Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

In Disney's and director Richard Fleischer's fanciful, live-action interpretation of the 1870 Jules Verne fantasy-adventure and sci-fi novel, with Academy Award-winning Art Direction and Special Effects, and James Mason as Captain Nemo - it had an exorbitant budget for the film at $5 million (about $50 million today), several times more expensive than almost all the movies made in the same year:

  • the opening prologue - a view of Jules Verne's published book, chapter 1 ("Alarming Rumours") - "In the year 1868, the shipping world was alarmed by rumours of an avenging monster on the loose" - a "ship-killer"
  • in the film's first sequence, a greenish underwater vessel approached a shipping vessel at high speed, rammed it, and caused it to explode
  • to test whether there actually was a "monster" on the high seas on a trip to Asia (Saigon specifically) on the high seas, three men boarded the US Navy's military frigate warship the Abraham Lincoln (under the command of Captain Farragut): famous French marine scientist and scholar of the Paris National Museum Professor Pierre Aronnax (Paul Lukas), his apprentice Conseil (Peter Lorre), and cocky and brash, guitar-playing harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas)

Professor Pierre Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and Assistant Conseil (Peter Lorre)

Headlines: "Monster Exists"

Harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas)
  • after they witnessed an attack on a merchant ship that sank, then their own military vessel was threatened; after defensive cannon-fire, the US government ship was also rammed by a green object careeening along the surface of the ocean

Abraham Lincoln Military Ship Rammed and Destroyed by Green Submersible

Prof. Aronnax and Conseil Tossed Into Water

First View of Nautilus Above Water in the Fog - a Floating Metal Submarine
  • Professor Aronnax and Conseil were tossed into the water (and Ned survived in a longboat) and drifted for awhile, before they climbed aboard a floating metal submarine (not realizing at first that it was the "monster" that had destroyed the frigate - "an agent of destruction") - they entered the highly-advanced, possibly nuclear-powered, 'submerging boat' (or submersible) known as the Nautilus, that appeared to be deserted; they explored, noting there was both "great genius behind all this...and great evil"; they were amazed by the viewport and its large furnished salon with a pipe organ; and through the large viewing portal, they witnessed an underwater "burial ceremony" in progress, attended by men in diving suits
  • the captain of the underwater ship, an alleged "madman" named Captain Nemo (James Mason), was introduced, who captured and threatened to drown Conseil and Ned, and also Prof. Aronnax when he objected; Nemo declared that he didn't follow normal laws of society: "I'm not what is called a civilized man, Professor. I have done with society For reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws"; however, he decided to keep the three as prisoners, and declared he would sequester all of them under probation
  • the three were treated by the boastful Nemo to an entirely natural ocean meal: ("These dishes come entirely from my ocean kitchen"), including fillet of sea snake, brisket of blowfish with sea squid dressing and basted in barnacles, milk from the giant sperm whale, preserves made from sea cucumbers, and saute of unborn octopus
  • during an underwater 'hunting and farming expedition' near the island of Crespo, the narrator extolled Nemo's ingenuity, as tons of food were retrieved, including giant sea turtles, from the ocean: ("I could only marvel at his ingenuity and envy him his rule over this forgotten reach of nature. Here, in abundance were various substances necessary to sustain life... An underwater larder filled to overflowing, and all Captain Nemo's for the taking")
At the Ship's Main Viewport
  • while underwater, Ned and Conseil snuck off and explored a sunken ship where they discovered a chest of buried treasure ("a whole chest of gold, silver, and diamonds"); when returning to the Nautilus with the jewels, they were attacked by a shark; after their rescue by Nemo, he rebuked them for what he considered 'cheap' jewels ("You can't eat pieces of eight...You place an absurd value on the cheapest of human commodities. Aboard The Nautilus, we use such baubles for ballast")
  • meanwhile, as Professor Aronnax was only interested in learning all of Nemo's "most fabulous discoveries of all time," Ned was trying to figure out how to outfox the insane Nemo: "Nemo's cracked. I have yet to see the day you can make a deal with a mad dog"
  • one day, Nemo steered the Nautilus to the island of Rorapandi (Rura Penthe) - the locale of a secret prison slave camp ("the white man's grave") where Nemo and many of his crew had once been prisoners ("I was once one of those pitiful wretches"), and were forced to mine minerals used to manufacture weapons: ("Nitrates and phosphate for ammunition - the seeds of war. They're loading a full cargo of death. And when that ship takes it home, the world will die a little more"); Nemo was opposed to a world considered evil and prone to war; after escaping from the camp with some of his crew, Nemo described how they fled to their new home - the secret island base of Vulcania, where the Nautilus was built and other inventions were created
  • the embittered Nemo vowed to destroy the munitions ship - that evening, the ship now loaded and then crewed by slaves was deliberately rammed and destroyed; when Professor called Nemo a hypocrite for murder: ("You are not only a murderer, you are a hypocrite"), Nemo rationalized the destruction: ("I see murder, too, Not written on those drowned faces out there but on the faces of dead thousands! There are the assassins, the dealers in death, I am the avenger") -- he claimed that he was saving thousands of future slaves; he also told about how his former government imprisoned him to learn "the secret of my submarine boat and the energy that propels it" - and when he wouldn't talk, they eventually tortured his wife and young son to death
  • while secretly stealing "food and treasure," Ned also snuck into Nemo's cabin and was able to write down the navigational coordinates of Nemo's secret island base, known as Vulcania; afterwards, he released SOS messages in bottles in order to facilitate a rescue there: ("ARONNAX AND PARTY CAPTIVES ABOARD MONSTER SUBMARINE BOAT BASED 12 DEGREES 19 MINUTES LAT. 169 DEGREES 28 MINUTES W LONG")
  • when the Nautilus struck a shallow reef off the coast of New Guinea, Ned and Conseil were allowed to go ashore to explore a nearby island; the disobedient Ned left the beach area and went further into the jungle where he found human skulls on poles; he was attacked by native cannibals with shields and spears who then pursued in canoes; they were able to take their rowboat back to the Nautilus for rescue - where Nemo shocked the natives trying to enter the open hatch of the submarine and those standing on the outer shell with a mild jolt of electricity to save them - without any permanent harm ("Not very hospitable, but harmless"); Ned was imprisoned for disobeying Nemo's order to remain on the beach

Human Skulls on Poles

Ned Fleeing the Natives

Natives Attack in Canoes
  • still grounded on the reef, a warship attacked and hit the Nautilus with cannon fire - the sub was dislodged, and Nemo was forced to deeply submerge the Nautilus to escape: ("We exceeded them by 5,000 feet. We are deeper now than man has ever been before")
  • in the film's most notable sequence, a giant tentacled squid ("the most tenacious of all sea beasts") attacked the Nautilus; Nemo was grabbed by one of the squid's tentacled arms, and Ned harpooned the squid between the eyes to save Nemo’s life: ("the only vital spot is directly between the eyes"); Ned was thanked and shown gratitude by the Captain although he was "ashamed to admit it" due to his nature

Approach of Giant Squid

Squid Attacking Rudder of Nautilus

Tentacled Squid Attacking Nemo

Nemo Grabbed

Ned Harpooning Squid

Ned Thanked by Nemo
  • in the film's ending, as the Nautilus neared Nemo's base at Vulcania, Nemo spoke to the Professor, noting it was the location of his precious knowledge that he was reluctant to share with mankind: "I want you to see the extent of these secrets for which they have hounded me, the knowledge which costs the lives of those dearest to me, the power which is still mine. Enough energy to lift mankind from the depths of Hell into Heaven - or destroy it"
  • warships awaited the Nautilus' arrival at Vulcania where they had converged after being alerted by Ned's SOS messages; Nemo went ashore in a skiff, determined to destroy the base and the evidence of his "greatest discoveries of all time" by setting a time bomb: ("An explosion such as the world has never known will destroy my island and all its works forever"); Nemo was lethally wounded when shot in the back on his return to the Nautilus

Nemo Lethally Wounded - Shot in Back

At the Wheel For the Nautilus' Last Dive

Nemo's Last Words: He Refused to Reconsider and Not Destroy Everything
  • as the cultured, disciplined and slighty insane anti-hero Captain Nemo was dying, he announced that he would go down with his ship on its last dive: ("We are taking The Nautilus down for the last time...I am dying, and The Nautilus is dying with me"); he was prepared to take the Nautilus and everyone else down with him: ("Let every man go to his quarters and remain there"); as the Nautilus descended, it hit a reef and began to sink
  • when the Professor argued with Nemo and begged him not to destroy everything, Nemo replied with his last dying words that he would not reconsider: "A power greater than mine makes that impossible. There is hope for the future. And when the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will someday come to pass, in God's good time"; Nemo collapsed and died while taking a last look from his viewporthole out at his undersea world
  • Ned refused to be locked in the Nautilus with the insane "suicide pact" and fought his way out, took control of the sub, and brought the Nautilus to the surface; as he and the Professor and Conseil (and Nemo's pet sea lion Esmeralda) escaped onto a lifeboat skiff, they watched as Vulcania exploded in a mushroom cloud
  • as the Nautilus was half-submerged in tsunami waves from the explosions, the last words of Nemo (in echoing voice-over) were heard as they were remembered by Professor Aronnax; in due time, Nemo's discoveries and inventions would one day be revealed

Prologue - Jules Verne's Book

Nautilus First Thought to be a 'Monster on the Loose'

The Ramming of a Shipping Vessel by an Unknown Force (the 'Nautilus')

Burial Ceremony of the 'Nautilus' Dead After Ramming Military Ship

Crazed Captain Nemo (James Mason)

Control Room With Viewports on Nautilus

Hosting a Seafood Meal For Nemo's Prisoners

The Nautilus Cruising Underwater

Turtle Harvesting Underwater

Nemo's Disdain For Evil Civilization

A View of the Slave Camp at Rura Penthe

Nemo's Crazed Look While Ramming Munitions Ship

Ned's Discovery of Navigational Coordinates of Vulcania

Ned's SOS Messages

Nautilus Submerging When Attacked by Warship

Vulcania - Surrounded by Warships

Nautilus' Arrival at Secret Base

Nemo's Death at the Viewporthole Window

Vulcania Destroyed Under Mushroom Cloud

The End of the Nautilus


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