Mysterious Island (1961 film)

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Mysterious Island
Mysterious Island (1961 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCy Endfield
Screenplay byJohn Prebble
Daniel B. Ullman
Crane Wilbur
Based onL'Île mystérieuse
1874 novel
by Jules Verne
Produced byCharles H. Schneer
StarringMichael Craig
Joan Greenwood
Michael Callan
Gary Merrill
Dan Jackson
CinematographyWilkie Cooper
Edited byFrederick Wilson
Music byBernard Herrmann
Ameran Films
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
December 20, 1961 (1961-12-20TUnited States)
Running time
101 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office~$5,000,000

Mysterious Island (UK: Jules Verne's Mysterious Island) is a 1961 science fiction adventure film about prisoners in the American Civil War who escape in a balloon and then find themselves stranded on a remote island populated by giant and tiny animals.[1]

Loosely based upon the 1874 novel The Mysterious Island (L'Île mystérieuse) by Jules Verne (which was the sequel to two other novels by Verne, 1867's In Search of the Castaways and 1870's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), the film was produced by Charles H. Schneer and directed by Cy Endfield.[2]

Shot in Catalonia, Spain, and at Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, England, the film serves as a showcase for Ray Harryhausen's stop motion animation effects. Like several of Harryhausen's classic productions, the musical score was composed by Bernard Herrmann.[3] Another version of the story was produced in 2005.[4]


In 1865, during the American Civil War, a massive storm sweeps through Libby Military Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Union soldiers Cyrus Harding, Herbert Brown and Neb, along with Union war correspondent Gideon Spillet plan an escape via a gas balloon tethered next to the compound. After escaping their cell, they take one of the Confederate guards named Pencroft aboard the balloon after he explains that he knows how to pilot the airship.

The balloon carries them westwards across the United States, and over the Pacific Ocean. A storm arises, tearing open the balloon and forcing the men to land near the shore of an unknown island. The following morning the men explore the strange island. They discover that the island has lush tropical jungles, harsh plains, and many volcanoes which frequently erupt.

When they reach the other side of the island, they encounter a giant crab. After Neb is nearly killed, the castaways are able to push it into a boiling geyser and have crab meat for dinner. Afterwards, the men continue exploring and find a herd of wild goats which they try to catch. Then they find two unconscious English ladies, Lady Mary Fairchild and her niece Elena, who were shipwrecked here by the same storm. Working together, the castaways find cover and protection in a cave which they call "Granite House", formerly inhabited by a now deceased castaway named Tom Ayrton. A treasure chest later washes ashore, and in it the men find a variety of useful items, including rifles, nautical charts, and books such as Robinson Crusoe. Markings upon one of the rifles found in the chest indicate that it came from the Nautilus, upon which Spillet gives Lady Fairchild (who is unfamiliar with the tale) a brief summation of the Nautilus, its creator Captain Nemo, and its supposed destruction off the coast of Mexico some eight years earlier. Spillet expresses a sense of respect and admiration for Nemo's genius and principles against war, while Harding derides him for being a madman and a murderer, condemning him for the deaths of numerous sailors during his crusade. Making use of the charts, the castaways are able to determine their location and proceed with the construction of a boat on which they can escape the island.

While Mary and Elena are one day tending to the goats, Spillet encounters a giant flightless bird (a prehistoric species called a Phorusrhacos) while fishing. Spillet and the women retreat into the goat pen, but the bird simply jumps over the fence and assails them. As it tries to eat Elena, Herbert arrives and attacks the creature, knifing it until he apparently kills it. Later, as they consume the bird, they discover it was actually killed by a bullet none of them had fired.

A few weeks later, Herbert and Elena are sunning outside when they notice a rivulet of honey. Atop a rocky bluff, they come across an enormous hive inhabited by giant bees, which attack them. As Herbert and Elena escape from the hive into a large flooded cave, they spot the submarine Nautilus inside. They enter the vessel, but knowing that it belongs to someone else, retreat, swimming out of the cave. Meanwhile, Harding, Spillet, Neb, Mary and Pencroft spot an approaching pirate ship. They try to hide, but are discovered, and a fight with the pirates ensues. The castaways prevail only after an explosion mysteriously sinks the pirate ship with all hands aboard.

Once outside, the castaways reunite and meet Captain Nemo, who is living aboard his disabled submarine. Nemo has been watching the castaways and secretly assisting them by sending the chest, shooting the giant bird, and sinking the pirate ship. He invites them to dinner aboard the Nautilus, where he tells them that the giant creatures are results of his genetic experiments to enlarge the world's food resources, thereby eliminating hunger and economic competition which he sees as prime causes for the wars he was striving to end all his life. Due to their fortitude, he has selected them to assist him in his efforts to make his achievements known to the world, especially since the Nautilus is incapacitated beyond repair and the volcano will soon erupt, destroying the island.

When time runs out, the castaways discover that Nemo has invented an air-filled raising system which can refloat the pirate ship, the only readily seaworthy vessel on this island. Nemo teaches them to breathe underwater using his special "shell" air tanks, and they work to raise the ship, despite interference by a giant Ammonite. With the pirate ship raised and seaworthy, the castaways set sail. The volcano erupts and Nemo is killed as the Nautilus is buried, but the rest escape and begin the journey home, vowing to continue Nemo's dream of achieving lasting peace throughout the world.




In May 1959, Columbia announced it had signed a deal with Charles Schneer to distribute nine of his films over three years. The films would include Battle of the Coral Sea, Gulliver's Travels, The Werner Von Braun Story, Mystery Island, Gentleman of China, and Air Force Academy.[5]

Mysterious Island would be the third collaboration between Schneer and Ray Harryhausen, after The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver. Like them it would be shot in Spain.[6]


The novel on which the film is based is a sequel to two other novels by Jules Verne, In Search of the Castaways (1867) and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870). The first book featured the island, the pirates and a character Tom Ayrton who was marooned on a nearby island. The second book featured Captain Nemo and the Nautilus presumed lost in the maelstrom at the end of that novel.

In The Mysterious Island (1874) after the escapees' balloon landed on the island, among many adventures, they encountered Ayrton alive, fought the pirates and discovered that Captain Nemo was their benefactor and the island the base for the Nautilus.


The film was mostly cast with British actors. Michael Craig was under contract to Rank. Michael Callan was under contract to Columbia at the time. Percy Herbert was originally rejected for his role due to his British accent, but got the part after practising a southern accent by watching Suddenly Last Summer several times.[7]


Filming started 21 June 1960.[8] The beach scenes in Mysterious Island were shot on location at Sa Conca Bay, Castell-Platja d'Aro in Catalonia, Spain. The escape from the Confederate prison - using an observation balloon - was filmed in Church Square, Shepperton, England.

Interiors were completed at Shepperton Studios.

The stop motion animation effects were created by Ray Harryhausen. All the model creatures except the giant bird (which was re-purposed for use as the Ornithomimus in The Valley of Gwangi in 1969) still exist.

Michael Craig called Endfield "a dismal arsehole of an ex-pat American" and Schneer "a real Hollywood suit... the epitome of 'the son in law also rises".[9]


The film's music was composed by Bernard Herrmann who had already scored two previous Harryhausen and Schneer productions (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver).[3] The score was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

In their review, The New York Times noted "the impressive white-haired person of Herbert Lom," "Cy Endfield's spirited direction," and that Joan Greenwood "gurgles and croaks in a pleasantly distracting style.";[11] and in 1978, their TV critic called the film a "Dandy fantasy-adventure, done with skill and imagination, keyed by fine Bernard Herrman score. A pip of this kind." Time Magazine said " It should thrill the geewillikers out of anyone!" [12] The film's rentals brought in over $5 million and was successful worldwide.

Home media[edit]


ALL America - Twilight Time - The Limited Edition Series[13]

  • Picture Format: 1.66:1 (1080p 24fps) [AVC MPEG-4]
  • Soundtrack(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
  • Subtitles: English
  • Extras:
  • Isolated Score (presented in 2.0 Stereo)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (2:31)
  • TV Trailer Spot #1 (1:03)
  • Case type: Keep Case
  • Note: Limited as in only 3,000 copies were made (none are numbered)


R1 America - Columbia/Tri-star Home Entertainment[14]


Columbia Tri-Star Video[15]

  • Picture Format: 1.33:1
  • Soundtrack: English
  • UPC: 043396767461
  • ISBN 0-8001-3804-X
  • Extras:
    • Ray Harryhausen on the making of the film
    • Posters, lobby cards

Pioneer Special Edition[16]

  • Picture Format: 1.33:1
  • Soundtrack: English
  • UPC: 13023 26225
  • Extras:
    • Premiere digital stereo soundtrack restoration
    • CAV presentation
    • Film score isolated on second audio channel
    • Trailer for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
    • The Making of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (This is Dynamation! vintage featurette)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mysterious Island (1961) - Articles -". Turner Classic Movies.
  2. ^ MYSTERIOUS ISLAND Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 29, Iss. 336, (Jan 1, 1962): 82.
  3. ^ a b "BERNARD HERRMANN – Fathers of Film Music, Part 7". 1 December 2014.
  4. ^ "Mysterious Island (2005) - Russell Mulcahy - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  5. ^ Portrayals Spark Comedy Thriller: Edward Everett Horton Returns in Amusing 'Not in the Book' Scott, John L. Los Angeles Times 6 May 1959: A13.
  7. ^ FILMLAND EVENTS: British Actor Wins Southern Role Los Angeles Times 7 July 1960: C9.
  8. ^ Private Property! Now Made Public: Arty Quickie Tells Seduction Story in Distasteful Detail Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 16 June 1960: C9.
  9. ^ Craig, Michael (2005). The Smallest Giant: An Actor's Life. Allen and Unwin. p. 95.
  10. ^ "Mysterious Island (1962)".
  11. ^ "Movie Reviews". The New York Times. 12 August 2021.
  12. ^ "Television". The New York Times. 3 February 1978.
  13. ^ "Mysterious Island AKA Jules Verne's Mysterious Island (Blu-ray) (1961)". Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  14. ^ "Mysterious Island AKA Jules Verne's Mysterious Island (DVD) (1961)". Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  15. ^ "Mysterious Island [76746]". LaserDisc Database. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  16. ^ "Mysterious Island [PSE92-26]". LaserDisc Database. Retrieved 30 October 2019.

External links[edit]