Friday, November 15, 2013

FIVE YEARS, ER, WEEKS IN A BALLOON

I was six-years-old when Irwin Allen's FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON was released in 1962. I didn't see it at the time. In fact, I'd never seen this film until I watched it this afternoon. My critical faculties were fairly undeveloped at the age of six. I tended to like pretty much every movie and television program I watched and loved every comic book I read. I was part of the audience this film was aimed at when it came out but I think that even as an indiscriminate kid of six I would have turned my nose up at this turkey.

Loosely based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name, this comedy-adventure film is lacking in both departments. Set in Africa but filmed on the 20th Century Fox back lot and ranch,.FIVE WEEKS is a politically incorrect story of adventurers seeking to plant the British flag in an African country ahead of a bunch of slavers. It's a race by hot-air balloon to the distant land and you've got to wonder if the trip was really worth the effort.

Red Buttons gets top billing and that should tell you something right there. Next is the Elvis wannabe Fabian who repeatedly croons the wretched title song over and over again. The lovely Barbara Eden doesn't appear until halfway through the movie and her presence certainly makes the film much more watchable. Sir Cedric Hardwick, in a horrible wig and wearing his pants just south of his nipples, is the inventor of the balloon and the leader of the expedition. He trades quips throughout the film with fussy British military officer Richard Haydn. Peter Lorre is genuinely funny as a corrupt slave trader who climbs on board the balloon while escaping an angry mob. Barbara Luna is a slave girl, Billy Gilbert mugs shamelessly in two un-funny scenes, Herbert Marshall showed up for one day to collect a paycheck and appear as the British Prime Minister while Raymond (Milburn Drysdale) Bailey is an American newspaper publisher who agrees to finance the tip in order to get his reporter son, Red Buttons (!) on board.

The only interesting thing about this film are the connections between the actors, Irwin Allen and Jules Verne. For instance, Peter Lorre appeared in the far superior Walt Disney production of Jules Verne's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954), Lorre and Eden co-starred in Allen's VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961) and Red Buttons was in the Allen produced disaster film THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972).

FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON is a tedious, cheap looking film. I suggest you don't bother taking this trip.

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