French Balloons and Nordic Goons

Friday Midnight Movie | The Island at the top of the World (1974)

A Rare Disney outing on Deadly Movies

It’s rare that the word ‘Disney’ makes it onto Deadly Movies, but here’s some cult Disney goodness to shove up your Friday night peephole. The Island at the top of the World has a bit of everything that cult childhood films should have, ropey effects, angry indigenous people, an evil religious guru, a long voyage, earthquakes and volcanoes, a scantly clad native girl, and a killer whale attack. You want more? There is no more!

An English man, a French man, and an American walk into a a pool shark..,

Big French pool shark

The 70s turned up a lot of turn-of-the-century industrial revolution adventures, harking back to a time when man first started truly conquering mother nature with its tools and machines. Like most films of the genre The Island at the top of the World features whacky English folk blindly forgoing border control and native laws in search of their own gain. These guys are a real throwback to English imperialism where no indigenous country is too big and no native too stupid. In this case it’s Donald Sinden’s ludicrously pompous and incredibly enjoyable scene chewing turn as Sir Anthony Ross who travels toward the north pole in search of his missing adventurer son. To do so Sir Anthony collects an equally whacky crew of misfits including (handsome?) American scientist/jock Professor Ivarsson (David Hartman), none-more French inventor and aviator Captain Brieux (Jacques Marin, who is actually French, surprising as his super camp Franco performance lead me to think it was an accent), and cowardly Eskimo Oomiak. Oh yeah and the Captains poodle, see what I mean? None more French…, pass the onions please monsieur.

Anyway, these whacky racers head north in the Captain’s bizzaro hot air balloon/Hindenburg/inflatable pool shark in search of an island shrouded in fog (King Kong, cough, cough, King Kong.., oooh excuse me, must be all those onions), which also has something to do with a whale graveyard. Actaully this whole ‘where the whales go to die’ thing is actually quite cool. Visually a snow and ice covered plateau full of whale skeletons is fairly memorable. After following various reels of whale library footage on route to the mysterious fog/cloud bank, our intrepid misfits happen upon the Island, which is of course tropical (in the Arctic). Therein follows cultural misunderstandings with the Nordic locals, rescue of beloved upper-class son, love with hot native chick, volcanic eruption (why is it upon escaping these islands the volcanoes always go off?), and escape to freedom. WooHoo.

It’s barmy barmy stuff, not even Brendan Fraser would have the balls to touch this type of nonsense these days. However it’s great fun. The actors really go for it, the miniatures are fairly well realised, the balloon is cool, and there’s no cutting corners when it comes to sets and matt-paintings, and even the visual effects are pretty good in places. Whale fight Good, volcanic eruption Gooood, Native chick Gooooood.

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