Thursday, January 16, 2014

Skeletons in the Dragon's Closet

You know the old story--an ancient, intrepid sailor encounters a variety of bizarre perils at sea including a cyclops and an island of sirens singing his crew to wreck. Only I'm not talking about The Odyssey to-day but 1958's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. More of a hodgepodge of fantasy influences than any sort of adaptation of something from The Arabian Nights, the dull performances and bad writing are made up for by truly spectacular and vital creature effects and a nice musical score.

Bernard Herrmann scored this film for the same year that saw the release of Vertigo and some of the same eerie, otherworldly, Wagnerian melancholy of the Vertigo score is present in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad's. It helps supply some of the emotional void created by the thoroughly bland Kerwin Mathews as Sinbad.

The Sinbad of The Arabian Nights is a jovial, sometimes brutal character--in "The Fourth Voyage" we see him murder a series of innocent people at the bottom of a well of corpses just to steal their supplies. The movie features a scene where Sinbad and his crew encounter a Rukh's egg like the one in "The Second Voyage" but otherwise the film and book bear little resemblance to each other. Which is too bad--I love the random, somewhat dreamlike quality of "Sinbad the Sailor". In the actual "Seventh Voyage", Sinbad becomes ruler of a kingdom where the male citizens regularly change into bird-like demons who stage assaults on heaven.

Instead of the succession of beautiful daughters of kings from the source material, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad features just one love interest, Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant) who has a distracting cowlick plastered to her forehead.

A lot of her wardrobe also tends to look distinctly ancient Greek rather than Arabian. Which I guess is appropriate when things like sirens turn up in the plot. After Sinbad's crew have mutinied, he and the evil wizard and temporary ally Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) are locked in the hold where they plug their ears with wax as the ship passes the fateful island. But I guess ancient wax functioned more like headsets with microphones because the men with their ears plugged are still able to talk to each other.

Anyway, enough of that. The main event here is of course the creature effects by Ray Harryhausen who for the film created a cyclops, a snake woman, rukhs, a dragon and a skeleton warrior, much of which looks just as good as, and is filled with more personality than, cgi creatures of to-day.

The skeleton warrior, conjured in the wizard's castle, is really fantastic and the fight scene between it and Sinbad features more effective choreography than the telegraphed movements of the actors in the crew mutiny sequence.

If the footage of the skeleton had the same focus as the footage of the actors, the sequence would be seamless.

The film is at its best in the last half hour as Sinbad infiltrates the castle to rescue the princess. The dank, darkly yet garishly lit caves and the wizard's cluttered laboratory are somehow quite effectively sinister. The wizard keeps a dragon chained up and Sinbad's fight with the skeleton is kind of book-ended by tremendous scenes of the dragon.

Twitter Sonnet #586

Monkeys retrieved the black letter boxes.

Nurses in blue shirts can save chips on red.

Endless hotels grow thick with zone taxes.

The train station outside keeps the staff fed.

Grey dusk descends on the old peanut farm.

Cat arms effect a briar's fast remove.

Cap gun modems do black wood button harm.

Fatigue across weeks says what none can prove.

Hockey pucks dissolve unrecognised here.

Black Alka-Seltzer hides in your soda.

Suckers clutch the cotton tentacle pier.

Ice picks slowly sculpt a third Dakota.

Dynamite strings shiver a frost ballad.

Bubble gum shanties are sweetly squalid.

No comments:

Post a Comment