Movie Fact #149 - February 5th, 2021
One of the most famous sequences in the 1956 Academy Award-nominated adaptation of Jules Vernes' classic novel Around the World in 80 Days, the flight by hydrogen balloon, is actually not in the original novel. The reason the sequence was expressly created was to show off the locations seen on the flight it. This was also due to the film being made in Todd-AO format, a high-definition single camera widescreen process made in the 1950's to compete with Cinerama (And whose company was founded by the film's producer Michael Todd). That being said, a similar balloon flight can be found in an earlier Jules Verne novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, in which the protagonists explore Africa from a hydrogen balloon.
In addition, many of those balloon scenes with lead stars David Niven and Cantinflas, who played Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, respectively, were filmed using a 160-foot (49 m) crane. However, even that height bothered Niven, who was afraid of heights. To overcome this, Tom Burges was used as a stand-in for scenes where the balloon is seen from a distance. Somewhat humorously, Burges was shorter than Niven so distant shots was the only way the illusion could have been pulled off anyway. Despite this, in his 1972 autobiographical book The Moon's a Balloon, Niven spoke very highly of the experience, noting Todd asked him if he would appear as Fogg, Niven enthusiastically replying, "I'd do it for nothing!". He also spoke on Todd being in considerable debt to fund the film as Todd had sold his claim to his Todd-AO production company to finance the film. It was all worth it though as the film would go on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards that year and, perhaps more relieving for Todd, would also make $42 million at the box office, far exceeding the film's $6 million budget. Like Fogg, Todd showed that sometimes the potential reward far outweighs the risk. Stay tuned!