Saturnino Farandola is shipwrecked on a desert island as a baby and raised by a group of monkeys. When he grows to maturity, he is rescued by a ship, and becomes a naval officer. Some serious globetrotting and wild adventures follow.
ltalian silent comedy, which riffs heavily on Jules Verne’s ‘Around The World In 80 Days’ (1873) and throws in a dash of Science Fiction at the end. Based on a novel with an even longer title by Albert Robida, it’s pretty obvious from the start that we’re not to take all this very seriously. The monkeys who nurture our hero through his formative years are obviously actors in black body stockings with stuck-on tails and holes cut for eyes, nose and mouth.
After that, in a random, scattershot approach, the film crams in a bewildering succession of exotic and melodramatic situations; which include a search for the source of the Nile, an attack by pirates, an army of women (quite funny, apparently), an escape in barrels that apes ‘The Hobbit’, casual racial stereotyping (not too offensive), and a battle fought by troops wearing diving helmets.
There are some underwater sequences, featuring a giant whale, and these are pure Georges Méliès. Ironic, given that the French master had made his last ever film, ‘Conquest of the Pole’ (1912), barely a year earlier, and was now financially ruined. Intriguingly, in this film it looks as if there are real fish swimming in the foreground of the shots in the aquatic sequences, probably meaning they were filmed through a glass tank. This may be the first instance of that particular special effect.
Director Marcel Perez also stars, and his tall tale is entertaining enough, if a little unevenly paced. The Science Fiction element arrives at the end, with a battle fought by protagonists in hot air balloons. Most of the unfriendly fire comes courtesy of hand-held revolvers, although one cannon has actually been mounted on the top of a balloon. Aerial warfare was strictly fantasy at the time; with planes in World War I initially intended for reconnaissance only, but obviously that was soon to change.
Bearing in mind the age of this film, it’s a mildly entertaining experience, but the satire and silly comedy make for little emotional involvement with our hero and his gal, who lurch from one ridiculous scenario to another. At the end of the film, one of the monkeys sits back in a rocking chair and enjoys a quiet cigar. Job done.