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Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962)

aka Five Weeks in a Balloon

Directed By: 
Written By:  Writer details not available
Details: 101 mins · English · PG (USA)


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The film opens with a theme song performed by The Brothers Four and a colorful animation of hot air balloons, with artwork reminiscent of the Montgolfier balloons. The theme song is later performed by Fabian twice during the film.

The film then shows the flight of the balloon Jupiter invented by Professor Fergusson (Cedric Hardwicke). In the unicorn-shaped gondola, the passengers Chiddingfold (Ronald Long) and Sir Henry Vining (Richard Haydn) scream in horror as the balloon rapidly descends, but the Professor remains calm as he planned for this to happen. He then signals the pilot Jacques (Fabian) to ascend the balloon, who explains how balloon is able to ascend and descend without the loss of gas or ballast. The balloon successfully lands and attracts a crowd, but Sir Henry and the other passenger are dissatisfied after the seemingly disastrous descent. Sir Henry, the president of the Royal Geographic Society, refuses to fund the Professor's plan to explore east Africa, while Chiddingfold leaves claiming he has an "appointment". The Professor seems out of financial backing for his plans, but an American journalist talks to Fergusson about having his nephew and star reporter Donald O'Shea (Red Buttons) as part of Fergusson's plan to explore east Africa.

When he arrives at the Prime Minister's office in Zanzibar, he is given the mission to use his craft to claim areas of uncharted west Africa for the Crown before slave traders make their claim to the territory. Fergusson agrees. The following day, Consul tells the bad news that the slave traders know of his plan and would reach the river Volta in six weeks, leaving him with five. To make matters worse, the Queen has sent Sir Henry Vining to accompany him. He wants to be referred to as General Vining and proclaims himself the "expert on Africa."

Meanwhile in the marketplace, Jacques finds O'Shea rescuing a slave girl named Makia (Barbara Luna) and they bring her along, and they go to the Consul's office. Consul Townsend orders Makia to be returned to her owner, but she fights the slave trader and leaves on a horse. The people in the marketplace become outraged and threaten to destroy Jupiter. O'Shea begins to be viewed as a troublemaker and as the balloon takes off he is shocked to know that the plans of the journey have been changed. The balloon lands in a forest and they have dinner. As they converse at the table they notice their food is being taken away and find Makia hiding under the table. She says she hid up in the crow's nest of the balloon and will not leave O'Shea, who does not want her and offers her to the others on board. Disappointed she tries to leave into the dangerous wilderness only to be stopped and eventually agrees to be a passenger aboard. Meanwhile, a wild chimpanzee walks out of the forest and joins the crew. As the rest of the crew sleeps, Jacques and the chimp drink coffee. Makia comes out of the gondola unable to sleep in fear of the wilderness and suggests Jacques to buy her. Jacques explains how slavery is uncivilized and explains marriage. Lightning is heard and they take off the balloon.

The following day, they land in the Arab city of Hezak. People run in fear, until a Muslim priest comes out and refers to O'Shea as the Moon God. The crew have dinner in the Sultan's palace, where a slave trader named Ahmed (Peter Lorre) comes in with a kidnapped American woman (Barbara Eden). Ahmed points at the moon emerging in the clouds, to which the Sultan (Billy Gilbert) proclaims them as fakes. The crew escape quickly, but Ahmed climbs a ladder aboard. When they land they find out that Ahmed has stolen diamonds and medals from the Sultan. The American woman introduces herself as Susan Gale explains that she is a missionary. The professor explains they are headed for the Volta river to claim the land and stop slavery, but claims O'Shea doesn't care about the slave trade. He tries to explain that he is only a journalist but Susan interrupts saying "trafficking human lives is everyone's concern, either you're for it or against it," to which Ahmed says "I'm for it."

The balloon continues its progress and lands near a forest. Susan is still angry at Donald and still thinks he doesn't care about slavery but Makia explains how he saved her from slavers. Meanwhile, O'Shea goes out hunting with a gun provided by General Vyning. He walks into the forest and sees a lion, but when he tries to shoot it he realizes that the gun is unloaded. He then falls into a trap set by natives, who free him, but when he runs away they chase after him with spears. Quickly the crew takes the balloon off as a spear narrowly misses them inside the gondola. As they fly again, Donald and Susan build a relationship. After they land again, however, O'Shea accidentally hammers the anchor away, setting the balloon free. The anchor luckily catches the top of a tree, but everyone including Susan becomes disappointed at him. The Professor and General consider offering O'Shea to the slavers, as they tell how he was only aboard to carry testimony for Americans, but now they had a less troublesome Susan Gale. However, O'Shea wins back the crew's trust when he spots out a sandstorm. The balloon lands in an oasis and the crew relaxes. Ahmed, however, is ordered to work and thinks he is being treated as a slave, telling Jacques "I'm not a slave, I sell them!" A gunshot is heard and the Sheik's men on horseback come to arrest the Professor, Vyning, Makia and Susan, taking them to Timbuktu. Ahmed and Jacques stay the gondola while O'Shea, who was picking dates, and the chimp stay in the trees until the men leave.

In Timbuktu, the arrested crew are set to die as infidels and Makia be sold as a slave under the order of the Sheik Ageiba. Disguised as Arabs, Jacques, Ahmed and Donald purchase Makia from a slave trader (also played by Billy Gilbert). Makia tells of the plan to kill the rest of the crew and they fly their balloon to the top of a tower to save them. After defeating many of the men, they take off, but a sword is thrown onto the balloon's envelope, causing a slow leak to occur. The Professor, now knowing the slavers have less than two days, feels certain defeat, but Donald suggests they fly over night.

The following day, they reach the Volta river, but sword plugged on the envelope starts to rip away, causing the balloon to descend. Everything is thrown overboard to help the balloon gain some lift as they fly towards a bridge, but see the slavers. The head slaver shoots the balloon causing it to deflate as the crew climb into the crows' nest. The anchor is thrown onto the bridge and the gondola is released, causing the balloon to ascend and break the bridge, causing most of the slavers to drown. The head slaver, however, survives with their flag. The balloon's crew swim across the river, except for Ahmed, who remains seated on the balloon's drifting envelope because he can't swim. Donald goes back to retrieve the Union Jack as the envelope raft tumbles over the waterfall. Ahmed tells Donald to jump with the flag. He then kills the slave trader by throwing a dart into his chest, sending him falling into the water. The crew are finally proud that O'Shea had done something triumphant, but he falls into the water. Susan tries to save him and falls in the water and they kiss, while Jacques and Makia also kiss. General Vyning admits to Professor Fergusson that he was wrong about his balloon. The film ends with the chimpanzee finding a companion for itself.