Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) & Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)



          Special-effects legend Ray Harryhausen, adored by generations of fantasy-cinema fans for the lovingly crafted creatures he brought to herky-jerky life through stop-motion animation, first dramatized the adventures of Arabic adventurer Sinbad the Sailor with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), a lively adventure featuring a memorable duel between Sinbad and a sword-wielding skeleton. More than a decade later, Harryhausen returned to the character with less beguiling results for a pair of mid-’70s romps featuring juvenile stories, outdated FX, and wooden acting. Even though many ’70s kids feel nostalgic toward these pictures, they haven’t aged particularly well, for a host of reasons—not only was Harryhausen’s take on Sinbad technically antiquated by the mid-’70s, but it was culturally antiquated, as well. Watching American and English actors prancing around with scimitars and turbans now feels borderline cringe-worthy.
          The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, the better of the two ’70s Sinbad flicks, stars the attractive but vapid duo of Barbarella stud John Phillip Law, as the title character, and British starlet Caroline Munro, as Sinbad’s slave/love interest. (Her cleavage gives a better performance than either actor does.) The forgettable plot has something to do with an evil sorcerer conspiring to collect magical artifacts, but of course the narrative is merely a line from which Harryhausen strings encounters with fantastical creatures. Some of those creatures are quite silly-looking, such as a gigantic centaur, while others have more cinematic flair, notably a six-armed living statue that makes short work of Sinbad’s crewmen by wielding several swords at once. The movie also benefits from the presence of British thesp Tom Baker, who trades his familiar Doctor Who hat and scarf for a turban and a cape; playing the main villain, he provides an effective degree of gravitas and intensity, even though the script fails to give him much in the way of characterization. Harryhausen and his collaborators deserve credit for delivering a good-looking movie on a budget of less than $1 million, and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad zips along at a brisk pace. Still, it’s hard to get past Law’s bland performance and the cliché-ridden script, no matter how mesmerizing Munro looks in her barely-there costume.
          Things got a hell of a lot weirder with the next installment, Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger. Whereas the casting of American actors as Sinbad was always problematic, the casting of Patrick Wayne—son of the Duke—seems absolutely perverse. Moreover, Wayne gives such a lifeless performance that he makes Law seem dimensional by comparison. And yet that’s not what makes Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger so bizarre. The trippy plot involves an evil sorceress who transforms a prince into a baboon, then transforms herself into a seagull for spying purposes, only to botch her return to normalcy, thus ending up with a giant webbed foot. Creatures populating Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger include a bronze minotaur, a club-wielding troglodyte, a giant saber-tooth tiger, a massive mosquito, and even an enormous walrus that blasts through arctic ice before spearing victims with its tusks. (Yes, this Sinbad movie ends up at the North Pole—go figure.) There’s also a faint wisp of bestiality because the prince/baboon bonds with the telepathic daughter of a mystic who joins Sinbad’s team during their travels. Some of the film’s special effects are genuinely terrible, particularly green-screen tricks used to match studio footage with location shots, and the pacing is way too slow.
          Yet Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger has one attribute that compensates for nearly all of the film’s flaws, and that’s Jane Seymour, who plays the sister of the prince/baboon. (Her character is also Sinbad’s love interest, naturally.) Whether squeezed into a revealing costume or appearing semi-nude during one scene (quite something for a G-rated movie), Seymour is brain-meltingly beautiful here; even the sight of her twinkling eyes over the rim of a veil is enough to quicken pulses. Taryn Power, who plays the aforementioned telepathic daughter, is also quite lovely, and even more of her figure gets revealed than Seymour’s, so remarking on the film’s sex appeal is appropriate—clearly, someone on Harryhausen’s team advocated for injecting skin into the formula.
          In any event, since both of Harryhausen’s ’70s Sinbad pictures were solid hits relative to their costs, it’s interesting that he didn’t make further episodes, instead shifting focus to the more ambitious Clash of the Titans (1981), his final feature. Although much slicker in terms of production values, Clash of the Titans has some of the same problems as the Sinbad films, from hokey dialogue to wooden leading performances, but the grandiose picture embedded itself in the minds of fantasy-loving Gen-X kids. All of Harryhausen’s latter-day films trigger the same reaction when viewed today. No matter their shortcomings, the movies inspire awe that way back when, Harryhausen rendered cinematic spectacle by creating intricate puppets and moving them one frame at a time. In today’s CGI-dominated environment, there’s something comforting about revisiting crudely handcrafted escapism.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad: FUNKY
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger: FUNKY

4 comments:

Kevin Mac said...


Aw, they are all still highly watchable. The luster of childhood has worn mostly off, but they can still hearken to exotic adventure despite all the flaws and warts. Fantasy fans of yore should go to their graves still loving these.

And the gals in these; daaaamnn...

F. Ben Martin said...

I may be Harryhausen's biggest fan ever but still - let me take an alternate view of these two movies. I much prefer Golden Voyage over Eye of the Tiger which lumps along so clumsily it always seems to me Harryhausen's creatures are actually embarrassed to make their entrances. At very least they seem to be randomly dropped in more so than in any other of his films. Golden has a stronger plot, better creatures (I think the Kali swordfight scene is as good as anything Ray ever did), a kind of cooly subversive feel - less a kiddie picture than usual - plus Tom Baker, the best villain to ever appear in a Harryhausen film next to Torin Thatcher.

By Peter Hanson said...

Now that I'm done with the grind of daily posting, I might revisit these. I can think of worse ways to spend time than giving these pictures another chance. After all, Munro and Seymour...

By Peter Hanson said...

July 2018 update... Finally had a chance to watch these again, and Golden fans will be happy to learn that it rose in my estimation upon my latest viewing. And, wow, Eye of the Tiger is still plenty weird...