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.


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13 Responses to “Favorite Scene Theatre: The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958)”

  1. Well said! I really can’t add much to your wonderful tribute to the Harryhausen magic except to say that I feel kinda sad for kids growing nowadays who are being forced a CGI CLASH OF THE TITANS down their throats instead of the wonderful Harryhausen version that I got to see in theaters as a wee lad. Nothing will be to replicate the wonderment I experienced seeing Medusa slither on-screen for the first time.

    After seeing CLASH, I quickly checked out the rest of Harryhausen’s work and SINBAD is right up there, alongside JASON & THE ARGONAUTS which features that awesome battle royale with those pesky army of skeletons. Now, every time I watch ARMY OF DARKNESS, I feel the influence of Harryhausen…

    • christian Says:

      Thanks J.D. While I wasn’t as big a fan of CLASH OF THE TITANS, it has some of Harryhausen’s best animation (with assist from Jim Danforth) and the Medusa sequence is an absolute career highlight. Also love that Calibos.

      The CGI has really run its course these days — there needs to be an individuality to the creatures that Harryhausen provided.

      And while EVIL DEAD 2 gets all the huzzahs, ARMY OF DARKNESS is my favorite as it not only contains Bruce Campbell’s most archetypal Ash, it’s a wonderful Harryhausen style adventure.

  2. Arnold Kunert Says:

    Your essay is very enjoyable and heartfelt. However, in your discussion of “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” you incorrectly spelled the names of two of the primary actors, Richard Eyer (a retired teacher now living in Bishop, California) and Kathryn Grant (who was to become Bing Crosby’s wife). Kathryn Grayson was a contract actress and singer at MGM who died recently.

    Best,

    Arnold Kunert

    • christian Says:

      Thanks for the corrections! Duly noted and revised.

      And praise be to you for the work you’ve done on Ray’s behalf over the years. Please send him my regards…and gratitude!

  3. Frank B Says:

    Great stuff. Reminds me of Saturday afternoons in front of the tube and Famous Monsters magazine. As so often is the case, I’ve had this floating up and down the ol’ Netflix queue, and now you’ve given me the nudge.

    SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER is the only one I remember seeing in the theater. Naked Jane Seymour — in a G-rated movie!

    And bubble gum cards. I don’t recall if there was a line specifically dedicated to Sinbad, but I do remember cards with stills from various horror and fantasy films with stupid “funny” captions. Anybody else remember those?

    • christian Says:

      You mean these:

      From the Topps series “You’ll Die Laughing” re-released as “Creature Feature” in the 70’s when I collected them. Loved ’em along with the “Odd Rod” crazy car cards and stickers: http://64.50.166.64/

      Saw EYE OF THE TIGER in the theater. LOVED that Minotaur and wanted to see the Troglodyte fight it out. The Academy has the tiger, walrus and the baboon on display. These creatures are stunning in the flesh so to speak. I want to move them.

      • your inner child is all stoked, cool bananas christian

        the thing is, the stop-mo in ‘7th voyage’ is as smooth and effective (if not more so) than that of ‘sinbad & the eye of the tiger’ about 20 years later, testament to just how painstaking and well-crafted the technique is in the earlier production (and possibly how poorly executed it may be in the 3rd ’70’s flick, i’m not really up to snuff on that one but still, 7th voyage holds up remarkably well)

  4. Nice write-up.

    Now you should write up a nice remembrance of AQUAMARINE.

    Emma Roberts, Sara Paxton, JoJo Levesque… Mmmmm…..

  5. ahh… souvenirs… this movie and all the fantasy movies of this era… especially jack the giant killer (also with kevin matthews)….. sinbad’s voyage holds a special place in my heart….. overwhelming sense of wonder….

    last time i was in LA, you offered me the bernard herrman score of this movie, then we went to see the golden voyage at the egyptian, with the most beautiful actress evern caroline munroe. harryhausen was there i think, or maybe my memory escapes me….

  6. […] cult magazine from the 1970′s devoted solely to his work, now finally in reprint. I’ve written before in tribute to America’s greatest animation auteur, notably when I had the privilege to stand before his […]

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