Cast and Crew: Richard Fleisher (Director); Walt Disney (Producer)
What It’s About: It is the 1860s and what is reported to be a sea monster is sinking ships. The United States sends out the Abraham Lincoln to find out what is happening. When the ship itself is sunk, three men survive: Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), sailor and expert with a harpoon; Professor Pierre Aronnax (Paul Lukas), the expedition’s naturalist; and his assistant, Conseil (Peter Lorre). The mysterious Captain Nemo (James Mason) takes the men aboard the Nautilus, the submarine he invented, commands, and is using to clear the oceans of warships. Can the men find a way to warn the outside world-and perhaps persuade Nemo to lay down his own arms-before it’s too late?
Why Watch it Today?: The United States Navy launched the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered submarine, today in 1954. The ship was named after, and in some ways inspired by, Captain Nemo’s vessel. Both submarines could remain submerged for very long periods of time (much longer than the diesel powered vessels of the Second World War) and used an energy source unknown in author Jules Verne’s day. Disney released this most famous, and big budget, adaptation of the novel in December of the same year, and it was an enormous success, itself inspiring adaptations of classic 19th century science fiction novels, knock-offs, and follow ups. The film boasts Oscar-winning special effects (including the still thrilling battle on the ship with a giant squid), an inspired look that still resonates today, and a fun cast, who almost sell the grade A corn (including Douglas in a musical interlude singing “A Whale of a Tale” and a seal sidekick) Disney inserts into the tale.