20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Back in the thirties, they laughed when Walt Disney said that he was going to make a feature length animated film. “Oh, how quaint” the fat studio execs chortled through solid walls of cigar smoke as they sat stewing in their leather-bound rooms “The little cartoon man thinks he can make movies”.

The little cartoon man then proceeded to make Snow Whiteone of the most successful movies of all time. Then, a decade later, Disney announced that he was branching out into live action movies.

“Oh how quaint” the fat studio execs chortled through solid walls of cigar smoke as they sat stewing in their leather-bound rooms “The little animated feature man thinks he can make movies with real people”.

At which point Disney fixed them with a steely glare and said “Okay, just for that? I’m going to own you. All of you. It may take decades but I now dedicate my every waking moment to ensuring that one day, everything you own will belong to me. Every movie you’ve ever made, every studio, every piece of merchandise, every character. You sneeze, I will own the dirty hankie. Every red cent you ever earn will one day BELONG TO WALTER ELIAS DISNEY SO I SWEAR ON THE OLD GODS AND THE NEW.”

And they chortled at that because some motherfuckers never learn, do they?

An important step on Disney’s path to total global conquest were their live action films of the 1950s. These were usually classic tales of derring do from literature dressed up real nice with a few catchy songs. Probably the best remembered film of this era was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on Jules Verne’s staggeringly prophetic novel about how big an impact submarines were going to have on all our lives.

Leagues marked something of a watershed moment for Disney’s live-action fare as it was the first Disney film to get a really top-tier cast with household names like Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and James Mason. In fact, even though Disney had already made several fairly successful live action movies at this point, Kirk Douglas needed quite a bit of coaxing, with his part being substantially altered at his request.

“Okay, so Ned Land should be introduced with two hotties on either arm.”

“Fine.”

“And he has to win every fight he’s in!”

“Fine.”

“And everytime he’s not onscreen, everyone should be wandering around going “Where’s Ned? Where’s Ned?”

“Fine.”

“And I want my son to play Ant-Man!”

“That is a WEIRD ask, but okay.”

As director, Walt hired director Richard Fleischer, much to Fleishcer’s surprise as he was the son of Max Fleischer, Disney’s long-time rival.

“Don’t you hate him?”

“Richard my boy, I keep my friends close, my enemies closer and the people my enemies care about in the same building where I work. Under armed guard.”

“Ah. So. Am I a director or a hostage?”

“The job calls for you to fill several roles.”

So it’s 1868 and vessels all over the world have been mysteriously missing and, as usual, the monster community is being scape-goated. In San Francisco, a survivor of one shipwreck is telling anyone who’ll listen that a mysterious undersea monster wrecked his vessel and cast him into the sea like a common bottle. But Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), a whaler, arrives with a babe on each arm and tells the sailor that he’s a drunk. This, of course, was back in the fifties when whalers were still viewed as heroic rugged defenders of humanity from hordes of slavering belugas and not, as they are now, the Ultimate Sea Bastards.

Meanwhile, Professor Aronnax (Paul Lukas) is in town along with his little man, Conseil (Peter Lorre). Every main character in a Jules Verne story has to have a little man, it’s just this trope he has. Anyway. Aronnax is travelling to Shanghai on behalf of the National Museum of Paris because, as we all know, Paris is a country. But the pair are told that they can’t travel to Shanghai or indeed any hai at all, because the monster stalks the ocean like a great undersea creep. Annorax and Conseil are all “Pshaw! Come now sirs, we are men of science!” but gets misquoted by the local newshounds who misconstrue his words to say “RESPECTED SCIENTIST SAYS MONSTERS ARE TOTALLY REAL AND ARE COMING FOR OUR WOMEN, YA HEARD?!”

The US government, realising that a little European know how and savoir faire is required here, invite Annorax and Conseil on a naval vessel searching the ocean for the monster. Ned Land is also invited along, one of the few civilian sailors who is not afraid of the monster because he is a whaler of science.

The voyage lasts for months and the ship’s captain, Farragut, thinks that the navy is wasting its time hunting the monster.

“Pah! The navy should be looking for Bigfoot! He’s the real enemy!”

To pass the time, Ned takes out a guitar and entertains the sailors with Whale of a Tale.

 

That little ditty that was included on one of those old Disney Sing-A-Long videos from way back when which is why it’s been stuck in my head for the last 25 frickin’ years thanks Kirk Douglas thanks a whole heap.

“Yer welcome!”

“Holy shit you’re STILL ALIVE?!”

Yup, apparently Mr Douglas is still around at the age of 102, having won a magic ring in a game of riddles.  Anyway, whale of a tale is an insanely catchy song whose upbeat melody distracts from the fact that this is basically Ned straight up bragging about all the chicks he’s banged.

“God DAMN I got bitches! DAMN I got bitches! DAMN I got bitches!”

Anyway, before he can get to the truly scandalous about Cockleshell Contessa from Nantucket, the ship is attacked by that monster everyone’s so gosh darned sure doesn’t exist and sinks. Everyone dies except obviously Aronnax, Conseil and Land because otherwise it’d be a real short flick. Adrift in a life boat, they see a shape in the water and think that it’s the monster but discover that it’s actually a miraculous submersible vessel.

So there’s a fairly common misconception that Jules Verne invented the submarine, which just isn’t the case. In fact, Verne’s Nautilus was named after a real submarine that saw use a whopping seventy years before the book was printed and, depending on how generous you want to be with the term “submarine”, there are records of them going back as far as the fifteen hundreds even though most of them were just fancy ways to suffocate.

Anyway, our trio board the vessel and find it deserted but, looking out of a porthole, they see a group of sailors in diving suits performing a funeral on the sea floor. The sailors re-enter the ship and the trio are brought face to face with the ship’s captain; Nemo played by James Mason.

Dear God. It’s like they trained a panther to act.

Full disclosure. I’ve never actually seen a movie starring James Mason before now and all that can do now is curse a wasted life. This man. This man! Such lanquid grace. Such incomparable presence! I must write a sonnet!

Nemo has read Aronnax’s work and is a big fan, but has no use for Land and Conseil, who he sentences to be drowned. Aronnax begs for their life and Nemo says that he’s willing to share the secrets of the ocean with Aronnax, but that he must give up his friends. Actually his exact words are “you must choose between them and me” and honestly? Fair trade.

Aronnax refuses and Nemo regretfully sentences him to drown along with the other two. They’re left outside on Nautilus as it submerges but at the last moment Nemo orders the sub to resurface and have the three men brought aboard and confined to quarters with Nemo saying “I’ve found out what I want to know?” Which was that…they’re…not witches? I dunno.

Their now proceeds a dinner scene which is just, oh guys it’s glorious, with Mason and Kirk trading poisoned barbs like a pair of spinster aunts. Nemo tells them that they’re on probation and that if they try to escape they’re all “no shit, it’s a submarine”. The meal ends and Nemo shows Aronnax where his crew get their food, foraging on the ocean floor. We now get a long sequence of Nemo’s crew gathering lobsters, catching fish and strong-arming turtles like they’re Occupy Wall Street protestors being forcibly removed from a sit-in.

“We are exercising our constitutional rights to peaceful protest…hey, quit twisting my flipper, nark!”

Aronnax can’t understand why a man of Nemo’s incredible intellect and masterful beard would be blowing up ships like a common Godzilla and Nemo takes them to the island Penal colony of Rura Penthe also known as the Alien’s Graveyard.

Nemo tells Aronnax that the nation that owns Rura Penthe had his wife and child tortured to death so that Nemo would reveal the secrets of his submarine which is a slightly stronger cup of coffee than your typical fifties Disney backstory. Since then, Nemo and his crew (most of whom are escaped prisoners from Rura Penthe) have been waging a war against all the great powers of the world but particularly “that hated nation”. This particular nation goes unnamed in the movie as in Verne’s novel, but between you and me it rhymes with “Schmussia”.

This brings us to the interesting question of Nemo’s nationality. The name itself means “No-one” and Verne intended Nemo as a stand in for all victims of imperial power, but he originally intended for Nemo to be a Polish aristocrat who lost everything to the Russian Empire. Unfortunately, the novel came out in 1870, the year of the Franco-Prussian war (the “Craig Killborn” of Franco-German conflicts) when France was desperately seeking an alliance with Russia against Otto Von Bismarck. Disney also keeps the identity of “that hated nation” ambigous, as he was also seeking an alliance with Russia against Otto Von Bismarck, particularly after his behaviour on the set of Cinderella.

“Cocaine is a hell of a drug.”

Where things get complicated is that Verne did actually give Nemo a canonical nationality in the pseudo-sequel The Mysterious Island, where it’s revealed that Nemo was actually Prince Nattar, an Indian aristocrat, and that the “hated nation” was actually Britain.

Surely not?

The notion of Nemo being Indian has never really caught on in popular culture partly because well, y’know. It rhymes with “schmacism”, but also because it was never Verne’s original intention and it would require more than five people having managed to finish The Mysterious Island (not Verne’s best work, to put it bluntly). Alan Moore, however, did keep Nemo’s Indian background for his quite masterful use of the character in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Image result for league of extraordinary gentlemen nemo

Aronnax is shocked when Nemo destroys a ship leaving Rura Penthe loaded with munitions, killing the entire crew. Both Conseil and Ned are disgusted and try to convince Aronnax to join them in planning an escape but the Professor is torn by an ethical dilemma.

Con: Nemo is a murderous terrorist.

Pro: Yeah. But he’s got a really bitchin’ submarine.

Con: He threatens the livelihood of millions by shutting down global shipping.

Pro: True. But seriously, you gotta see this submarine.

Con: He represents a threat to the entire world order.

Pro: That submarine, tho.

Con: If left unchecked…

Pro: IT HAS A PIPE ORGAN.

Ned figures out that Nemo is using the island of Vulcania as his base and drops messages in bottles telling anyone who finds them where Nemo is hiding out. Conseil and Land also try and escape when the Nautilus pulls up to an island in New Guinea for supplies. They get as far as the centre  of the island where they meet some local cannibals who proceed to swarm over the Nautilus like there’s a free buffet which I guess there is.

This leads to the single greatest deliver of the single greatest line in the whole movie.

Conseil: Cannibals! Hundreds of cannibals! Captain, Captain, scores of boats!

Ned Land: Captain, we’re under attack!

Captain Nemo (purring like an Egyptian deity): Naturally, since you invaded their privacy, they have every right to invade ours.

 A little less pleasant unfortunately is what happens next. Nemo electrifies the hull of the Nautilus and we get a scene of fifty or so black actors jumping around in pain while the all white main characters point and laugh.

Kirk Douglas has aged better than this scene.

Nemo is not happy that Land tried to escape has him confined to quarters. And then, in short order, the Nautilus is attacked by a warship and then a giant squid because Nemo is just having one of those days.

The battle with the giant squid is the most famous sequence in the whole movie and, rather appropriately, it was a sprawling many-tentacled monster of a thing to shoot that almost dragged the Disney studio down to a watery grave. The original shoot was a complete disaster with the model squid malfunctioning, the wires clearly visible and the whole thing shot on a calm, clear night at sea. Disney demanded that it be re-shot, this time during a raging storm which also required a new squid model to be built from scratch which nearly tanked the whole studio financially.

But, re-filming the scene paid off in two ways, firstly making the squid look a lot more convincing (and I gotta say, even 65 years later it’s a damn fine prop) and secondly adding a whole new level of drama to the scene as the crew battle the squid and the elements. During the battle, Nemo gets swept overboard and is saved from drowning by Ned Land. This causes a crisis of conscience for Nemo. If Ned Land, who is objectively the worst human, can be capable of such nobility then perhaps he was wrong about him, and by extension all of humanity?

“There’s something sweet, and almost kind. But he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined. But now he’s dear, I’m almost sure, I wonder why I didn’t see it there before.”

Nemo tells Aronnax that he’s decided to make peace with the rest of humanity and give his scientific knowledge freely to all. But when the Nautilus pulls into port at his secret island base, the Schmussians are waiting for them, having gotten one of Ned Land’s bottles that, that, that, that seems a stretch. Think about. This entire, massive military operation was mounted on the strength of a randomly found bottle that contained the mad ramblings of a drunken whaler with a chin like a rock hammer.

Nemo, realising that all humans are Land Bastards, sets his island lair to self-distruct and gets shot with one of those bullets that kills you slowly and only at the most dramatically appropriate time. Nemo, realising that he’s dying, order the Nautilus to submerge and to be destroyed. His crew tell him that they’ll die with him as a life without James Mason operating at peak Masonry can scarcely be called a life at all. This is by far the most realistic thing in the entire movie.

Land, Conseil and Aronnax, not surprisingly, are not quite ready to die for Nemo (well, Aronnax seems kinda okay with it) and they escape as the Nautilus goes down with all hands.

As the ship goes down, Nemo’s words to Aronnax echo: “There is hope for the future. And when the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will someday come to pass, in God’s good time”.

“By which, of course, I mean my good time.”

***

A massive critical and commercial hit when it was released, Leagues remains a fantastic watch almost seven decades later, with Mason’s portrayal of Nemo remaining absolutely definitive. It’s a grand old romp, and well worth your time. Disney have been threatening a remake for about a decade now (somewhere there is a timeline where we got a McG directed Nemo prequel starring Will Smith and take a moment to thank your deity of choice that that never came to pass) but for now and for the foreseeable future, this is probably the best version of Verne’s tale ever set to screen.

NEXT UPDATE: 13 June 2019

NEXT TIME: Oh look, it’s that Disney movie for kids named after that time Kim Kardashian showed humanity her bare ass…

49 comments

  1. I’ve been curious about James Mason ever since I found out that teenaged Anne Perry and her best friend considered him a demi-god in the years leading up to them murdering said friend’s mother (what? surely I’m not the only one here who watches true crime shows.) But when I found out he also played Dr. Watson in “Murder by Decree” I was less impressed as that was still very much in the Watson-Is-An-Idiot era of Sherlockian media.

    Your testimony convinced me to look up clips from “Leagues.” By all the gods of the pantheon. James Mason was an English Sean Connery 20 years before Sean Connery was a thing. And now I hate “Murder By Decree” even more for gross misuse of their James Mason.

    I must also point out that prior to this post, I had no idea “Mysterious Island” was a sort-of sequel. Not that I’m anxious to read it but I’m glad to have learned this bit of trivia. Thanks, Mouse!

    1. Mysterious Island is a weird one. It starts out introducing wholly new characters, then surprises you by becoming not only a sequel to Leagues but to In Search of the Castaways as well. Verne apparently set out to create his own MCU.

      1. It was originally serialized, wasn’t it? That sort of thing stinks of a serialized novel catching low ratings (or whatever the late 1800s equivalent was) and desperately trying to salvage itself by bringing back beloved characters from earlier works.

  2. Will Smith as Nemo? That’s that rare brand of ridiculous casting that makes no sense, but also somehow perfect sense from the point of view of a studio exec.

    Yeah, my VHS if this drilled that song into my head fifteen years ago and it hasn’t left since.

    “I’ve got a whale of a tale to tell you lads, a whale of a tale or two…”

    I guess this is a point in favor of revisiting the movie. I was worried it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered it.

    1. I find many of my nostalgic movies hold up really well. Give it a rewatch, and if you do not like it now it will probably at least bring back good memories.

  3. I’m awful because my favorite James Mason role is Straker in that Salem’s Lot miniseries by Tobe Hooper. James Mason should never be the Renfield. James Mason should be the Dracula or bust.

    Loved this movie growing up. I too was first introduced to it (and so many things) by those Disney Sing-a-Long tapes. I don’t know if those things were super cheap or what, but me and every kid I knew owned about 50 of them.

    Looking forward to Wreck It Ralph 2. That’s a movie I was quite happy with walking out of the theater, but in hindsight it didn’t leave much of an impression. It’ll be cool to see your take.

  4. Thanks for the review! You really SUNK this one! 😁

    …by the by, and speaking of Boxing Day, I’m not sure when it is, but I can only assume it comes sometime before Unboxing Day, aka December the 25th. Am I right? 🤔😏

  5. Check out the 1953 version of Julius Caesar. It has an even-more-mellifluous James Mason as Brutus! And 1950’s The Reckless Moment, a gorgeous film noir that is probably his best work in that genre (noir was kind of his specialty).

  6. I can honestly remember around 1995ish that the remake was being planned with…Chris Farley as Nemo!

  7. Ah, I’ve been simultaneously awaiting and dreading your RBTI review. Still, I can’t imagine your reaction to the Princess scene. It’s like the forest critter Mount Olympus.

  8. Never watched this, but I definitely will someday.
    Why do I have a suspicion that you’re going to despise RBTI? (I didn’t hate it, or even dislike it, but I will concede that the first film was infinitely superior.)

      1. Ralph opens his mouth. Felix moves his left leg, King Candy conquerors the North Pole, Calhoun looks up, and Sonic talks.

  9. Excellent review as always.

    Kirk Douglas really does not seem like he should still be alive. He’s from a different time and some how exists in ours.

  10. Sorry I have to gush but “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is one of my all time favorites since I read it as a kid. Fun story: when I visited MGM Studios in high school when they were displaying old art work, models and concept art for some of the older films. I got to meet the son of Harper Goff who designed the 𝘕𝘢𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘭𝘶𝘴 for the film. I absolutely love the design, a mix of steampunk with a distinct animalistic look. Like something from a 19th century book on sea monsters.
    To me this is the peak design for the 𝘕𝘢𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘭𝘶𝘴, nothing’s come close to how good it looks.

  11. As for James Mason (And how have you gone so long without seeing him? For shame Mouse) I think this bit of dialogue between him and Paul Lukas sums up his take on Captain Nemo perfectly.

    𝐂𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐍𝐞𝐦𝐨: I asked you to leave, Professor.

    𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐟𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐨𝐫 𝐀𝐫𝐫𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐱: You also asked me ashore, to show me man’s inhumanity to man. Why? To justify THIS?! You are not only a murderer, you are a hypocrite. The proof lies out there.

    𝐂𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐍𝐞𝐦𝐨: YOU CALL THAT MURDER?! Well, I see murder, too. Not on those drowned faces out there, but on the faces of dead 𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒔𝒂𝒏𝒅𝒔! They are the assassins, the dealers in death. I am the avenger! Is murder a right reserved for that hated nation? They’ve already taken everything else from me. Everything but my secrets. The secret of my submarine boat and the energy that propels it, they tried! They cast me to prison and when they failed, when they failed, they tortured my wife and young son to death.

    𝐂𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐍𝐞𝐦𝐨: Do you know the meaning of love, professor?

    𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐟𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐨𝐫 𝐀𝐫𝐫𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐱: I believe I do.

    𝐂𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐍𝐞𝐦𝐨: What you fail to understand is the power of hate. It can fill the heart as surely as love can.

    𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐟𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐨𝐫 𝐀𝐫𝐫𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐱: I’m sorry for you. It’s a bitter substitute.

    And that is the tragedy of Captain Nemo; not only is he a man that gazes into the abyss, he knows that the abyss gazes back at him. And yet for every death he causes and how much it tortures his soul he can’t stop. He can’t turn away from the abyss because all he would see are ghosts of loved ones stolen away from him.

  12. Now I am curious…was this the first time you watched the whole movie?

    And yes, the song is so damn catchy, no wonder Disney got away with it.

    It is kind of ironic that the squid looks better than some of the CGI monsters they create today. It is just so well done!

    But then, the whole movie is. Even if Disney couldn’t resist to exclude a cute pet, overall it is just perfect. The design of the Nautilus is so memorable, this IS the Nautilus for me, the damn organ might be part of the reason why I always wanted to learn playing organ and the portrayal of Nemo is just pitch-perfect. It is not only the best adaptation of the story, it is, imho, better than the book. Exactly because the movie bothers to give Nemo a crisis of faith (or a crisis of lack of faith in his case).

      1. Glad that you were finally able to put a movie to your earworm. Imho this is the best movie Disney Pictures has ever done. Despite some unfortunate scenes in it.

  13. David Fincher was supposed to make one the adaptations you mentioned by Disney which would have been great imo. He says corporate culture killed it while I feel it was more like his inability to make films that are not ridiculously expensive (but I guess it’s the same thing to him). I have red the book but haven’t seen any adaptations (or red the sequel, good to know where the Nemo as Indian thing comes from).

    I have also yet to see Wreck-It Ralp 2. I guess I should but I am just not exited for Disney sequels if they are not Frozen 2.

  14. Btw, regarding “Whale of a Tale”: I suspect that I was always very forgiving of the actual text because for one, I didn’t really understand what he sung about when I first heard it and two, once I was old enough to understand I was too distracted by this hip swing.

  15. Hoo boy. I’ve been waiting for the Ralph 2 review for a while now. It’s one I… don’t think highly of.

  16. Ah, Ralph Breaks the Internet. AKA Disney Does Fanservice, Not That Kind of Fanservice, but Leaves You Feeling the Same Anyway, The Movie.

  17. Watched this movie a ton growing up and still love the hell out of it. Whale of a Tale rules. If not for Swiss Family Robinson this would probably be my favorite live action Disney film.

      1. It’s probably not actually as good as 20,000 leagues but it’s a favorite in my family so it holds sentimental value for me. And it is very very good, a truly classic family adventure movie.

  18. Mouse, please allow me to congratulate you on discovering James Mason at last – quite frankly he’s so much your Type I’m astonished you didn’t sniff him out like a ripe cheddar, even if I AM a little shocked you’re so willing to consider polytheism on short acquaintance (wherefore Elba, I ask ye?).

    Amusingly I first encountered the man himself in GENGHIS KHAN; he was playing a Mandarin opposite Mr Omar Sharif as the Great Khan himself (both of them are quite good despite the incongruousness of those casting choices, but I remain completely bemused by the fact they seem to have never given Charles Bronson a shot – I mean they were smart enough to cast Jack Palance as Attila the Hun, clearly they didn’t get it wrong every time!).

    On a more serious note, I’m very fond of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (the film and the novel) but must admit that my very favourite Verne is definitely AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (I remain devoutly hopeful that somebody will cast Mr Martin Freeman as Phileas Fogg, but they never gave the late, great Sir Roger Moore HIS shot so who knows!).

    I’d also like to add that my Favourite Captain Nemo is actually the fellow from the LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN film … which I actually prefer to the comic; no, really, I saw the film at an impressionable age and haven’t looked back since.

    Also MINA/JONATHAN HARKER FOREVER! (NUTS, TORCHES & PITCHFORKS to Count Dracula, Mr Alan Moore AND Dorian Grey).

  19. p.s. May I please ask if you’ve ever seen the film OSCAR? (It’s a rather hilarious screwball comedy that starts with a memorable cameo from Kirk Douglas and only gets funnier from there; I don’t want to give too much away, but if you need further incentive to see the film, it casts Mr Tim Curry as elocution teacher to a mob boss, need I say more?).

    By the way, I trust that Miss Mouse is making a full and speedy recovery?

  20. I have a biased opinion of this movie since my movie-addicted grandmother showed it to me as a little kid, so I’ve been overanalyzing it before I could even walk and talk properly.

    But I must disagree with your interpretation of the scene where the natives get electrocuted. Its a very complex scene. While Ned Land and Conseli are laughing hysterically; look at Nemo and his crew. They are disgusted. Nemo is not happy that he had to do that to these people who were, at the end of the day, just minding their own business. Even if he considers them savage. And, tellingly, its the moment where Nemo’s patience completely disintegrates and he orders Ned locked up in a storage room. Though I am embarassingly happy that you not only recognzied one of the greatest lines in movie history, but you felt the need to portray it in the review.

    To anyone out there on the fence about seeing this movie: That sequence is spectacular. The whole movie is amazing, and much like the rich asshole businessmen of the era, I cannot believe the guy behind Mickey Mouse and Snow White made such a beautiful and profound film. Obviously a film is inherently a collaboration, but Walt Disney deciding to go ahead with this and push it right to the edge, almost risking his entire company and legacy on it, puts him firmly in that demigod category Mouse likes to portray him as.

  21. All this talk of that other League reminds me… didn’t you once work on a comic with a similar title, The League of Extraordinary Volunteers or something? Is that still coming along?

    As for this movie – my only experience with the story is Classics Illustrated’s heavily-abridged version for fifth-graders, but it still stayed with me during childhood. I think I’ll check this one out when I’ve got a spare Sunday.

  22. I’m so happy. This was one of the ones on my list (sorry, I somehow missed the notification, and only found it when I got the Wodehouse notification).

    So, true story, my parents dropped me off in London for uni and we were supposed to have a nice dinner together before they left town. I found out that James Mason was being interviewed at the BFI and said, “Thanks, folks, see you at Thanksgiving.”

    It was a great interview and at the end they took questions. I stuck my hand up, and someone else was called. It didn’t matter; she asked the same question I wanted to. When the next question came up, Mason pointed my way and said, “There was one from over here, I believe.” On the fly, I came up with a new question. He’d talked about so many producers he’d worked with, but what was it like to work with Walt Disney.

    “When you’ve read my book, which I expect you to read. in. depth. I think you’ll find that working with Disney was much easier than many others…”

    I don’t remember all of the exact wording, but he told two stories. One was that his agent was asking for billing above Kirk Douglas. Mason really wanted the role and knew he wouldn’t get top billing, so he instead requested a clause in his contract that he could borrow one film a month from the Disney vault until his daughter was 16-ish.

    The other was his explanation about why he enjoyed working with Walt. At the time 20,000 Leagues was made, there was still a rule at Disney that you had to be able to draw. It didn’t matter if you were the fifth accountant on the left, you had to be able to at least sketch something recognizable as part of the job interview. Mason, who’d been drawing cartoons of himself, his movie sets, and his family for years, thought this was great because it meant everyone could communicate. If words weren’t doing the job, it could be sketched.

    I got to meet him very briefly afterward. Up close, his eyes were startling. I was 20; he was 70, and I still had the biggest crush on him.

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