When I was growing up in Oglesby, Illinois in the late 60s and early 70s, late Sunday afternoons (at least from September-May) were reserved for Family Classics, a weekly movie program hosted by Frazier Thomas on WGN-TV Channel 9 out of Chicago.
It became a Chicago-land tradition (and also for those of us just outside of the city in the early days of cable TV) to watch these films on those cold, gray, fall and winter Sunday afternoons until we knew these movies by heart (most of the same films were shown every year). To be sure these films became old friends to any child sitting down in from of the television set and watching Family Classics every Sunday.
Frazier Thomas personally picked and edited the movies to be shown on Family Classics to insure they were safe for children to watch, but the films—many classic Hollywood productions—were equally enjoyable for adults. As host of the show, Thomas introduced each week’s film with a short commentary, and then, during commercial breaks provided additional commentary and getting us ready for the exciting climax/conclusion.
The show, which ran from 1962 until 2000 (Frazier Thomas was the host until his sudden death in 1985) was noted for many of its classic and family oriented Hollywood movies from The Adventures of Robin Hood and Lassie Come Home to holiday favorites like Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Carol.You know, life seemed simpler and more innocent back then if you were a child growing up—even though it was a turbulent time in America. Many of the movies shown fueled our imaginations and gave us celluloid heroes to admire from fictional ones like Robin Hood and Huckleberry Finn to real life heroes like Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Graham Bell. Some films like Sink the Bismarck! and Yellow Jack (a film about the doctors who tried to eradicate Yellow Fever in Cuba) taught us about history and other heroes. However, what I think these movies instilled in us—at least what they instilled in me was this whole notion of a simpler time. It was a time when kids could still just be kids.
So, yeah I am waxing a little nostalgic today and thinking about one of the films that I remember watching on Family Classics so many years ago, Mysterious Island.
This is a splendid adventure story adapted freely from the Jules Verne novel. A group of union soldiers in a Confederate prison hijack a weather balloon during a storm, which, due to some very strange climatic conditions, takes them across the United States and over half the Pacific ocean. Miraculously, they land on an island, where they soon encounter, among other things, a giant crab, bees the size of cows, and a smoking volcano as well as another Jules Verne character Captain Nemo (played by a young Herbert Lom).
The story is too good to give away, and much of the pleasure of the film is the way it unfolds, chapter by chapter, as it were, without seeming episodic or forced. Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creatures are breathtaking, and movie is overall beautiful to see, very imaginative, managing to walk a fine line between the fantastic and the realistic, with just enough artifice in some of the exterior shots to make it seem larger than life, but not so much as to come off as contrived. Director Cy Enfield deserves his share of credit for keeping the focus on the story, not the special effects, and maintaining a deliberate pace with veteran actors like Gary Merrill.
It was the perfect film to be shown on Family Classics and one that you looked forward to seeing again and again.
And that’s exactly what I intend on doing today—watching Mysterious Island.
Cue the theme music now…