There are two ways that people can travel. Whether you’ve gone across the world or across town, you can probably distinguish the two. There are those who will eat McDonalds wherever they can and listen to their all important iPod on a tour bus. They will read or snooze while traveling through beautiful new lands, rather than enjoy the view and insist on keeping their daily schedule wherever they are. But there is the other side of the coin, those who can turn any travel into a real journey. These people willingly immerse themselves within the new lands. They will dance with the natives, marvel at more than the regular tourist stops and try all the new flavors around them. In Around the World in 80 Days which sort of traveler would you become?
The film based on the Jules Verne novel begins in England with Phileas Fogg (David Niven) in need of a new butler, one who can keep up with his eccentric requests like taking the temperature of toast. Young Spanish Passepartout (Cantinflas) is willing to take the job, but his fist day of work isn’t as expected. Fogg has just taken a bet, over a card game with his other well-to-do friends, that he can travel around the entire world in just eighty days. So they pack up, load a carpet bag with cash and set out immediately only to learn that their original train plans have been slowed by an avalanche. With some quick wits and helpful connections they’re soon soaring over Europe in a hot air balloon.
In Spain, Passepartout gains them a ride on a ship by showing off his bullfighting skills. Through India, his daring wit saves a young princess from being burned alive with her dead husband. And in America he’s a regular wild west cowboy trying to save the train as Indians attack. All the while, Fogg is reading the newspaper, enjoying his usual tea time or trying to tell brave tales about his card games.
There is more than the physical obstacle of basic travel that hinders Fogg and Passepartout. It seems that just before their departure, the bank of England was robbed. Suddenly Fogg is a prime suspect and that trip around the world is a great way to avoid arrest. Soon Mr. Fix (Robert Newton) is on their tail pretending to befriend and help them, but wants to make sure Fogg loses the bet as well as his freedom once he’s back in England.
One great thing this film did for cinema history is popularize the cameo appearance. There are dozens of cameos throughout the film. There’s Buster Keaton, Frank Sinatra, Andy Devine, Ronald Colman and Cesar Romero just to name a few. My favorite (and one of the few I actually noticed) was Red Skelton as the drunk American in a saloon.
What more can you ask from a film than a fun filled adventure around the world? We’re taken from stuffy old England (no offence to my Brit readers), to the lively dances of Spain, through the Indian jungle on an elephant’s back, to the mystical land of China and across wild west America. All that, from one studio, in such a convincing way is amazing. And the whole adventure is a great ride just from your couch. Sure, it deviates from the book a little, but some of those first flights in the hot air balloon are fabulous. Who wouldn’t want to snatch some snow from a mountain peak to chill some champagne?
In the end, I do believe this tale is about opening yourself up to new surroundings. Poor Fogg went all around the world, but could hardly deviate from his tea time. But Passepartout can now revel about his adventures and never feels the need to mention a card game.
“Mr. Fogg, why must you be so… so British?”