Just finished watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, enjoying getting to see Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings onstage for the first time (performing “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects” on a float), but of course the main attraction is always the gigantic character balloons. There had been worries that they might be grounded this year due to high winds, but it was decided to merely lower them to a more controllable height. Part of the balloons’ appeal is that they might go out of control (commentators’ favorite tales are of the Mighty Mouse disaster of 1956 or Sonic the Hedgehog in 1993). In the early years of the parade, Macy’s actually played into this, releasing the balloons at the end of the parade to create a kind of surreal scavenger hunt. At least one balloon floated out into the Atlantic, never to return.
In honor of these lighter-than air leviathans and their attendant enthusiasts, I recommend a film that will keep you and yours entertained throughout the holiday: Flight of the Lost Balloon(1961). Directed by Nathan H. Juran (Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman), the film was based on Jules Verne’s novel Five Weeks In A Balloon, and beat Irwin Allen’s adaptation featuring Red Buttons, Barbara Eden and Peter Lorre by a matter of months.
The plot centers on a balloon journey undertaken across unexplored Africa to rescue a missing explorer, and features two Hollywood television stars of the time, Mala Powers (Rebecca Boone from Daniel Boone) and Marshall Thompson (Daktari). However, the defining performance in this film comes from James Lamphier as the suave menacing Hindu, the servant who usurps his master and takes over the balloon (and the film). After an uncredited appearance in Richard Quine’s Bell, Book and Candle (1958), Lamphier would become a favorite of Blake Edwards, with distinctive credited and uncredited appearances in films such as Operation Petticoat, Experiment In Terror, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, The Days of Wine and Roses, The Pink Panther, andThe Party. At the time of this picture he was enjoying the success of his involvement in Edward’s TV series Peter Gunn. For him alone the picture is worth watching.
Although the film is set over and in Africa, it was actually filmed in Puerto Rico. This is not a great loss on the exotic quotient, however. Also involved was Felipe Birriel (looking a bit like a stretched Lee Marvin), the Puerto Rican ‘Giant of Carolina,’ who plays Hindu’s main native henchman. Birriel was a giant due to a tumor that affected his pituitary gland, treatable except for the fact that at that time Puerto Rico did not have access to such technology. After his film career he was able to entertain audiences by dunking basketballs without jumping.
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