Jack the Giant Killer (1962) – 50th Anniversary Edition
Directed by Nathan Juran
Black Prince Pendragon, a wicked sorcerer and ruler of Witches, Giants and Hobgoblins, is banished from Cornwall but after years of plotting he decides to kidnap the princess and force King Mark to abdicate, so he may rule Cornwall once again. With his black magic, he creates a giant called Cormoran and smuggles him into the castle to abduct the helpess princess. A courageous young farm lad named Jack spots the giant and slays the monster, rescuing Princess Elaine from its clutches. The King is thrilled with brave Jack and knights him as his daughter’s protector. Knowing the castle is not a safe place to be, the King instructs Elaine to travel to and hide at a convent overseas and orders Jack to aid and protect her on her travels. A seething Pendragon vows to get his revenge and will stop at nothing until he has the princess, unleashing his army of witches and deadly monsters. Can Jack defeat the evil sorcerer and guide the princess to safety?
Blending fantasy, action and romance, Jack The Giant Killer is a perfect, swashbuckling family film and still holds up to this day. Some people love CGI blockbusters that are created nowadays but I feel the real imagination oozes in these stop-motion, Harryhausen-style animated features. The time and effort put into creating and animating the monsters is impressive and the creatures have an intimidating presence that is rarely replicated in CGI. The stop-motion claymation adds a certain charm to this fun Sunday afternoon film and even keeps the adults engaged. Half way through the film we are introduced to Pendragon’s coven of witches who even scared this hardcore reviewer, never mind a small child. The witches are varied in appearance, with one having a dinosaur or alligator style head and another looking like a Tim Burton creation from Beetlejuice. They even had a shuffling skeleton witch, sticking her poisonous bouquet under the princess’ nose and that alone will put you on edge. There are some scary moments but your kids will love it, especially if you have young boys.
The hero Jack is a proper man – gruff, handsome and not afraid to slay a giant before breakfast. Kerwin Matthews is tremendous as the gallant farm hand and captivates the young, sheltered Princess Elaine who, in good old-fashioned style, falls head over heels for her saviour. Our adventurous hero comes up against some fiercely strong foes, not to mention Pendragon’s cunning sorcery, but Jack always fights valiantly with gusto. The darling princess is played by attractive brunette Judi Meredith who brings the right amount of innocence to her character of Elaine. Judi can easily express other emotions and create seperate personas convincingly when need be. Her role as Princess Elaine is a stark contrast to the princesses in modern cinema who need to prove they are just as capable as the men. I actually prefer the princesses of old, like Elaine, who are whisked off their feet by charming men who fight tooth and nail to protect them. Leave the fighting to the men, it’s their job. I know this is something fellow HCF critic Dr Lenera will agree with me on and currently this kind of gender representation is only seen in films from the past.
Grinning wickedly from his throne, Torin Thatcher plays pantomime-style villain Pendragon with absolute delight. With pointed facial hair, long finger nails and a high backed collar, Pendragon looks every bit as devilish as his stylish persona. Pendragon gets what he wants and his giants, witches, hobgoblins and sidekick Garna, played by Walter Burke (who reminds me of Willem Dafoe), do his dastardly bidding in the hope that Pendragon will once again take the throne of Cornwall. Torin’s villian is a rather alluring one that engages in debate and witchcraft instead of all-out chaos. Like all good film villians, he’s likeable in his own way and has an essence of Dick Dastardly in his approach to our relentless, determined hero, Jack.
101 Films release of the 50th Anniversary Edition comes complete with an original 1962 theatrical poster of Jack the Giant Killer. The DVD quality itself is superb and it’s definitely worth getting hold of this re-release.
Jack The Giant Killer is a passionate effort by director Nathan Juran and not one that goes unnoticed. The attention to detail in the score, sets, costumes, characters and storyline make this film a must-see classic.