20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

Adventure | 9 October 1916

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HISTORY

One contemporary trade reviewer stated that the screenplay, based on Jules Verne’s 1870 novel of the same name, incorporated plot material from Verne's 1874 novel The Mysterious Island. Universal chief Carl Laemmle was credited in a 28 Oct 1916 Moving Picture World brief with the original idea to make a screen adaptation of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. According to most contemporary sources, production took place over a two-year period, between 1914 and 1916; however, an interview with submarine photographers Ernest Williamson (a.k.a. J. Ernest Williamson) and George Williamson (a.k.a. George M. Williamson) in the 30 Jul 1916 NYT suggested that the Williamsons began their work on the picture as early as 1913, when they were studying sharks off the coast of Nassau, Bahamas. In addition to underwater scenes taken in the Bahamas, the film's interiors were shot both at Universal's Eastern studio in Leonia, NJ, and at Universal City, CA. Pre-release trade articles stated that the film was planned as a twelve-reeler, and the copyright holdings list it as an eleven-reeler, but nearly all contemporary reviews gave its length as eight reels.
       The film was a big-budget spectacle costing an estimated $500,000, as stated in multiple sources including the 30 Jun 1916 LAT. A 20 Aug 1915 Var brief noted that production was currently underway in the Bahamas, where scenes were being shot with the aid of at least one airplane, a submarine, a balloon, and two boats. A 23 Dec 1916 Motion Picture News item later claimed that 20,000 Leagues under the Sea was the “first photo ...

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One contemporary trade reviewer stated that the screenplay, based on Jules Verne’s 1870 novel of the same name, incorporated plot material from Verne's 1874 novel The Mysterious Island. Universal chief Carl Laemmle was credited in a 28 Oct 1916 Moving Picture World brief with the original idea to make a screen adaptation of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. According to most contemporary sources, production took place over a two-year period, between 1914 and 1916; however, an interview with submarine photographers Ernest Williamson (a.k.a. J. Ernest Williamson) and George Williamson (a.k.a. George M. Williamson) in the 30 Jul 1916 NYT suggested that the Williamsons began their work on the picture as early as 1913, when they were studying sharks off the coast of Nassau, Bahamas. In addition to underwater scenes taken in the Bahamas, the film's interiors were shot both at Universal's Eastern studio in Leonia, NJ, and at Universal City, CA. Pre-release trade articles stated that the film was planned as a twelve-reeler, and the copyright holdings list it as an eleven-reeler, but nearly all contemporary reviews gave its length as eight reels.
       The film was a big-budget spectacle costing an estimated $500,000, as stated in multiple sources including the 30 Jun 1916 LAT. A 20 Aug 1915 Var brief noted that production was currently underway in the Bahamas, where scenes were being shot with the aid of at least one airplane, a submarine, a balloon, and two boats. A 23 Dec 1916 Motion Picture News item later claimed that 20,000 Leagues under the Sea was the “first photo drama ever made under the sea…destined to make two separate fortunes for its joint owners.” The joint owners referred to were Universal Film Mfg. Co. and the Williamson Submarine Film Corp. According to the 28 Oct 1916 Motography, the Williamsons designed and built Nautilus, the submarine craft used to shoot underwater scenes, specifically for the film, and their co-producing contract with Universal stipulated that they would “operate their undersea picture apparatus…and direct and supervise the construction of all submarine props.”
       An article in the 28 Oct 1916 Motion Picture Mail reported that Universal’s New York-based editorial staff “threw up its hands in despair” upon receiving a 38,000-foot rough cut of the picture from the West coast. Universal general manager Joe Brandt and his associate, Jack Cohn, took over post-production duties, reducing the length to 11,000 feet, then further shortening the film with input from Carl Laemmle, R. H. Cochrane and Pat Powers. At a later point in the editing process, Cohn reportedly “made a suggestion which cut out a whole reel and gave the picture a finish ‘punch’” by shifting an undersea burial scene from the middle to the end of the picture, to mark “the tragic end of Capt. Nemo.”
       The film's first public showing occurred on 9 Oct 1916 at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago, IL. Later that month, the Williamson brothers ran in advertisement in several publications, correcting “certain news items” that had wrongly credited Universal for the submarine scenes and clarifying that they were the originators and sole producers of the undersea material. Following the 24 Dec 1916 opening at the Broadway Theatre in New York City, the 29 Dec 1916 Var review predicted the film would be “an unqualified artistic and financial success.” It went on to gross $22,000 in its first two weeks at the Broadway, as noted in the 10 Feb 1917 Moving Picture Weekly. In the meantime, the 5 Jan 1917 Var announced that Universal planned to sell further distribution rights on a states’ rights basis.
       The 1 Sep 1916 Var noted that Ned Holmes did publicity work for the film, and the 13 Oct 1916 issue listed the Jones-Linick-Schaefer firm as publicists. One pre-release article gave "Brulatier" as the last name of the cinematographer who shot the undersea scenes. The copyright holdings list the name of the character played by Matt Moore as “Gideon Spilett,” but reviews refer to the character as “Lieutenant Bond.”
       Jules Verne's novel was also the basis of the 1954 Walt Disney production of the same name, directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason (see entry).

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Tribune
12 Sep 1916
p. 19
Chicago Tribune
5 Oct 1916
p. 12
Chicago Tribune
9 Oct 1916
p. 20
Chicago Tribune
3 Dec 1916
p. 53
Exhibitors Trade Review
6 Jan 1917
p. 350
Los Angeles Times
30 Jun 1916
---
Motion Picture Mail
28 Oct 1916
p. 15
Motion Picture News
5 Aug 1916
p. 761
Motion Picture News
23 Sep 1916
p. 1904
Motion Picture News
28 Oct 1916
p. 2745
Motion Picture News
23 Dec 1916
p. 4022
Motion Picture News
1 Jan 1917
p. 29
Motion Picture News
6 Jan 1917
p. 112
Motion Picture News
27 Jan 1917
p. 560
Motography
21 Oct 1916
p. 942
Motography
28 Oct 1916
p. 984
Motography
25 Nov 1916
p. 1173
Moving Picture Weekly
25 Nov 1916
p. 29
Moving Picture Weekly
10 Feb 1917
p. 45
Moving Picture World
28 Oct 1916
p. 555
Moving Picture World
13 Jan 1917
p. 240
New York Clipper
27 Dec 1916
p. 34
New York Times
30 Jul 1916
---
New York Times
19 Dec 1916
p. 9
New York Times
24 Dec 1916
---
New York Times
25 Dec 1916
p. 7
NYDM
5 Aug 1916
p. 32
NYDM
16 Dec 1916
p. 34
NYDM
6 Jan 1917
p. 26
NYDM
24 Feb 1917
p. 28, 32
Variety
20 Aug 1915
p. 16
Variety
1 Sep 1916
p. 20
Variety
13 Oct 1916
p. 22
Variety
29 Dec 1916
p. 23
Variety
5 Jan 1917
p. 22
Wid's
11 Jan 1917
p. 25
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
BRAND NAME
Universal Special Production
Universal Special Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Asst cam
Asst cam
Underwater photog
Underwater photog
ART DIRECTORS
Tech dir
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Vingt mille lieues sous les mers by Jules Verne (France, 1870).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
9 October 1916
Premiere Information:
Chicago opening: 9 Oct 1916; New York opening: 24 Dec 1916 at the Broadway Theatre
Production Date:
1914-1916
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Universal Film Mfg. Co.
25 September 1916
LP9183
Physical Properties:
Silent
Black and White
Length(in reels):
8
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

During the Civil War, a team of Americans investigates reports of a sea monster that is destroying ships. The sea monster is in reality a submarine, the Nautilus, commanded by Captain Nemo, a bitter man seeking vengeance on an English adventurer, Charles Denver. Years before in India, where Nemo was a prince, Denver caused the suicide of Nemo's wife and the disappearance of his young daughter. When the American team's air balloon crashes, Nemo rescues the men and puts them ashore on an island which is inhabited by a wild girl who, unknown to Nemo, is his long-lost daughter. The girl falls in love with Lieutenant Bond, one of the Americans, but is threatened by the villainous crew member Pencroft and by the unexpected arrival of the guilt-ridden Denver. The girl is abducted by Pencroft and Denver, but Nemo torpedoes Denver's yacht, killing the abductors and saving his daughter but incurring a mortal wound. Reunited with his daughter, Nemo dies at peace, and his daughter is reunited with her American ...

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During the Civil War, a team of Americans investigates reports of a sea monster that is destroying ships. The sea monster is in reality a submarine, the Nautilus, commanded by Captain Nemo, a bitter man seeking vengeance on an English adventurer, Charles Denver. Years before in India, where Nemo was a prince, Denver caused the suicide of Nemo's wife and the disappearance of his young daughter. When the American team's air balloon crashes, Nemo rescues the men and puts them ashore on an island which is inhabited by a wild girl who, unknown to Nemo, is his long-lost daughter. The girl falls in love with Lieutenant Bond, one of the Americans, but is threatened by the villainous crew member Pencroft and by the unexpected arrival of the guilt-ridden Denver. The girl is abducted by Pencroft and Denver, but Nemo torpedoes Denver's yacht, killing the abductors and saving his daughter but incurring a mortal wound. Reunited with his daughter, Nemo dies at peace, and his daughter is reunited with her American sweetheart.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.