Our son is at that hilarious age where hot lava is everywhere. Everywhere. So I’m obliged as a parent to show him a movie or two in which some volcanoes erupt. In Search of the Castaways, another Jules Verne adaptation from Disney, and one of six (!) films that Hayley Mills made for the company in the 1960s, has a terrific volcano eruption. It also has an earthquake, a flood, a giant condor, gun runners, and basically one darn thing after another getting in the way of two kids trying to find their shipwrecked father.
Daniel completely loved it. No sooner did the earthquake scene – a bizarre but wonderful moment in which our heroes slide down a mountain on a whacking big rock – end than he begged us to pause the movie and wind it back so he could see it again. He pouted just a little bit when we declined.
Top-billed in the movie is Maurice Chevalier, playing a kindly, upbeat, and wildly optimistic professor, and he’s well-matched with Wilfrid Hyde-White, a spritely young 59, which is a baby in Wilfrid Hyde-White years, who plays an unbelievably naive, yet cynical lord who owns several ships. One of these went down a few years previously with Captain John Grant at the helm. Captain Grant’s children, played by Mills and Keith Hamshere, and the professor have a damaged message-in-a-bottle from their father and persuade Lord Glenarvan to head for the 37th parallel to find him. But is he in South America, Africa, or Australia?
So this globetrotting drama is downright huge fun for kids and it was a mammoth hit in the sixties. It seems somewhat forgotten these days, but its impact remains big on filmmakers. One of the climactic bits in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull seems to take its inspiration from the earthquake scene. It’s nowhere as blatant as the Stagecoach homage in Raiders, but Spielberg clearly knows it.
After some initial squirminess, our son really enjoyed the movie, and I was pleased by the unpredictable one-darn-thing-after-another nature of the search, with a hilarious number of obstacles thrown in our heroes’ way. As with Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this began life as a serialized novel in monthly installments, so naturally the film is going to feel episodic, but the director, Robert Stevenson, really makes it work. It only just occurred to me that Stevenson, who did quite a lot of work for Disney, directed four other films that we’ve watched together for the blog: The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Herbie Rides Again and One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing.
Also appearing in the movie: Roger Delgado has a very, very small part as a sailor, but blink and you’ll miss him; he’s onscreen for not even twenty seconds. Wilfrid Brambell, who either made the first series of Steptoe and Son immediately before or right after this, I’m not sure, gets a meaty bit toward the end as a loony old man. The immortal George Sanders is obviously up to no good as a well-dressed man who may know what has happened to Captain Grant.
I’m not sure why In Search of the Castaways isn’t better remembered. Some of the special effects have dated, but others remain pretty amazing. It’s a great family adventure and we had a ball. Our son even said that he liked it better than 20,000 Leagues. And, once we finished, I was happy to start the film again so that he could watch the earthquake scene one more time.