Warner Archive greatly fulfills its mission to keep the great films of the past in present consciousness with the March 26, 2019 well-restored DVD release of the highly political 1929 sci-fi silent-talkie hybrid "The Mysterious Island." The melange of intertitles, limited dialogue, and rousing music in this film made two years after "The Jazz Singer" alone makes it a missing link that every cinephile should add to his or her collection.
The strong pedigree of this one begin with "Island" being based on a novel by sci-fi pioneer Jules Vernes. The cred. continues with Hollywood royalty Lionel Barrymore starring as island-owner/dedicated scientist Count Dakkar.
Writer-director Lucien Hubbard (whose credits include the recently reviewed Archive release "The Star Witness") goes beyond doing both his source material and his star proud. The wonderfully surreal story, elaborate sets, and creative effects evoke strong vibes of movie-magician George Melies, who arguably is best known for the camptastic 1902 silent "A Journey to the Moon."
The political commentary in "Island" begins with opening scenes of the very Russian-looking peasants of the kingdom of Hetvia fleeing vicious soldiers riding on their mighty steeds. The action soon shifts to the underground facility on the titular landmass.
Dakkar is giving then-ally Baron Falon (Montagu Love) both a tour and a narrative of the vision of Dakkar. This dream includes using a almost-completed submarine to take a (perhaps 20,000 leagues) voyage to the bottom of the sea. The primary objective of the trip is peaceful first contact with the evolved sea-monkey type creatures that Dakkar theorizes live under the sea. Another way of looking at this is that Dakkar wants to see if it truly is better down where it is wetter.
Conflict commences when Falon shares his aspiration to become the new leader of Hetvia; his desire to make the submarine a primary aspect of his today Hetvia, tomorrow the world plan fully puts him at odds with Dakkar.
More social commentary enters the picture in the form of the guy who kisses the girl. Nicolai Roget (Llyod Hughes) is a project engineer and the love interest of Dakkar sibling Countess Sonia. The problem is that not everyone approves of a romance between a royal and a commoner.
The plot thickens on Falon leading an attack on the workshop and using not-so-friendly persuasion to get his former friend to be his ally. Fully engaging Sonia in this effort and ultimately forcing her to join her in a joy ride proves that he truly is neither noble nor a gentleman.
The fun truly begins when Nicolai and Dakkar take off in pursuit of their foe. This leads to dire straits for all concerned in a truly magical undersea world. Highlights of this extended climax include a baby alligator with wonderfully campy prosthetics. Of course, this could be a croc.
The broad appeal of all this is the aforementioned blend of perfect elements. We get to see the result of people putting their hearts and souls into a dream project long before the advent of CGI.