DIRECTORS: Tay Garnett, Paul Mantz, Andrew Marton, Ted Tetzlaff & Walter Thompson
May contain spoilers!
What I like about these Cinerama Travelogues is both the technical innovation that is Cinerama and the time capsule nature of these populist documentaries of the day, in this case, post war 1950 middle class America. Lowell Thomas is back and this time he is searching for The Seven Wonders Of The World. Of course with all but one, the Pyramids gone, his quest is basically a flight around the world ending up yet again in the United States, where there are more than seven wonders, of course!
What I do not like about this are the pro-Christian, pro-American politics of the day, in which despite praising Jews, this looks upon all other religions or philosophical beliefs, such as Buddhism or Islam as being quaint and to quote Thomas, “Weird”. You can just imagine that the middle classes lapped this up with slack jawed wonderment as they were taken on a tour of the bizarre outside world, where non-Christian culture reigned supreme.
What a savage indictment of post-war western culture this film is, patronising in its so call acceptance of these other cultures as it looks upon with contempt. This film also promotes at least two examples of what would now be considered to be animal cruelty. Firstly with a Cobra/Mongoose fight, in which again to quote Thomas, “The Mongoose always wins”.
And the scene in which Elephants are being captured and trained, or as I would put it, broken by African natives, I found to be distasteful and upsetting, especially as Lowell’s narration continued to make light of this.
Then there was the politics. The reference to “Red Veil” falling over Tibet, was true but still a strong anti-communist reference which was laughable in its conspicuousness and the moment that a plane load of American G.I.’s disembark a plane in Tokyo to be greeted by Japanese girls who are “happy to greet the HEROIC G.I.’s.”
Was not Japan still under U.S. occupation at this point? This would be like saying that a group of Iraqi girls would have been pleased to greet U.S. troops back in 2005!
But this is a time capsule. A document, no matter how distasteful it is to us now, of the time. But distasteful is the propaganda nature of this and most of Lowell Thomas’ films. This is preaching to the naive American middle classes of the 50’s. The families enjoying their first TV’s, washing machines and fridges.
Those who were buying into the McCarthy witch-hunts and won one war of ideologies only to enter another. The animal right’s issues are not that simple either as there is no suggestion that Lowell Thomas’ crew had anything to do with these incidents but it is the way that they are presented and accepted in as novel which is wrong by today’s standards. But bear in mind, this film was made only 14 years after Bambi (1942) which was dealing with the American attitudes towards hunting.
Overall, I found this film’s politics to be distasteful and at times disturbing but on a technical footing, which is primarily the reason why I am even watching this, it looked great. The restoration was as good as ever, with a rich sound mix and equally as deep colour.
Recommended only for the novelty value of both Cinerama and as a look at an American which hopefully, has been consigned to the past.