Sunday, July 10, 2016

Adventures in Harryhausen Land















This is my entry in the Sword and Sandal Blogathon sponsored by Moon in Gemini
This is also my entry in the Ray Harryhausen Blogathon hosted by Wolffian Classic Movies Digest

(Both of these coming along at the same time... Isn't kismet amazing?)



These are the two movies I remember most from the days when I used to go to the drive-in with my parents and my sister.  In those days it was a rare treat, because my father rarely closed up the store early.  (He had a gas station/garage that catered to the lake crowd in the days before Dallas built their own lakes, so a lot of people made the trek up from Dallas to the border, where Lake Texoma was the only thing going back in the 60's and 70's).

The earliest memory I have in a drive-in was going to see The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.  I was entranced.  It was probably the first time I had gone to the drive-in and not fallen asleep before the picture was over.  (I certainly don't remember our experience with seeing Patton, but we MUST have seen it as a family, because for years afterwards my father refused to allow us to go to another movie that was rated PG.  Until Star Wars, but I have related that story elsewhere on this blog.)

Sinbad was played by three different actors in each of the Ray Harryhausen entries.  Kerwin Mathews played him in the first of the three, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, in 1958.  It was 15 years later before Ray and company brought forth another Sinbad entry.  This time Sinbad was played by John Phillip Law (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad).  Then four years later, yet another actor, Patrick Wayne (son of the Duke himself) took on the role.

Each one, in his own right played the character with gusto.  Actors being a commodity that is based on their public draw, it is apparent that good looks factored in quite a bit with the cast of Sinbad in each movie.  Of course, Sinbad must have been pretty charismatic to entice his crew to follow him on his voyages, so the charisma of the lead actors is not out of place.  My main issue is the lack of chest hair.  Sinbad is of Middle Eastern origin, a race that is predominated by swarthy men, so he must've had a hairy chest, right?  Lance Kerwin, as near as I can tell was the only Sinbad with chest hair.  At least Patrick Wayne and John Phillip Law have facial hair. (And Lance Kerwin is clean-shaven)  Why this should bother me, I have no idea...

The Harryhausen creatures are a real wonder.  Remember this was well before the days of CGI graphics.  While they may look primitive by those standards, they are still far and beyond anything that was conceivable at the time.  And in cases where the actors had to appear to be lifted or hoisted by the creatures in a scene, most of the time it's really hard to tell they are not really human.  (By comparison, check out most of the scenes in the original King Kong, in which a human interacts with the animated creatures.)

Magic and superstition play a focal role in these movies.  What else would you expect?  These kinds of tales were my favorite as a young boy, and this love of fantasy elements continues to this day.  Harryhausen and his good friend, the author Ray Bradbury, each made a pact with the other that even if they grew old, they would  never grow up  And I too have never grown up, not if it means leaving behind a love of these epic sword battles and fantasy creatures.
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The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Golden Voyage  starts out with Sinbad and his crew sailing on open waters.  Sinbad (John Phillip Law; who was the blind angel Pygar in Barbarella ) and crew spy a flying creature carrying something shiny.  An arrow is fired at the creature and it drops the item which turns out to be a piece of a golden tablet.  Sinbad decides to wear the tablet as an amulet, against the wishes of his crew who think it is cursed.

Sinbad (John Phillip Law)


That night Sinbad has a dream.  A man calls out his name and an enchanting woman with a tattoo of an eye on her hand haunt him.  The ship is assailed by a storm which blows Sinbad's ship off course, and they find themselves off the coast of Marabia.  Sinbad swims ashore, and encounters Prince Koura (Tom Baker, who by the way also played one of the incarnations of Doctor Who back in the day).

Prince Koura (Tom Baker) 

Koura sees Sinbad's amulet. He says that the amulet belongs to him and demands it.  Instead Sinbad fights him and escapes. The crew end up going to the nearest city, which is the capital of Marabia. There Sinbad encounters the Grand Vizier (Douglas Wilmer), a man who is forced to wear a mask to cover his face.  It was burned in a fire (caused by the dastardly Koura).

The Grand Vizier (Douglas Wilmer)

The Vizier reveals to Sinbad that his amulet and a second piece that the Vizier has is part of a map leading to a great treasure, which includes a renewed youth, a cloak of darkness and a crown of fabulous wealth.  He convinces Sinbad to go on a voyage to get this treasure.  While awaiting departure, Sinbad is accosted by a merchant who wishes to pay Sinbad to take his nogoodnik son, Haroun (Kurt Christian) with him on his voyage.  Sinbad initially refuses, but the merchant has a slave girl (who, coincidentally, has an eye tattoo on her hand), so he eventually agrees if he can also have the slave girl, Margiana by name (Caroline Munro).


Margiana (Caroline Munro)

Haroun proves to useful as comic relief in the movie, but not much else, at least at first.  Margiana however intrigues Sinbad.  The crew sail, unknowingly followed by Koura who is intent on getting the tablet and treasure for himself.  The first night he casts a spell that causes the ship's figurehead to come to life.  It steals the map after an impressive fight with crew members.  (This is actually the second Harryhausen creation in this film, the first being the flying creature that Sinbad and crew try to shoot down)

Harryhausen's figurehead

Sinbad and crew eventually arrive at the temple of the Oracle (voiced by Robert Shaw, who, among other roles, was Quint in Jaws and the mob boss Doyle Lonnegan in The Sting) which reveals to them the final resting place of the third tablet, albeit in riddles.  Koura, who is still following them casts another spell causing the temple walls to fall around them and entrap them.  But they escape due to the ingenuity of Sinbad.  Meanwhile, every time Koura casts a spell he gets significantly older, as the black magic drains his life force every time.

Magic drains the soul

The trip takes the crew to Lemuria, where Koura has gained the upper hand.  He brings to life the six-armed statue of the native's god, Kali, which fights Sinbad's crew with six-swords (the third Harryhausen creation)

Six hands are better than one


Haroun becomes useful when he knocks the statue off balance and it topples to crash on the ground.  When it shatters the third tablet is revealed.  Koura takes the tablet and leaves Sinbad to the wiles of the natives whose god he has destroyed.   At this point, Margiana becomes a factor when she screams and throws out her hands, revealing the tattoo.




They think she is a special sacrifice meant for their one-eyed god (a centaur that lives in the caverns below) and send her down as a sacrifice.  The centaur comes out of it's cave and Sinbad uses several ruses to rescue Margiana from it. They race to the fountain to try to stop Koura from completing the tasks.  The end is well worth the wait, because not only do we get to see Sinbad and Koura clash swords in an epic final battle, but we get to see two more of Harryhausen's creations duke it out too; the aforementioned centaur, representing Evil and a griffin, representing Good.



A fantastic movie for all ages.  Kids will thrill to the fantasy creatures, and adults will find the story entertaining too.  And Harryhausen fans will see what I feel are the greatest animation sequences of his career (although I am sure there are those who will argue for others.  Be that as it may.)



Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Prince Kassim (Damien Thomas) is due to be crowned caliph of Charak.  Unfortunately evil befalls the ceremony (which we do not see unfold, but is revealed later in the movie).  Sinbad (Patrick Wayne) arrives in Charak, with goods to unload, but also with the intent of asking Kassim to allow his sister Farah (Jane Seymour) to marry him. (This is the movies.  Probably useless to wonder why a princess would even be allowed to marry a commoner...)  He is stopped by a merchant who tells him the city is under curfew because of the "plague".  Really the merchant intends to cause harm to Sinbad.  Zenobia (played by Margaret Whiting; not the same woman who had a recording career in the 40's and 50's, however), the wicked stepmother of a Farah and a witch, casts a spell causing three ghouls to appear to fight Sinbad in the tent. (The first Harryhausen creation)


Ghoulish encounter

After defeating the ghouls, back at his ship, Sinbad meets up with Farah who pleads with him to help her find a way to reverse the curse on her brother that Zenobia cast on him.  See, Zenobia wants her own son, Rafi (Kurt Christian, and yes that's the same actor who played the nogoodnik comic relief character Haroun in the previous entry) to be named caliph.  To do so she cursed Kassim, and if the curse is not lifted before the passing of a specific time, Kassim will lose his right to be named caliph. To engender this transfer, Zenobia turned Kassim into a baboon.  This is revealed when crewmen spy Farah playing chess with the baboon.  The baboon is, in fact, Harryhausen's second creation of the movie.

Chess with a baboon

 Meanwhile, Zenobia has created a bronze golem she dubs Minoton to power a rowboat to chase after Sinbad, trying to stop him from reaching Melanthius.

Minoton


Sinbad and crew reach the shores of the fabled land where Melanthius is rumored to be.  First they encounter his daughter Dione (Taryn Power; daughter of Tyrone Power), and then Menthius himself (Patrick Troughton, yet another of the Doctor Who incarnations.  These movies are full of celebrities...).  Melanthius and Dione eventually agree to accompany Sinbad north to the home of an ancient civilization that might have the answer to the reversing of the curse.

(L-R) Sinbad, Melanthius, Dione and Farah


Zenobia uses her magic to turn herself into a seagull, fly to Sinbad's ship, and convert herself to a miniature form so she can spy on Melanthius and Sinbad.  She is caught, but manages to escape, but in the process loses a valuable portion of her potion, so that when she returns to her own ship she can't be completely reverted back to human form.

When Sinbad finally come ashore in the frozen wastelands of the north, they are attacked by a giant walrus (another Harryhausen creation, and, in my opinion, the most unbelievable and ridiculous of the batch.  I felt immensely like it had been added as an afterthought because the studio needed more footage, rather than that it was a valid creature of the story, but that's just my opinion...)

I am the Walrus

Sinbad and crew trek across the frozen wastelands and find a valley that is lush and hospitable.  While they are resting a trogolodyte appears.  Although they initially think the creature is a threat, he turns out to be friendly.

Trog

The final battle which involves trying to get the baboon Kassim into a transforming column of light while battling Zenobia who is intent on trying to stop them, along with another epic battle between two Harryhausen creations, the troglodyte and a saber-toothed tiger is once again a worthy ending.

Battle royal

I regret that you can't experience these movies the way I did (from the back seat of the Plymouth my father drove) on the big screen of a drive-in.  Although, who knows, with the current trend of new drive-ins coming and a few bucks to the manager, you might be able to wangle it.  (Pipe dreams, to be sure, but I'm nothing if not a dreamer).  Meanwhile pleasant sailing on your voyage home.

Quiggy


14 comments:

  1. wonderful post,i put it live to the event. This artcle is truly wonderful.

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    1. Thanks a lot. These things seem to be taking me longer to write than ever so i appreciate the good words.

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  2. I really enjoyed your review of these! Of his Sinbad movies, so far I've only seen the the 1958 one, but will have to see these next. The epic battles between monsters sounds quite exciting (though I have to admit that the sight of a walrus in a Sinbad fantasy does seem unique)!

    Actually, pretty much all the Harryhausen I've seen so far is from the 50s, so I am very curious to see how he developed his work and the effects you describe where it's hard to tell that the humans being lifted are not really human.

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    1. You really should check out 1981's "Clash of the Titans", too. Harryhausen's last work as animator still has some great effects. Especially Pegasus the famed flying horse.

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  3. Hi Quiggy, I also loved both of these growing up, and still marvel at the fantasy elements, the inventiveness of the production design and the effectiveness of the special effects of the time despite the lack of technology. Law and Wayne were both wonderful as Sinbad, even if Hollywood seems allergic to chest hair, even to this day they shave or wax the action stars...
    -Chris

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    1. I don't really care about chest hair, truth be told. I just thought the Middle eastern origins of the character precluded having a bare chest. Or for that matter a well trimmed close cut beard... Thanks for reading.

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  4. Great post! I imagine it was a much more interesting experience to see those films in a drive-in, because I've seen them only on TV. The effects may be much more impressive on the bigger screen.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Cheers!
    Le

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  5. A great write up on the Sinbad movies!I loved them as a kid and I still love them now. I do think the Dynamation effects hold up even today (in fact, for the most part I prefer them to today's CGI). By coincidence, the first movie I can ever remember watching in its entirety was also a Ray Harryhausen film--Jason and the Argonauts. It came on TV one night when I was about 4 years old and I was entranced.

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    1. At 4 years old your parents let you stay up to watch a movie? I'm jealous... :-) Thanks for the good words

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  6. It must have been fantastic to watch The Golden Voyage of Sinbad at a drive-in!

    As I mentioned on Terry's post about The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, I LOVED these movies when I was a little kid, but it's been ages since I've seen them. After reading these reviews, I must remedy this ASAP.

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon!

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    1. The drive-in is the best place to watch a fantasy movie. Other movies you can watch in an claustrophobic environment (read: indoor theater). But fantasies come alive outdoors. Thanks.

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  7. Wow, book me a season pass to your drive-in, Quiggy! How I'd love to see these two films back-to-back in theaters ( outdoor theaters included ). The 7th Voyage of Sinbad cannot be topped for its amazing Bernard Herrmann score and its story-plot, but I always considered these two Sinbad films to be much more fun than the original.

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