A Talking Mule And A Wisecracking Lemmon
I remember seeing Around The World In 80 Days in a hard top movie theater (which technically means Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune is the first film I can remember seeing since it was part of the prolog to that movie); even in general release this would have been late 1956 or early 1957.
I also remember going with my parents to a drive-in theater to see a double feature of Francis In The Haunted House and Fire Down Below before my brother was born, so based on release dates I’d have to say that was sometime between early August (Fire Down Below’s US release date) and early October (when we saw news of Sputnik on our brand new TV set).
Mom, who was expecting my brother Rikk at the time, probably was going stir crazy since she could no longer easily hop on a bus and go shopping or take me to the movies, so to appease her, dad took us to the drive-in.
Looking back, I see this double bill as a defining moment in my life. I didn’t remember anything about Fire Down Below other than ships crashing into each other, catching fire, and exploding (Rita Hayworth apparently holding no fascination for me at that age) with Jack Lemmon trapped below decks, wisecracking as he awaited his impending doom aboard a burning freighter.
I had obviously seen other movies by that time and had some idea of how stories and dramatic scenes played out. Lemmon’s predicament in Fire Down Below and his interaction with Robert Mitchum as the doomed ship was towed out to sea to explode caught my attention with the ebb and flow, conventions and tropes of a dramatic scene.
I didn’t realize what I was seeing at that age, but I certainly recognized it. I don’t think I ever saw a movie or TV show after that without part of me widdle brain analyzing the story telling of what I was watching.
Francis In The Haunted House bothered me. Even as a 4 year old, a scene in the movie where Francis shows up with a suit of armor on his back troubled me: How could a mule get the armor on his back with no hands?
The fact Francis was a talking mule didn’t faze me; the suit of armor did. To me this indicates I’d probably seen some Disney animated cartoons in theaters by that age (I certainly had my grandmother and aunt bringing me Donald Duck comic books when they visited).
I think Francis In The Haunted House cast the deciding vote for our acquiring a TV set: Dad didn’t want to have to sit through something like that again if he could possibly avoid it.
© Buzz Dixon