Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) Information

Journey to the Center of the Earth is a 1959 adventure film adapted by Charles Brackett from the novel by Jules Verne. It stars Pat Boone, James Mason and Arlene Dahl, and was directed by Henry Levin.

This film is also known as Trip to the Center of the Earth.


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). Deciding that the rock is unusually heavy, Lindenbrook, mostly thanks to the carelessness of 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 Saknussem, who had, almost 300 years earlier, found a passage to the center of the Earth. After translating the message, Lindenbrook immediately sets off with Alec to follow in the Icelandic pioneer's footsteps.

Professor Göteborg of Stockholm (Ivan Triesault), upon receiving correspondence from Lindenbrook regarding the nature of 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 an athletic Icelander, Hans Bjelke (Pétur Ronson), and his pet duck Gertrude. They find Göteborg dead in his room at an inn. Lindenbrook finds some potassium cyanide crystals in Göteborg's goatee and concludes that he has been killed.

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

They are aided by marks left by Arne Saknussem showing the path he took 300 years before. However, they are not alone. Count Saknussem (Thayer David) thinks that, as Arne Saknussem's descendent, only he has the right to be there. He trails the group secretly with his servant. When Alec became separated from the others, he almost trips over Saknussem's dead servant. When Alec refuses to be his replacement, Saknussem shoots Alec in the arm. Lindenbrook locates Saknussem from the reverberations of the sound of the shot, and sentences him to death. However, no one is willing to execute him, so they reluctantly take him along.

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

While the others are asleep, a hungry Saknussem catches and eats Gertrude the duck. When Hans finds out, he rushes at the count, but is pulled off by Lindenbrook and McEwan. Reeling back, Saknussem loosens a column of stones and is buried beneath them. Right behind the collapse, the group comes upon the sunken city of Atlantis. They also find the remains of Arne Saknussem. The hand of his skeleton points toward a passage to the surface. They decide that they will have to break a giant rock blocking their way using gunpowder left by Saknussem. This awakens a giant lizard that attacks them, but it is killed by released lava. They climb into a large sacrificial altar bowl which they have placed in the passage, and are driven upward at great speed by the lava, reaching the surface through a volcanic shaft. Lindenbrook, Carla and Hans are thrown into the sea, while Alec lands naked in a tree in the orchard of a nunnery.

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, having fallen in love, kiss.


Actor/Actress Role Notes
James Mason Sir Oliver Lindenbrook
Pat Boone Alec McEwan
Arlene Dahl Carla Göteborg
Peter Ronson Hans Bjelke
Thayer David Count Saknussem
Bob Adler Groom As Robert (Bob) Adler
Alan Napier Dean
Diane Baker Jenny
Ivan Triesault Professor Göteborg
Alex Finlayson Professor Boyle

Differences from source material

The characters of Gertrude the duck, Professor and Carla Goteborg, and Count Saknussem are not present in Verne's novel. Also, Alec (Harry or Axel, depending on the version of the novel one reads) is Lindenbrook's nephew in the novel, and they live in Hamburg (Germany), not Edinburgh. In the book, depending on the version read, Lindenbrook is called either Hardwigg or Lidenbrock.

The Atlantis sequence is also only in the film. In the book there are sea-creatures and elephants with a giant man, not lizards as in the film.

The lava rock which instigates the adventure is unique to the film - in the novel Professor Lindenbrook translates a recently-acquired manuscript.


Some underground scenes were filmed at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Life magazine editor and science writer Lincoln Barnett was a technical adviser on the film.

The giant Dimetrodons were actually rhinoceros iguanas with glued-on sails. The giant chameleon later in the film was a painted tegu lizard.


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). The film 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), Best Effects, Special Effects and Best Sound (Carlton W. Faulkner). It won a second place Golden Laurel award for Top Action Drama in 1960.

The film currently holds an average 7.0/10 rating on IMDB. On Rotten Tomatoes, 83% of critics gave the film a positive review, with the general consensus being that 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."

New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther said, in his contemporary review of Journey to the Center of the Earth), that the film 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." 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".

See also

  • Slurpasaur
  • At the Earth's Core
  • Viaje al centro de la Tierra, Spanish adventure film based on the same book

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