Monday, July 28, 2008

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad - 1974

Back in the 70s, our household was a test market for a new cable channel called HBO, which specialized in playing the same movies over and over again for weeks on end. They were testing the soon-to-be cult-film market, I guess. Since we were kids, our tolerance for repetition, especially for titles such as "Blazing Saddles," "What's Up Doc?," and "Phantom of the Opera" was very high. In particular, this film, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which we had seen on the big screen prior to its HBO release, made us very, very happy.

Remember: no VCRs or home computers at this point in time. Just seven or eight network or local affiliate channels, and whatever minimal cable was available in your area. In our case, we could get no TV without cable, and because a house without TV was unthinkable, we had as much cable as humanly possible.

I don't know how many times we watched this but it never got old. This was the second of Ray Harryhausen's "Sinbad" trilogy. The first was the very popular 7th Voyage of Sinbad, which was made in 1958, and so didn't have such an impact on us. We saw it once in a rep theater (thanks mom) and it was great, but everyone had 50s haircuts and 50s ideas of adventure (dragons, tiny princesses, lack of facial hair). The Golden Voyage was definitely a 70s production that didn't take itself too seriously, yet was extremely atmospheric and had very high production values, despite its astounding under-one-million-dollar budget. Kudos to a crack set-design team and director Gordon Bessler, who would go on to an illustrious TV career, including another cult favorite, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Besides the wonderful creatures and animated combat scenes by Ray Harryhausen (think: DYNARAMA), this film had three other things going for it:

Hellooo (and R.I.P.) John Philip Law (1937-2008). One of the most beautiful men in cinema, he made an affable blue-eyed Sinbad. You may remember him as Pygar the angel in Barbarella.

John Phillip Law as Sinbad
A former monk, Tom Baker quit the monastery to become an actor and went on to play Dr. Who. Here as Koura, he makes an intense and equally blue-eyed villain, who ages every time he uses his black magic to thwart Sinbad. By film's end he's such a depleted wreck he has to crawl to complete his evil tasks. A fun role with a slew of muttered nonsense words for each evil spell.

Tom Baker as Koura
Also starring: Caroline Munro's chest. As Margiana, Munro was required to cower, faint and heave breathlessly, which she accomplished aptly. I admire her extreme composure while wearing such skimpy costumes. It's to the credit of her fellow actors that everyone was able to act around her cleavage without too much fanfare.

Caroline Munro as Margiana Caroline Munro's chest
I mean, c'mon. At this point in the film, there must have been a full-time crew member just to spritz Ms. Munro with baby oil before all her scenes. Nice job, spritzer, whoever you were. Ignoring the exploitation factor of the sexy, half-dressed slave girl (who Sinbad is quite chivalrous around, to his credit, or to his questionable sexuality), let us move on.

If you want to be enchanted anew by this film, avoid the rest of this post, due to spoilers. I couldn't help but feature a lot of Harryhausen's creatures. This film is crammed full of world mythology with Arabic, Hindu, Pagan, and Greek references aplenty. An excellent and emotive Miklos Rosza score adds to the action and adventure (and sweat-drenched chests) that await! And now:

As Sinbad sails into the dusk (toward an inferior sequel), enjoy these Sinbad links:

Kali dance scene. Harryhausen always gives his creatures a reality within their motion. Kali definitely moves like she's made of very heavy metal.

Here's a link to an interesting comparison of the CGI fight between Obi Wan Kenobi and General Grievous (stupid names!) in "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" and the stop-motion animated fight between Sinbad and Kali. I think you will agree: stop-motion has more visual "weight" to it--an alternate sense of reality, when it's done by a master such as Harryhausen.

A fan-made trailer with great clips throughout.

Read about it: Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Lifeand The Art of Ray Harryhausen

Matbergman's Ray Harryhausen Creature List - every Harryhausen creature in chronological order, set to Mon Ti by Tito Puente. ¡Excelente!


Anonymous said...

Ray Harryhausen's 'Clash of the Titan's" was one of my faves. I mean they managed to get Olivier and Ursula Andres and Burgess Meredith? And of course the golden Harry Hamlin. Those fight scenes -especially the fight with the Medusa...and the scorpions...and...okay the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts. A master.

Lisa Mc said...

Thank you for bringing these up! The Medusa scene is my favorite Harryhausen creation. Creepy, suspenseful and beautiful with the shadows and flickering candlelight. He has a way with female monsters. And the skeleton fight in Jason... You said it. I may have further news of a Harryhausen museum exhibit in the future. Will keep you posted...