When discussing films with friends, family or this site I usually concentrate on the storyline, direction and acting. It is usually those attributes which, for me, determine if a film is worthy of adding to your collection or not. This isn't the case here though, and although the The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is an engaging story, a good enough romp with plenty of swash and buckle it is the artistry of two men who really determined the fate of this feature. Nathan Juran's previous works include Attack of the 50 Foot woman and 20 Million Miles to Earth however he would probably be remembered best for his work in television, including some of my best loved shows from the Irwin Allen stable in the 1960s. It is not he though that we remember when watching or discussing this feature. That accolade rests upon the shoulders of Ray Harryhausen and Bernard Herrmann
The story is a simple enough affair. Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews), sailor from the legendary 1001 Arabian Night stories is due to be married to Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant), however before they reach their destination they are waylaid on a supposedly deserted island and on which they find a man feeling the clutches of a rampaging Cyclops. This man, Sokurah the Magician (Torin Thatcher), is escaping with a magic lamp, something he has coveted for almost an eternity, but loses when he is forced to flee the island.
Hoodwinking the Sultan and shrinking the Princess he manages to convince all that he only needs to return to the island to create a potion to return her to her original state. His devious mind though is intent on only one purpose, regaining the lamp which was his for such a brief period of time.
The story itself is a good enough affair and carries the viewer along at an enjoyable pace. The swashbuckling Sinbad defeating all that stand before him in his quest to restore his Princess to her glorious former self. There's excellent action sequences with mutinies, demons and dragons to fight and of course being Harryhausen he stumbles across an animated skeleton; all of whom test his mettle to its limits. Much like any Errol Flynn in his adventure films this is about as derring do as it gets and you cannot help but be swept up in all its majesty. Kerwin Mathews as Sinbad is a non entity to a great degree, sure he has all the square jawed characteristics of this budding hero but for me he never had that mysterious feel about him, no hint to his previous escapades from which he made his fame. It is Torin Thatcher's character, the magician Sokurah, though which steals the show from an acting point of view. Bold and brassy, hamming it up to the hilt and is a joy to watch as he manipulates all before him. Look out for his “Follow, follow. Kill, kill”, arms flailing, as he guides a dragon to his fleeing enemies; it's fantastic stuff.
This story does not rest itself with these two stalwarts though, it ultimately lies with Ray Harryhausen for his special effects and Bernard Herrmann's rousing score. Herrman who had previously worked on Vertigo and The Man Who Knew Too Much and would go on to work on other fantastic adventures including Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Jason and the Argonauts (not to mention his earlier extraterrestrial piece for The Day the Earth Stood Still and his later features, my favourite Hitchcock, North by Northwest and Psycho) composed a stunning score for this feature. His themes are legendary and this is no different, producing melodies for all the main characters including those animated by Harryhausen. This is something that was a little uncommon during these formative years and only reproduced with great effect once John Williams hit the scene in the 1970s with scores for Star Wars and Superman. It allows more consistency, allows the viewer to know the flow of any particular scene due to the theme currently being played. He produces melancholy melodies when the troupe are in danger, light hearted strings at the Sultan's gathering. It is that score during the opening credits though, a mix of thunderous Russian bravado and simple plucked Arabian strings which really gets the blood boiling; even before the first actors appear on screen you know you're in for a rocking adventure and that's ultimately what we get.
Last but never least is Ray Harryhausen himself, more than any special effects wizard before or after the films he has worked on have always been credited as a Harryhausen picture, not the director's not the leading actors but Ray's. And rightly so. Who can remember the director from Jason and the Argonauts without first looking it up, everyone though remembers that the bronze Talos was brought to life by the genius which is Ray Harryhausen. Much the same can be said here. He was 11 months in the studio putting the final touches to this piece of work, slotting in his creatures using his now famed DynaMation technique and the end result speaks for itself. A stop motion technique which would stand the test of time for decades to come. His contribution to the special effects industry can never be measured and now in a world dominated by CGI effects sometimes I long back to those days where frame by frame animation added something almost real to the frame. His Cyclops is a stunning piece of work and has character rarely seen in any effect CGI or otherwise. Look at him roasting his prey on the spit, licking his lips... it is that one simple movement, and other similar examples of his work, which took Harryhausen above all others at that time. That simple movement giving the Cyclops more depth, more character, making it all the more real.
There are effects shots in here that Harryhausen would return to time and again. The dual headed bird attacking Sinbad's crew would be duplicated again in Jason and the Argonauts with the Harpies attacking the blind beggar. It is his skeleton which is always fondly remembered and which has become Harryhausen's trade mark. Here we see one of them, still the malevolent, despicable demon that would multiply so successfully by 7 in Jason. Still feared, still chills the bone when attacking our erstwhile hero.
So The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is an enjoyable enough affair and to some degree is showing its techicolour age with bold saturated primaries and acting which at time is better than your Sunday roast ham. That being the case though those effects of 50 years old still pull you into the picture so successfully allowing you to overlook some of the theatrical acting and still, 50 years on, giving you a damn good Sunday afternoon film to enjoy for 90 minutes.
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