated today without being somewhat offensive.
I suspect the later version with Jackie Chan as Passepartout was a little more diverse.
Is it wrong to totally want Marlene’s lame n lace madame costume?
[“Every place he visits is treated as wholly “exotic” and “other,” and most of the main characters look down their noses at the “savages” they are forced to interact with at times.”]
You really need to read a book on the British Empire. Fogg’s attitude was pretty common back in the 19th century. It still lingers today.
And by the way, the novel wasn’t any better, to be truthful. Some of the stuff that Verne did not seem right. And I found his portrayal of Aouda rather disturbing.
I have read the book, as I recommend in this review. Vernes’ tone is rather mocking of Fogg’s lack of interest in his surroundings, though Fogg himself is deferential & respectful of Aouda during their journey (supposedly this is what inspires her affections towards him). Fogg is a caricature of the British Empire in the book — sadly the movie was too invested (literally) with making a Big Budget Spectacle & took itself far too seriously.
I never cared for that movie version although I may look at it again just for the costuming; it just seemed like one endless travelogue. Also, for what it’s worth, many of Verne’s novels suffer from poor translations from French into English and that play a role. I read the book many years ago and from what I recall, it was a bit tedious.
My memories of the novel was Verne’s portrayal of Aouda. She seemed to become increasingly light in her skin tone and more “European”, the closer she gets to Europe.
And yeah, the novel was a bit tedious. It’s hard to make a great movie out of a mediocre novel. Well, Francis Ford Coppola did it with “The Godfather”.