HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.
Rewind presents a classic family fantasy featuring special effects which still amaze. Forget that TV series, this is how to do Sinbad!
HCF REWIND NO.70. THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD 
AVAILABLE ON DVD AND BLU RAY
RUNNING TIME: 85 mins
While sailing with Princess Parisa, daughter of the Sultan of Chandra, to Baghdad to their wedding, Sinbad and his crew find the island of Colossa and anchor their vessel to get supplies for the starving crew. Once ashore, they are attacked by a Cyclops chasing a magician called Sokurah, who uses a magic lamp with a boy Genie to help them; however, they escape without the lamp to the consternation of Sokurah. They head to Baghdad, where the citizens and the Caliph of Baghdad are celebrating the peace with Chandra, and attend a feast where the Sultan of Chandra is a guest. Sakurah requests a ship and crew to return to Colossa but the Caliph refuses to jeopardize his countrymen, so the treacherous magician shrinks the princess and when the desperate Sinbad seeks him out, he tells that he needs to return to Colossa to get the ingredient necessary for the magic potion, a part of a Roc’s egg……
The current Sky TV series Sinbad isn’t too bad really; it’s fairly entertaining and to be honest about as good I as expected a trendy, modern interpretation of the great sailor to be. It has, though, sent me scurrying back to watch the three Sinbad movies that were produced by Charles H.Schneer and featured special effects by the great Ray Harryhausen [there were others and some that were good such as Sinbad The Sailor and Captain Sinbad], and the series just doesn’t hold a candle to them. Forget the CGI or the jokey tone and the pointless sexual tension of the TV series; for me these old films, with their childlike innocence and sense of wonder which they have never lost ever since I saw them as a young child, remain far more appealing. Even Harrryhausen’s stop-motion creatures, jerky though they may be, have a sense of awe and even personality which most of today’s CG creations just don’t have.
Harryhausen, of course, was becoming a master of stop-motion [basically when an object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames so it appears to move on its own] and all-round special effects even before The 7th Yoyage Of Sinbad with films like The Beast From 20 000 Fathoms and Earth Vs The Flying Saucers. He had actually first thought of a Sinbad film in 1953, a film that would be very different to previous Sinbad films which usually went for the comedy and scantily clad females, and often talked about things like monsters and magic but never showed them. In 1956 he revived the idea but his original treatment would have been far too expensive to make with what was a fairly low budget, and so some ideas were dropped, including a valley of diamonds, a giant frog and the Lord of Death. Early scripts also included things that would be omitted like giant rats, bat devils and Sirens [they are heard but not seen in the film]. It took Harryhausen eleven months to complete the animation sequences for the film while normal shooting only lasted four months, with location shooting in Spain. The film was released to great commercial and critical success though in the UK two scenes; Sinbad fighting a skeleton and the Cyclops roasting people on a spit were removed as it was considered too scary for children. Five years later, the two main male stars returned in similar roles in Jack The Giant Killer, in many ways a semi-remake of 7th Voyage.
What I initially always find most striking about 7th Voyage are not only the special effects, which are incredible for 1957, but the sheer pace of the film. It should be shown to every child to introduce them to old movies that aren’t Disney and show them that old movies are not automatically boring. 7th Voyage opens with a stunning action scene involving the huge Cyclops and the boy Genie, then slows down a little for the next twenty minutes as we relocate to Bagdad, but the exposition is crisply done and every opportunity is taken to make it interesting. Sokurah has to have a scene where he proves to everyone else that can do magic, so what do we have? The magician creating a four-armed snake-woman from Parisa’s maid and two snakes, which then does a dance! Sinbad wastes little time in setting off for his voyage, and after that the film is just a series of great thrill scenes, one ‘cliffhanger’ after another. Even on the ship, before we get to Colossa, Sinbad battles his rebellious crew, swinging around in cool manner [though the actual fighting is a little lame], and has to sail past the island of the Sirens, where those who don’t cover their ears are doomed [the high-pitched sound being annoying it could convincingly kill someone].
The Cyclops returns, and we also encounter a baby Roc [giant two-headed bird] who is killed and eaten by some hungry sailors, the baby’s angry parent, a Dragon and a living skeleton, whose duel with Sinbad was later expanded by Harryhausen into the climax of Jason And The Argonauts, the film which is usually considered his masterpiece. The fight, which required painstaking matching, still looks great even though star Kerwin Matthews is fighting nothing, though for me the standout sequence is the Cyclops attack where the giant uproots trees and crushes sailors with them. The only scene which is a little disappointing is the climax where another Cyclops battles the Dragon. It’s a bit short and the Dragon, though it looks very impressive, breathes fire very unconvincingly and only a couple of times; this was due to cost. The Cyclops, replete with cloven hooves, goat legs and horn, remain striking and all the creatures look amazing. The unavoidable jerkiness gives them an uncanny feel and the matte work, where the monsters are in the same shots as people, still looks pretty good. Computers have now made such stuff far easier to do, but I wonder if something has been lost?
Amidst all this non-stop action in this tight 85 min film is a wonderful scene where Parisa goes inside the Genie’s lamp, the interior all candy coloured, just like a child may expect it to be. Overall the film is bright in tone without actually going for laughs, and avoids darkness except for the atmospheric scene where the Princess is shrunk. The script, which like many of Harryhausen’s films and something which he himself admits, may be just there to string the action together but its simplicity and directness is perfect for the story. There’s a purity to it, a purity which would be hard to replicate in these cynical times. Kenneth Kolb’s screenplay, which isn’t really based on any of the original Sinbad tales but borrows bits and pieces from some of them, does have some dialogue which must have seemed corny even in 1957, especially between Sinbad and Parisa, but there are some good intended chuckles, such as when Sakura is about to perform his magic on Parisa’s maid and the Sultan of Chandra says: “if he can turn into a contented woman, then he truly is a great magician”. You could say that Sinbad is a slightly bland hero, but he doesn’t need to be a complex character, he’s just someone you are behind and want to prevail, and actually Parisa the Princess is rather playful and even slightly coquettish, even when she is tiny! Of course it’s the Boo Hiss villain Sokurak who dominates all the scenes he is in, and that’s exactly as it should be!
Torin Thatcher is perfectly hammy and almost hypnotic in that role and nobody else comes near him [though Richard Eyer is cute as the boy Genie, a great identification figure for young boys], though the cast aren’t helped by rather poor post-dubbing [not an uncommon thing with films filmed mostly outdoors] which sounds tiny and isn’t even in synch some of the time. I doubt anyone would complain about another aural aspect though, which is Bernard Herrmann’s terrific score. His main title piece perfectly conjurs up a sense of the mystical Orient without actually sounding Oriental, though most of the score is there to back up the action and the monsters and that is does cleverly, from the mini concerto just for drums for the ship fight to the note patterns mimicking the beat of the Roc’s wings to the castenet piece for the skeleton duel. Typically for Herrmann, much of the music is actually quite simple musically, often following a similar two-note structure, but his orchestration is astounding in its invention and doesn’t really date. It’s one of the finest ingredient of a picture which, in between gasping at the technical expertise, always makes me feel like a child again every time I watch it, and we all need that, don’t we?