Thursday 28 September 2017

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

Scoring The Psycho-lops

The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad
UK/USA 1958 Directed by Nathan Juran
Indicator/Powerhouse Films Blu Ray All Zones

Warning: Some story spoilers here.

Here we go then.

I’ve been wanting to take another look at all those old Harryhausen films I used to love as a kid for a while now and what better excuse than the new limited edition, numbered, Dual Format Blu Ray/DVD boxed set, The Sinbad Trilogy, on the Indicator label. This particular film I'm watching first is a 4K restoration of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not sure what all those K’s mean but the other two films in this loose trilogy are both 2K restorations. I don’t know if that means they’ve had to work harder restoring the older film or whether there’s a more sinister reason for the misplaced Ks but I do know that the films come with a host of extras, many of them previously unreleased (and there are some real gems here) and also, presumably for this limited edition of the release only, a nice booklet about the movies including information about the unmade fourth Sinbad adventure set on Mars.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is not the first Sinbad movie I saw... that would be my cinema trip to see the 1973 movie The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad (where I first became aware of the lovely Caroline Munro) at the age of five but this is right up there with it and is probably my favourite, in some ways, because of the cracking score by the great composer Bernard Herrmann, who scored a diverse number of assignments in his career with memorable music for films like Citizen Kane, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho, Mysterious Island, Obsession, Sisters and Taxi Driver, among many others.

After Herrmann’s rousing overture we join Captain Sinbad, played by Kerwin Mathews and his fiance Princess Parisa, played by the lovely Kathryn Grant. They are at the end of an adventure which kick starts the story. Landing on an island for food, Sinbad, Parisa and their brave crew are attacked by a giant Cyclops who is chasing after a ‘magician’ called Sokurah, played wonderfully villainously by Torin Thatcher. After rescuing Sokurah from the one eyed beast, it becomes clear that the magician dropped his magic lamp in the kerfuffle and he does his best to entice Sinbad and his crew back to the island to seek out his treasure. However, Sinbad is having none of it and they go back to Bagdad to prepare for Sinbad’s wedding... with a truly outstandingly orchestrated little piece by Herrmann accompanying the establishing shot of the town (one of three pieces from this movie which were also beautifully rearranged for one of Herrmann’s Phase 4 recordings, which are also worth giving a listen to sometime).

Of course, it’s not long before the evil wizard gets his way by covertly shrinking Parisa down to a very small size you could fit in the palm of your hand. Sinbad is suspicious of Sokurah's involvement in this but agrees to take the wizard back to the dangerous island so he can mix a potion to restore the Princess... a potion from which they will need a small portion of a shell from a Roc (a mythological giant bird). To get people for this suicide mission, Sinbad recruits a new crew from the Bagdadian equivalent of ‘death row’ but it’s not long before these brigands attempt a mutiny... yeah, that’s a pretty silly recruitment plan, if you ask me. Once Sinbad and his loyal friends (and Sokurah) have foiled the mutineers and sailed their way past the voices of sirens, the film does a strange jump in time and the men are once more loyal (to a degree) and ready to explore the island. Looking at the way this movie is edited now, I reckon there were some scenes either cut out or not shot at various points in this production because it is a little jumpy in places, it has to be said.

Of course, from here on in it’s Sinbad, his men and Princess Parisa against Sokurah and all manner of Harryhausen’s stop motion animated characters... including two of the aforementioned cyclops (one of which is obviously inspired by Homer, in the way it meets its final fate), a baby Roc, a full scale Roc, a dragon and, in one of the most impressive scenes in the film (and certainly one of the coolest pieces of scoring in Herrmann’s career)... a sword fight with a skeleton. Luckily, Sinbad and Parisa have the kind hearted Genie of the lamp, played here by Richard Eyer, to help lead them out of trouble when things get too overwhelming. What is quite puzzlingly magical, though, before the Genie even comes into the story, is the question which has never occurred to me before but which was worrying me all throughout the running time during this viewing... where the heck does the young, shrunken Princess keep getting her teeny, tiny costume changes from? She was shrunk in her pyjamas and a small manufactured set of garments would surely not flow the same way that these dashing threads... which threaten to liberate Kathryn Grant’s bosomy bosoms at any moment... seem to freely hang at regular intervals. This kinda makes no sense, people!

Now I’ve always defended Kerwin Mathews before, on the strength of both this movie and his performance in Harryhausen’s The Three Worlds Of Gulliver but, it has to be said, I really noticed how much of a wooden block of an actor he is in the movie this time around. To be fair, Torin Thatcher is always going to be a hard act to keep up with but Mathews seems to play every scene quite deadpan and one wonders if he was having a good time making this movie or not. He seems to be having a hard time emoting in this performance and it really shows when, for instance, in some of Grant’s reaction shots to the animated monstrosities, she really ‘goes for it’ in an almost over the top, exaggerated way. She’s great in this, though and... one wonders if her reaction shots would look a little calmer if she was standing next to anyone other than the unflinching rock that is Kerwin Mathews. To make matters worse when it comes to his portrayal of Sinbad, the writers have written it so that almost every other thing he says to his Parisa is some form of compliment and the pedestal he places her on reminded me of the constant enthusiasm of John Carter for his Barsoomian Princess Dejah Thoris, in the martian tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs... only a bit more intrusive as demonstrated through the running time here.

Other than this, though, it’s a pretty decent fantasy adventure yarn and, to be honest, with Ray Harryhausen’s beautiful stop motion work and even some nice colour schemes when it comes to the contrasting blue and orange lighting in the wizard’s castle, the last thing you’re going to be worrying about is the acting. Especially with Bernard Herrmann’s sumptuous score filling up yer ears. In fact, Herrmann’s score is so good, it might even distract you from the fact that the pulley system which makes the dragon safe to pass by is not in any way hidden and so it’s just an all round lousy security option to have a dragon guard the entrance to your castle if you’re just going to make the solution to getting past it so easily accessible. It’s another thing that makes no sense about this movie. However...

Indicator have put out an excellent blu ray of this as part of their box set and it really is the best version, to date, that you can get. In addition to various documentaries (including a 27 minute piece on Herrmann by Steven C. Smith, the writer of the composer’s biography A Fire At Heart’s Centre), you also get an isolated score track on all three movies in this collection and also the old Super 8 cut down versions too. A whole slew of extras, in fact, as Indicator do themselves proud by being as thorough and respectful of the material as some of the best boutique labels out there (such as Criterion and Arrow Films). My absolutely favourite extra, though, is a promotional single tie in song which cinemas were asked to play in the lobby called Sinbad May Have Been Bad But He’s Been Good To Me. This is a wonderfully cheesy song, certainly not composed by Herrmann and orchestrated and sung almost in the style of Peggy Lee’s Fever. I just live for the discovery of bizarre movie tie in songs like this and my one regret is that I am only discovering this truly shiny gem with this new boxed set... I just wish someone would put this song on a CD because it’s one of those tracks which would go on every compilation play list of songs that I do (along with the likes of Jerry Goldsmith’s Your Zowie Face from In Like Flint, Rio Conchos - unused in the film of the same name, Johnny Williams’ Two Lovers from How To Steal A Million and his title song from John Goldfarb, Please Come Home). Truly gorgeous and I wish this one was issued in a more malleable format than on here.

And that’s about it for this one. The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad is a truly quaint but astonishing film and it looks better than ever on this new restoration. I have to say that, even when I was a kid, the merging of the 'plasticine' monsters with the live action looked a little off because of the quality of the two stocks when you put them together but it somehow doesn’t seem to have that problem here and, rather than looking like the limitations of the effects are showing through on the Blu Ray transfer, it actually looks a hundred times better than I’ve seen it looking anytime before and could easily just be mistaken for an ‘in camera’ effect with the differential focus. I don’t know if it would have looked that good  in the cinema originally or if Indicator have maybe managed to do what the people working on the Blu Ray transfers of the Bond films did a few years ago and get them looking better and truer to the original negative than they did on their original release prints but... whatever they’ve done it really works here. If you’ve never seen any of the three Harryhausen Sinbad films then this new box from the label, The Sinbad Trilogy, with a front cover poster from The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, is well worth the time and the price of purchase. I’ll be sure to check the other two films in the set out soon and write them up here but, seriously, The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad is a bit of a classic and, though it will look kind of primitive to young ‘uns of a certain age compared to films like Star Wars, you really can’t beat stuff like this for firing up the imagination. A truly captivating romp for the little ones and all us grown ups who are still young at heart. A fabulous film and a truly wonderful soundtrack too.

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