Newest Review: ... more cunning than the later villains, even though he is seemingly playing for smaller stakes. A bit more annoying is the boy genie, who loo... more
The greatest of all adventurers
Sinbad Collection (DVD)
Member Name: hogsflesh
Sinbad Collection (DVD)
Advantages: Great fun, charming, enjoyable
Disadvantages: Some pacing problems with the last two films; duplicated extras
This three-film set is only £7 on amazon at the moment.
These are three films I have immensely fond memories of from my childhood. They're kiddie adventure movies from the pre-Star Wars era (just about), and are largely innocent, with a sense of the fantastic that is entirely charming. They are primarily showcases for special effects legend Ray Harryhausen, whose stop motion animated monsters brightened up movies from the 50s to the 80s.
What I hadn't realised is that, of the three films, the first was made in the 1950s. I'd always assumed all three were from the late 60s or 70s. Apart from the cast, and a bit more cleavage, there's very little that shows these were made in different decades. Although they're notionally a series, there are no characters in common between films save for Sinbad himself. All three films have more or less the same plot: Captain Sinbad and his crew have to sail somewhere dangerous to find a magical thingy in order to restore someone (a prince, princess or vizier) to their normal shape or size. The victim will inevitably have been cursed by an evil sorcerer, who will pursue Sinbad and attempt to kill him by summoning various big monsters.
**The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)**
This one has Sinbad engaged to marry a princess; their marriage will prevent a war between Sinbad's home city of Bagdad, and her father's people. But it's not just a marriage of convenience, Sinbad and Princess Parisa are in love. Stopping off at a mysterious island, they rescue Sokurah the Magician from a giant Cyclops. Sokurah wants Sinbad to recover his magic lamp from the Cyclops, but Sinbad refuses. Sokurah then shrinks Parisa to the size of a Star Wars action figure, thereby forcing Sinbad to take him back to the island, where the cure for her shrinkage is supposedly found, along with the lamp.
This is brightly coloured, full of fun action, and completely inoffensive. Sinbad is played by someone called Kerwin Mathews as an overgrown schoolboy with a slightly constipated smile. There is no indication that he'd have a clue what to do with the lovely Princess Parisa if he ever ended up in bed with her. She is cute and agreeably proactive in the adventure, even when shrunk to tiny size. She's way better than the passive, screamy heroines of the 70s films.
The best cast member, in a film not exactly overburdened with speaking parts, is Torin Thatcher as the evil wizard. He sports a cool black cloak, bald head and big eyebrows look. He's far more cunning than the later villains, even though he is seemingly playing for smaller stakes. A bit more annoying is the boy genie, who looks like Mickey Rooney, and is there in the mistaken belief that films for children must always feature child characters. The real stars, though, are Harryhausen's monsters. The giant cyclops is probably the best, and the dragon and snake woman are a bit weak. The two-headed Roc is cool, though, and the sword-fighting skeleton looks forward to Harryhausen's most famous film, Jason and the Argonauts.
The special effects are never even remotely convincing, but nor are they meant to be. The creatures are deliberately not meant to be scary or look like they could exist in the real world. In all three films, the animated creatures look far sharper and better defined than the human characters they fight against, but they're superimposed into the pictures fairly competently. Only the surliest of pedants would criticise an old film for having weak special effects, anyway. The monsters are entirely charming, as is the film's conception of magic and adventure, and while it's old fashioned, it is still hugely appealing.
It is odd to see American actors playing Arabs and praising Allah. If there's a criticism with this film - with all three films, in fact - it's that there doesn't seem to be a single actor in them who hails from the Middle East. In later films a certain amount of makeup is deployed to make skin darker - in 7th Voyage they don't even bother with that.
The film is made well enough, and has good music by Bernard Hermann (including a nice xylophone bit when the skeleton appears - nothing says 'bones' quite like a xylophone). All the film has to do is give us a bit of plot between the special effects, and this is the best paced of the three Sinbad adventures.
**The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)**
This is probably the best remembered of the three (I think it was on telly most often when I was a kid), perhaps because it has a few cult actors in its cast. This time Sinbad is recruited by the Vizier of a city which is under threat from the evil wizard Koura. Sinbad and the Vizier have two parts of an amulet, and must find the third in order to stop Koura, but he is on their trail, with his magic powers, which mostly involve summoning monsters.
This one suffers from pacing problems. While 7th Voyage is a nice 85 minutes in length, this is 100 minutes. It's slow to get started, and there isn't quite enough incident to keep it roaring along like there was in the earlier film. The plot doesn't make a lot of sense, either - we never learn why Koura is such a threat to the city (although he did try to blow up the Vizier), and part of Koura's plan involves burying Sinbad and chums inside a mountain, thus ensuring that he'll never be able to get their parts of the amulet (obviously they escape, but the villain can't have been planning on their doing so).
Where it makes up for the slowness is in the cast. This has the only Sinbad you're likely to have heard of - John Philip Law from Diabolik and Barbarella, who is perfectly decent in the role. Koura is played by Tom Baker in his usual fashion (this is one of the films that won him the role of Doctor Who), and he's probably the least campy of the villains in the three films. Sinbad has evidently divorced or forgotten about the Princess from the first film, so I guess he didn't really love her. This time he romances a saucy slave girl played by top 1970s crumpet Caroline Munro (who is a rubbish actor, but is squeezed into charmingly tight costumes). There's good support from Douglas Wilmer as the Vizier (whose gold mask is one of the features I remember most strongly from seeing this as a child); and from Martin Shaw as Sinbad's First Mate. There's even comic relief, as Sinbad is tasked with toughening up the stoner son of a local merchant. Kurt Christian is funny in the part, and has an astounding afro for a white guy. Odd to see hashish treated as a aource of comedy in a kids' film, though.
Monster wise, we get a 'homonculus' (a little batlike creature); a statue of a Hindu Goddess (lots of arms = lots of swords); a centaur-cyclops hybrid; and a griffin. The standard of the special effects hasn't changed at all in the 20-odd years between the two films, and it still doesn't matter a jot. If this film could just lose 15 minutes, it would easily be the best of the three. The director, Gordon Hessler, also made a few stodgy horror movies (and one quite good one, Scream and Scream Again).
**Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)**
This one has a slightly tenuous title - it took a while to figure out what the eye of the tiger was meant to mean. This time Sinbad wants to marry a princess (not a very faithful lover, evidently). However, her brother has been turned into a baboon by an evil witch, who wants her son to become Sultan. Sinbad recruits a wise man with a sexy daughter, and everyone sets off on yet another quest to try to cure the prince.
This one is also a bit too long for its own good. Much of the animation this time has gone into the baboon, who is used for comic relief throughout, in spite of being a human trapped in a monkey's body, a potentially tragic character. The downside of this is that there isn't as much monster time in the film. Sure, there's a giant walrus, a giant caveman, a sabre-toothed tiger and a golden minotaur, but none of them are quite as memorable as monsters of earlier films (well, the minotaur is pretty good, but he doesn't even get to fight Sinbad).
This time Sinbad is played by John Wayne's son, Patrick, who is OK but has a stronger American accent than the other Sinbads. The cast is good again. Jane Seymour is a bit annoying as Sinbad's girlfriend, but that's the character rather than the actress. Better is Dione, played by Tyrone Power's daughter (a lot of famous offspring in this film). She's the daughter of wise Melanthius, played by former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton, who effortlessly steals every scene he's in.
Margaret Whiting continues the tradition of great evil magicians, although she seems to be playing for laughs a bit more than Tom Baker was. Her son is played by Kurt Christian, the only actor who seems to have been in more than one of the films (albeit in different roles), and Nadim Sawalha is good as Sinbad's main assistant.
This is a little more obscure than the others, and sending Sinbad to the Arctic is an odd and slightly jarring move. It's a shame there were no further Sinbad exploits, but 1977 was the year that changed fantasy films forever - post Star Wars, Harryhausen's animated monsters seemed dated. He had one last honourable try with Clash of the Titans, and then seems to have retired from the adventure film business.
All three films have acceptable picture quality. There are plenty of extras, all revolving around Harryhausen. There are interviews with him, and a 50-minute documentary (narrated by Leonard Nimoy). However, a lot of the extras relate to films other than the Sinbad ones (there are trailers for other Harryhausen movies), and there's a lot of duplication (the 50-minute documentary appears on two of the disks). Obviously these films were originally released separately, and have just been packaged together without a thought for the extras.
Not that it matters. The set is very cheap. I love these old kids' adventure movies - they stand with the Doug MacLure films and Doc Savage: Man of Bronze as remnants of my childhood that are still just about watchable nowadays.
Summary: Three fun old movies in a cheap DVD set