THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD —–“From the land beyond beyond… from the world past hope and fear… I bid you Genie, now appear.” A ruby in the treasure trove of Ray Harryhausen favorites from a bygone age, this picturesque fantasy adventure in ‘Dynamation’ unwrapped as a neato Christmas present for kids in 1958. A wee 3 at the time, your unworthy servant missed out on this as a child—it was a big hit, 21st for the year, grossing $9,000,000—and only caught up with it as a teenager. When Mysterious Island (1961) and Jason And The Argonauts (1963) arrived, I was old enough to be taken to a theater and keep my yap shut (my parents had what used to be known as “consideration”) and so my loyalty to Lord Harryhausen and his awe-inspiring creatures dates to those classics. No doubt I would have gone berserk over this charmer, too, had it visited a TV station (there were only a few to turn the knob for) or Saturday kids matinee (for a whole dollar! ) at the local theater.
Hearty, handsome and daring, Sinbad (Kerwin Matthews, likewise equipped) rescues imperious magician ‘Sokurah’ (Torin Thatcher, imposing) from a hungry Cyclops on the forbidding island of Colossa. Later in Baghdad, Sokurah shrinks ‘Princess Chandra’ (Kathryn Grant, fetchworthy), provoking her Sultan father into possible war with the Caliph, which would nix nuptials between Sinbad and Chandra. A return to beast-populated Colossa is required to get a potion (the reverse-shrunken-princess kind) and to retrieve Sokurah’s magic lamp containing a genie (Richard Eyer, obedient).
Warmly recalled as the best and most successful of the widely dispersed Sinbad crew, this voyage was steered by workmanlike director Nathan Juran, who put it over in a shipshape 88 minutes, making careful use of a $650,000 budget. *
The four lead actors all made numerous other films—bigger, better and more successful— but this is the one most associated with each. Matthews, 31, went on to fantasy fights in The 3 Worlds of Gulliver and Jack the Giant Killer. Grant, 24, had just decorated five films in 1957 alone. Thatcher, 52, had been acting since 1927. Wish-granting Genie boy Eyer, at 13, was a kid-in-demand (The Invisible Boy, Friendly Persuasion).
They put the right amount of gusto into their roles, backed with sumptuous art direction by Gil Parrondo and a vibrant and romantic music score from Bernard Herrmann, the first of four composing assignments for Ray Harryhausen projects. That title track is irresistible. Art director Parrondo later worked on Patton and Nicholas And Alexandra and was Production Designer for The Wind And The Lion. Ignored by the Oscars, Herrmann’s soundtrack became a collector’s item.
If the set trappings and symphonic texture were snubbed of nominations by the Academy Awards, a bigger snafu was leaving Harryhausen’s creations in the lurch as well. He spent 11 painstaking months after the actors left the Spanish locations to craft the stop-motion special effects—his first go at doing such things in the detail required by color—matching heroes and villain against a clutch of creatures. On deck: a grotesque 30-foot-tall horned cyclops with furry legs, cloven hoofs and an appetite for tourists; a writhing Cobra-woman; two-headed Rocs, a fire-breathing dragon and a skeleton who enjoys fencing. “Ten thousand devils! What evil sorcery is this?”
* Loreload—Sinbad the Sailor, from 1947 has Technicolor and a good cast (Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Maureen O’Hara, Anthony Quinn, Jane Greer, Mike Mazurki) but it didn’t do too well–and is a talky bore—no monsters for one thing. Captain Sindbad, from 1963, with Guy Williams was fun, in a great movie year for kids. Harryhausen’s return with The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) and Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger pleased children but were a letdown to now-grown fans. They had some decent effects, but their respective Captains, John Philip Law and Patrick Wayne, were as wooden as oars.
Talk about seasick: At one point in 7th Voyage director Juran and company used a replica of Columbus’ Santa Maria (600 years off, so much for accuracy) and they needed to depict it in a raging storm. After being nearly capsized by a steamship, for safety’s sake they decided to shoot the sequence with the ship tied up in the harbor at Barcelona. With the camera rocking back forth to simulate movement, they used an airplane prop for a wind machine while the fire department pumped harbor water at the actors. As Juran tells it: “Everything was going well until we turned on the water. It so happened that Barcelona Harbor was ten times filthier than Boston Harbor. The actors were being sprayed with condoms and raw sewage. They were covered in pollution. Naturally, they complained like hell.” He did have high praise for his stalwart star: “Kerwin was the epitome of a professional.”
Along with 1964 fave First Men in The Moon, this was a high point for director Juran–in the same year he steered Sinbad, he had to tangle with The Brain From Planet Arous and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman. Genre aficionados also recognize Juran for The Deadly Mantis, 20 Million Miles To Earth and Jack the Giant Killer. Nothing if not practical, he observed “I approached the picture business as a business. I always did pictures for the money, and for the creative challenges. I wasn’t a born director. I was just a technician who could transfer the script from the page to the stage and could get it shot on schedule and on budget. I never became caught up in the “romance” of the movies.”
Romance: in the Sinbad tales told in “One Thousand And One Nights”, the 7th voyage was the last, but the film instead uses pieces of the 3rd and 5th voyages. The script also indifferently puts Baghdad on the coast, a mere 400 miles from its actual inland location (“the kid’s won’t care, and the parents just want to get home and watch Have Gun, Will Travel”). Sinbad’s stories come to us from a long, long way back. The Sailor cycle is set in the 786-809 reign of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, under whose rule ancient Baghdad flowered. Given events of recent years, there is poignant twinge when the Sultan character utters the line “Look upon your city. Enjoy the sight for soon it will be rubble and bleached bones.” Not enough, baleful Sokurah envisions that “There are great buildings falling … women and children slain. I see … war!” Would that it have remained a fantasy.