Favorite Scene Theatre: The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958)
This afternoon I stood face to eye socket with the steel armature that once housed the latex body of the Cyclops from Ray Harryhausen’s fantasy masterpiece, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Behind me, the Pegasus and the Kraken from CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981) watched warily from inside their protective case. As did Gwangi in the corner and at least four heavily armed skeletons from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963). I don’t blame these timeless creatures for being on guard. How could you not want to reach out and touch the matted fur and painted latex of the animated legends that you grew up with? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is hosting an exhibit dedicated to “The Fantastical Worlds of Ray Harryhausen” featuring a Talos treasure of original artwork, storyboards and of course, a selection of the actual models used in his classic genre films.
If there was any filmmaker that inspired me to enter the Hollywood dream factory, it was Mr. Harryhausen. I was a stop-motion fan from my first cine-memories, from the wonders of the Rankin Bass holiday specials to my weeping for the SON OF KONG (1933). I adored the personalized surreality of this greatest of special effects, and like so many others, used up 50-foot rolls of Kodak for my own single-frame jerkily animated epics (including the incongruous adventures of BOBA & LION: a Boba Fett figure and a Fischer Price lion fighting interstellar bad guys — hey, it could happen). I pined over the images in “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” “Cinefantastique” and the superior amateur spfx in Don Dohler’s “Cinemagic” when it was a glossy fan magazine, replete with articles by budding pioneers like Craig Reardon and Dennis Skotak. Of course, the late night TV creature features of the 70’s were a smorgasbord of Harryhausen, Willis O’Brien and their progeny like Jim Danforth, master animator from gems such as EQUINOX (1970) and WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970). These were my first movie heroes.
Fortunately, I saw THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD in the theater on a double bill with DARK STAR (1975) after THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) proved to be a surprise box-office hit — Columbia then re-released the first and best cinematic adventure of the Arabian sea warrior. In the flickering dark, I was immediately entranced by Bernard Hermann’s awesome, magical theme over the charming child-like illustrations of Sinbad’s voyages. One can’t stress how important Hermann’s score is to this film — I think it ranks as one of the best soundtracks of all time. Hermann is not the only one at the top of his game. Director Nathan Juran, a studio journeyman if there ever was one, keeps the pacing brisk and the actors lively; the cinematography by Wilkie Cooper is lush and colorful; and the screenplay by Kenneth Kolb (who later wrote the novel GETTING STRAIGHT) has the right mixture of wit and imagination — I like how the characters all have personalities, even the minor Golar has the hilarious retorts of “That’s right!” The acting is perfect 50’s purple pulp and I think plays just right to this day. Even though he’s as Arabic as my uncle Tommy, the only screen Sinbad for me is Kerwin Matthews. He has the right balance of stoic passion and valorous justice. If you didn’t believe him as Sinbad, the film wouldn’t work. Nor would it without Torin Thatcher’s evil sorcerer, Sakura, easily one of the screen’s most underrated supervillains. The way he murmurs, “Kill him…Kill Sinbad…” is still chilling. As the damsel in distress but not without her own strength, Kathryn Grant is uber-lovely and charming as Princess Parisa, plus she looks smokin’ in Technicolor. The young genie Barani (Richard Eyer) instilled some jokes at his expense due to his catch-phrase, “I shall try, I shall try.” But the line works perfect at the end, instilling a boy’s adventure tale mythos that’s encapsulated by Hermann’s glorious final theme.
But sitting in the theater on that Friday night, I was duly blown away by the sheer animated ferocity of the Cyclops when he makes his grand first appearance. Not only does he have a beautifully detailed design, but his roar is suitably unique and fiercesome (Harryhausen films have always had terrific sound effects as well). I loved the way the Cyclops punches at the murky barrier separating him from Sinbad. The creature has so much greedy life and personality, especially when it clutches the magic lamp to its stippled chest. Within minutes of this film, I was captivated and by the climatic battle between the dynamic Dragon and the second Cyclops, a true believer. The next time I would experience such a psychic cinematic baptism would be a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…It’s clear Lucas was a fan as the chasm that Sinbad and Parisa swings over is the forefather of Luke and Leia’s famous leap. Perhaps that’s why I think THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is the greatest American fantasy film next to STAR WARS; its legacy is that it acted as a clarion call to so many genre filmmakers to this day (Mark Hamill even interviewed Kerwin Matthews in the pages of the ultimate Harryhausen fan magazine from 1974, FXRH). And to stare inches from the intricate, rust-colored skeleton of my favorite Ray Harryhausen creation — and keep myself from manipulating movie history — feels like coming full circle to a stop-motion dream that’s animated my life.