Plot: Count Dakkar (Lionel Barrymore) has established a remote island base for his various scientific research, with plans to make advances to benefit mankind and ensure world peace. The island happens to be volcanic, which means the water currents are unique and Dakkar is certain that a civilization exists deep beneath the surface, based o what the waters circulate. Now he plans to use his submarine to explore the depths and learn more about lurks below, but his rival Falon (Montagu Love) has other intentions and seeks to overthrow Dakkar. He seizes a second submarine and gives chase, hoping to capture Dakkar and his most loyal friends, then threaten them until the plans for the powerful submarines are revealed. But will his evil plot work or will he discover the world under the waves is more than he bargained for?
Entertainment Value: This vision of Jules Vernes’ famous book isn’t all that faithful to the source, but it is an interesting, creative experience. I think those appreciate old school special effects will have a lot of fun with The Mysterious Island, as it offers a look at some ambitious early visual tricks. I think the special effects wind up as the movie’s main draw, as the narrative gets weighed down by some drawn out political banter, which slows the pace. I still think the story works in this incarnation, but a little more briskness wouldn’t have hurt. I’ve read the movie started production as a silent film, but some sound elements were added as it unfolded, so there is an odd mix here, but it is never a concern. Perhaps the political intrigue would have worked better with all out verbal dialogue, however. While the finale is the most memorable part of The Mysterious Island, the film has well crafted visuals and special effects throughout, just ramped up for the grand finish. I love the eerie little underwater creatures and the creative ways the filmmakers pulled off their aquatic terrors, very stylish and for the time, much more effective than you might think. I think this one proves to be a fun watch and while the visuals and special effects steal the show, anyone with an interest in early sci/fi will likely appreciate The Mysterious Island.
The wild deep sea inspired special effects might be the real stars of this one, but we also have some solid performances from the human cast. This includes lead role Lionel Barrymore, who turns in a restrained, effective effort. I can easily see some actors going for a broader, more over the top approach, but Barrymore keeps it reined it and that choice yields dividends. This is especially true in the opening sequence, which is a crucial stretch for the entire movie, not to mention where most of the spoken dialogue is presented. He and Montagu Love make the most of that sequence and really deliver, setting off the narrative to reel in the audience. I also liked Jacqueline Gadsdon’s work here, despite her not showing technical prowess in her performance. I think she was fun to watch and sometimes, that is enough to earn some praise. The cast also includes Lloyd Hughes, Jane Daly, and Harry Gribbon.