Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

When it’s on: Saturday, 1 October (1.00 pm)
Channel: Spike
IMDb Link

At the end of Desmond Davis’s Clash of the Titans, Father of the Greek Gods Zeus makes a prophecy that the exploits depicted in the film and indeed the Gods themselves may one day be forgotten. The speech might also be an end note on this type of movie – by 1981, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation was looking quaint and increasingly artificial, while the tales of ancient mythology covered in these entries were not what audiences were perceived to want any longer. Fantastic cinema was taking to the skies, to other galaxies, with the decade’s later Krull resorting to a blend of both Harryhausen-esque fantasy and science fiction, and the main man’s retirement putting a seal on the genre.

All the same, these films had their golden age, and arguably they were never in better shape than when Harryhausen and Co. came up with Jason and the Argonauts in 1963. Remembered for its sword fighting skeletons, Hydra and of course the mighty Talos, what makes the film so good is that every element was thought about carefully. The casting was inspired; consider the character of Hercules, a role owned at that stage by bodybuilder Steve Reeves who had lent his services to a string of European productions. The easy thing would have been to hand the part to some passing beefcake, but instead they chose Nigel Green, who brought muscle to the role but more importantly a booming personality, lending Hercules a buoyant masculine arrogance that he might not otherwise have possessed. Green’s Hercules is well aware of his own legend – ‘HERCULES IS HERE!‘ – and revels in it, while being good natured enough to have real charisma, and it’s these qualities that make the character so memorable.

Elsewhere, Todd Armstrong’s Jason seems plucked from the shelf of ‘bland leads’, interacting with Harryhausen’s animated characters well enough, and especially in his conversations with it breathing life into the bust of the goddess Hero that provides the ship’s bow. Medea, the story’s heroine, is played by shapely Nancy Kovack and only turns up in the latter half, though in the legends she was a far more prominent character. A string of respected British thespians make up the rest of the cast in this Anglo-American production. The likes of Laurence Naismith, Douglas Wilmer and Gary Raymond help to crew the Argo, the Gods count Niall MacGinniss, Honor Blackman and Michael Gwynn among their ranks, and there are significant supporting roles for the likes of Patrick Troughton and Jack Gwillim. Each lends a touch of class, doing enough to suggest various sub-stories that are worth telling – what exactly did Troughton’s Phineus say to anger the gods to such an extent that he’s plagued by harpies every day, for example?

The film is based on Greek legends that were already ancient in times of antiquity, the story embellished as it was passed down, details added to throw in further challenges for its hero, a saga that in mythology all ended rather unhappily. They loved their tragedies, those Greeks, but here the focus is the golden fleece and its heroic collection. Bits of the tale are grafted on to suit the narrative’s purpose (in the myth, the Argonauts don’t meet Talos until their journey home), chosen to enhance the special effects, which at the time were enjoying their zenith as cinematic spectacle. It was filmed in Italy, mostly around the small town of Palinuro, based south of Naples, with its glorious blue Mediterranean seas and authentic locations, which looked exactly like the pre-Biblical Aegean world it was attempting to recreate. Bernard Herrmann was responsible for the film’s blistering score. Best known for his association with Alfred Hitchcock, Herrmann provided many of the soundtracks for these movies, especially those involving Harryhausen, and suitably evoked the sense of wonder and sometimes menace that fit the tone perfectly.

British director Don Chaffey keeps the action moving at the kind of pace that never reveres the material to the extent that everything slows down, a good thing because its yarn of Gods meddling in the deeds of men, men who come across fantastical beasts as a matter of routine, should be taken as seriously as the description suggests. The point is that there’s so much packed in it feels like a much longer film than its actual running time of comfortably under two hours – lots happens, it always looks great, but everything’s passing at breakneck speed so that viewers are never left to think too deeply about the simple fantasy they’re watching. Of course, Chaffey knew enough to appreciate that the project was a showcase for Harryhausen’s visual effects. By this point a producer as well as doing the legwork, Harryhausen had the good fortune to graft his work onto a film that ticked the boxes in all departments, meaning it never feels like something that’s waiting around for the next stop motion creature to light up the screen, something that becomes more apparent when watching the later The Valley of Gwangi. The effects aren’t gratuitous either. The scene where the Argo has to negotiate a narrow valley called the Clashing Rocks, and is saved from destruction by the intervention of the sea god Triton, is all the better because Harryhausen had the character played by a human actor (an uncredited William Gudgeon), the ship and sea projected in miniature because stop motion animation and water didn’t mix well. The effect works. It’s a memorable and beautifully filmed scene, teasing at the regular meetings of the human and deity spheres that were always prominent in ancient literature.

As for the other effects, well take your pick. The fighting skeleton from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad makes its reappearance, but this time it brings along its mates and the Argonauts have to take on a small army, a deadly corps of corpses as they kill some of Jason’s men and he’s only able to dispatch them by leaping into the sea, knowing if they follow the spell that’s animating them will be broken and they’ll once again be bags of bones. There are the flying harpies that make Phineus’s life an eternal misery, and the Hydra protecting the golden fleece, all obstacles for Jason and his crew to take on, but the show stopper is of course Talos, the enormous bronze statue of the legendary Titan that comes to life when Hercules steals one of the treasures it guards. One of the best things about Harryhausen’s animated characters is the personalities he gave them, perhaps a by-product of the hours and hours he spent bringing them to life, also the fact they were conduits of his own short-lived frustrations as an actor, when he suffered stage fright and instead channelled his performances through the creatures he created. When Talos moves, it’s with the jarring noise of ancient metal joints rubbing together, which becomes a terrifying signal of its approach. Despite its inscrutable mask of a face, it’s difficult not to imagine it being amused at the ant-like warriors attempting to hurt it with spears, its response an almost insulting swing of its sword, like it’s simply swatting them away. When Talos makes a serious attempt to attack the Argonauts, it very nearly halts the entire voyage when it stands, like the Colossus of Rhodes, at the harbour entrance the ship tries to flee through, picking the boat up like a toy and giving it a playful shake. What really makes all this work are the perspective shots, these larger than life heroes suddenly tiny fleeing insects with Talos in pursuit. It’s wonderful stuff, about as good an example of the craft as you’re ever likely to see, the sheer scale and ambition elevating the material to marvellous proportions, Herrmann’s score resorting to a martial drumbeat in reflecting the unstoppable approach of the metal Titan.

The influence of this movie on later film makers can’t really be overstated, the likes of John Landis, Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton all soaking up its delights. Tom Hanks once called it his personal best film of all time. The optimum time to watch it is of course in the early afternoon, the matinee hours, the world doing its own thing outside while you get to immerse yourself in a fantastical story of Gods, monsters and a time of adventure. I envy anyone catching it for the very first time.

Jason and the Argonauts: *****

Clash of the Titans (1981)

When it’s on: Wednesday, 23 December (4.50 pm)
Channel: Channel 5
IMDb Link

I don’t know if I’ve told this story before, but mine father regularly dines out on the time I was allowed to pick the film during a cinema visit in 1981. It was my ninth birthday and the choices were Clash of the Titans and a little known action adventure called Raiders of the Lost Ark. Much to his consternation I opted for the former, and why wouldn’t I? At that age I was a nut for tales of mythology, not to mention having been raised on the films of Ray Harryhausen. It wasn’t really a choice at all. Of course since then it’s been made clear to me that I turned down one of the greatest entertaining films of all time for some Greek fluff, and in the end we went to see it anyway, but I didn’t regret my decision and I’ll remind readers that I was very young.

Years later, not having watched Clash of the Titans for some time but sitting uncomfortably through the somewhat awful 2010 remake, I wasn’t expecting very much. Comments I’ve read note some terrible acting, shoddy compositing and naturally the stop motion creatures, which even in 1981 were beginning to look a little quaint. Harryhausen has noted his influence over the next generation of film makers, the likes of Lucas and Spielberg, but it was these very people, directors who’d grown up admiring his artistry, who were now rendering him obsolete. A classic like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, made more than twenty years beforehand and using broadly the same technology, suggested that special effects and audience tastes had moved on a long time ago, notably to a galaxy far, far away.

But I shouldn’t have worried. While seeing a HD transfer had the unfortunate side-effect of highlighting some of the shortcomings within the effects work, the finished result was still every bit as much fun as I remember. At their worst, Harryhausen films acted as vessels for the money shots, the plot a mere excuse for stringing the creature appearances together, but here there’s a good story and it’s very nicely acted for the most part. True, Harry Hamlin makes for a bland lead, but having caught any number of matinee flicks over the years he’s a consistent presence – handsome, square jawed, in no danger of upstaging the film’s real stars. Backed with a solid $15 million budget and working from its Pinewood base, the production used European locations rather than the standard California/Grand Canyon, and shooting in places like Andalusia and Malta lends it an authentic look. That climax looks much better for it being filmed by the Azure Window in Gozo, a majestic backdrop for mythological action.

The funding ensured a good cast of mainly British actors, most used to fill the roles of the Greek Gods. No less a figure than Laurence Olivier was hired to play Zeus, the logic being that only the grandest thespianic name could fill the sandals belonging to the Father of the Gods. Despite being ill, Olivier adds real heft and authority to a part that could have been overblown and silly, a difficult balancing act that he pulls off. Elsewhere, Claire Bloom appears as Hera, Ursula Andress’s Aphrodite has nothing to do but be pretty and Maggie Smith enjoys some fine scene stealing fun as the more roundly characterised Thetis. By all accounts, Burgess Meredith was cast as Perseus’s theatrical mate, Ammon, to try and ensure a slightly more American presence on a very British sounding film. He’s good, even if of all the characters he’s the one who gives the biggest impression of taking not a second of it seriously.

As always, the real draws are the Harryhausen creatures, though it’s nice to see a greater focus on the players, an attempt to emphasise the growing affection between Perseus and Andromeda (Judi Bowker), and the manipulation of the Gods on the humans, those whims and caprices that kick start all the major plot points. Whilst it’s true that the effects were losing much of the jaw dropping wonder they previously possessed, looking increasingly like the models they clearly were, there’s the effort to give them personalities that helps bring them to life. Harryhausen also knew enough to mix special effects with dramatic tension. The scene in Medusa’s temple, where Perseus knows he can’t leave without collecting her head, is thrilling even now. Often shot in shadow or half-lit, the noises of her body slithering along giving as much sign of her approach as anything shown visually, builds the suspense really well, while the actors play their part by appearing terrified of her. There are some great close-ups of Hamlin, perspiring and frightened, and by the end of it he’s visibly exhausted by the effort of what he’s achieved. A note too for Laurence Rosenthal’s tingling score, which adds extra layers to the drama.

It’s worth drawing a comparison with the 2010 film here. Someone on YouTube has nicely collated the same scene from both movies, flicking between the two ostensibly to show how effects have advanced in the 29 years between them. What is actually revealed is the vacuum of any tension in the update, CGI and snap editing being used to fill in the blanks and falling short. Sure, the creature played by Natalia Vodianova in 2010 is a far slicker Medusa, capable of moving at speed and apparently more dangerous, and yet the scene has the feel of a videogame sequence, Sam Worthington jumping platforms in order to get away whilst seemingly showing little effort for his troubles. Here’s the video, see what you think:

Some of the other creations are less successful. That isn’t always the fault of the animation; the Kraken is really present solely to be turned to stone at the film’s close. The giant scorpions are simply monsters for Perseus to fight, the same with the two-headed dog, and there’s a far greater sense of threat from the villains played by actors, like the Stygian witches and Neil McCarthy’s rather tragic Calibos. But then there’s the marvellous mechanical owl, Bubo, criticised for being a riff on R2-D2 from Star Wars though Harryhausen claimed he had designed the character beforehand, and nevertheless a good fun addition. The winged horse, Pegasus, is fine and well rendered, and adds to the fantasy as he carries Perseus into the skies.

Clash of the Titans is a very nice addition to the grand tradition of mythological cinema, made for matinee screenings and carrying out its brief well enough. If there’s a sense of it coming after these kinds of films had had their time, then you can argue equally that it’s a last hurrah for the faded genre, a late addition to the Harryhausen collection that reminded younger viewers of what the contemporary film making heroes had drawn their inspiration from. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Clash of the Titans: ***

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

When it’s on: Friday, 10 July (12.30 pm)
Channel: 5USA
IMDb Link

As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I’m a complete sucker for matinee flicks and today’s entry, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, is about as good as they get. From the start, it reminds me of misspent youthful Bank Holidays, idling in front of the television, letting the simple fantasy and imagination wash over me. There’s just nothing to dislike here, from the winning lead performance of Kerwin Mathews, Torin Thatcher’s villainy, winsome Kathryn Grant, through to Bernard Herrmann’s stirring score and, of course, the special effects work of Ray Harryhausen. I remember catching it many moons ago and being impressed enough to wonder what the other six voyages had been like!

It’s easy to see Harryhausen’s stop motion work as looking hopelessly out of date, which it is obviously. But put yourself into the mind of someone going to see this in 1958, viewing these wonders for the very first time. Harryhausen was by this stage acknowledged as the master of special effects, his work producing giant gorillas (Mighty Joe Young), an artificially enlarged octopus (It Came from Beneath the Sea) and dinosaurs (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms). Real creatures, transformed into terrifying monsters. Whilst 1957’s 20 Million Miles to Earth toyed with his first creature wholly of the imagination, it was here that he really went to town, tapping into ancient mythology to provide the beasts that Sinbad comes across. The giant cyclops, dragon, roc and, naturally, a sword fighting skeleton, all brought to glorious life and featuring heavily in the story. Of these, I think I like the Roc the best for the thought that Harryhausen decided to insert an enormous eagle into his picture and then gave it two heads… just because he could. Then there’s the skeleton, to all intents and purposes duelling seamlessly with Mathews’s Sinbad. To make the scene more effective, the actor trained with an Olympic fencing master in order to look the part, thrusting and parrying with fresh air before his opponent was inserted into the film later.

The film was based on the character Sinbad from One Thousand and One Nights, though that’s about all retained from the account of his seventh voyage. Nevertheless, having read the book several years ago, I think it does a nice job of holding onto the spirit of its chance encounters leading to moral decisions that ultimately affect the outcome. Many of the creatures in the film appear at various points in the book, and Scheherazade’s imaginative outpouring of fantastical creatures is certainly present and correct.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was not the first cinematic appearance of the title character, yet it hurls him straight into action as a seaman and adventurer of distinction, charged with transporting the Princess Parisa (Grant) to his home land of Persia. The two are to be married, which will secure peace between his realm and that of her father’s. On the way, they stop at the island of Colossa to pick up supplies, and as a ‘bonus’ find a magician, Sokurah (Thatcher), who’s busy fleeing from a Cyclops, armed only with a lamp. Obviously it’s magic, Sokurah explaining it contains a genie that can be summoned to make his wishes come true. With the genie’s (Richard Eyer) help, they escape the Cyclops, but not before it recaptures the lamp. This scene works well because whilst the genie has erected a kind of invisible force field that separates the Cyclops from Sinbad’s crew, it’s hardly stupid and figures out that it can hurl a rock over the barrier to capsize their rowing boat.

Back in Baghdad, Sokurah’s pleas to return to Colossa with Sinbad’s help and retrieve the lamp are met with refusal, so he uses his magic to miniaturise Parisa and advises the only way she can be restored is via materials that can be found in just one place. And so they return, with a tiny princess on board and a crew that is now augmented with condemned men from the Persian jails. The prisoners revolt, take over the ship, and after further adventures hit Colossa and its various creatures.

It’s obvious that at some stage Sinbad will figure out Sokurah’s treachery, find a way to return Parisa back to her natural form and escape with the genie, which takes the form of a small boy longing to be just that, working a future as the sailor’s cabin boy. But getting there is such fun, thrill after spill crammed into less than ninety minutes of action directed breathlessly by Harryhausen’s regular collaborator, Nathan Juran. Mathews, unlikely ever to be considered an acting great, is fine value as Sinbad, interacting well with the creatures and buckling his swash to suitably dramatic effect. He was no one’s idea of the new Errol Flynn, but he was handsome, lithe and knew how to look good wielding a sword, and that’s what mattered here. The cross-eyed Thatcher is a great villain, affecting a vague Middle Eastern accent and shaving his head, all adding to an inscrutable performance of rather subtle evil that only becomes more explicit later in the story when the stakes are raised.

Mathews and Thatcher played against each other once more in 1962’s Jack the Giant Killer, again directed by Juran but this time utilising the effects work of Jim Danforth. Harryhausen struggled to forgive the director and had the last laugh when the film’s stop motion animation wasn’t up to scratch, although the overall effect was somewhat scarier than the family friendly work produced for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. In the meantime, Harryhausen went on to even greater heights with his designs for 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts, in which the hero had to fight not one skeleton but seven, though not before encountering the titanic iron colossus, Talos, arguably the greatest creation of them all. What worked well in Jason was just as effective here, the interactions between actors and beasts. The scene with the Roc is brilliant because its attack comes with wings flapping, sending gusts of wind to assault the men. Even better is the skeleton fight, a bonus extra on the disc showing Mathews attacking nothing before it was spliced into the picture, the effect virtually perfect and the action rousing enough to quash any attempt to spot the ‘joins’. It’s a great film that never loses its sense of fun.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: ****

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

When it’s on: Saturday, 21 March (5.40 am)
Channel: BBC2
IMDb Link

When I was a kid, any film featuring the work of Ray Harryhausen was a typically Bank Holiday treat. It didn’t matter that the stop motion animation he perfected to painstaking effect always looked artificial – that was just part of the fun, and besides the creatures he brought to life on the screen were often fantastical to the extent that I, like many others I’m sure, just loved the outburst of imagination they represented. If I have an ultimate favourite among his creations, it’s almost certainly Talos, the giant statue from Jason and the Argonauts that comes to terrifying life, moves with the yell of rusty joints that haven’t needed to be used in untold aeons and threatens the entire ship of heroes. But I was fortunate enough to see the final feature with which he was involved, Clash of the Titans, as it was intended on the big screen, and despite advances in special effects there was nothing more frightening than Perseus trapped in the lair of Medusa, a last hurrah for the brilliance of the man’s art as the breathlessly sublime combination of lighting, sound and animation brought the monster to hideous reality.

Harryhausen was a big fan of dinosaurs, using his technique to put them onto the screen in various movies. Whilst the likes of Jurassic Park pretty much consigned his work into the annals, there’s something undeniably fantastic about his effort to revive these long extinct animals, and besides whilst CGI can serve up photo realistic dinosaurs well enough, it’s a rare film indeed that can inject its monsters with the sense of personality Harryhausen gave to his creations. Compare The Valley of Gwangi with something like the Tyrannosaurs in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. In the latter, there’s a point to which those dinosaurs are there simply because they can be, present for no other reason than to provide a threat to Kong and Naomi Watts. Gwangi, the perpetually irritated lizard that’s forced into the civilised world, with obvious consequences, always has motivation, a reason for being and doing the things it does. No amount of new technology can make that happen; it takes heart.

Released in 1969, The Valley of Gwangi was a flop at a time when Warners felt audiences cared little for this sort of thing and consequently barely promoted it. Taken as a whole, it’s far from the best action-fantasy caper, with its slight plot that is little more than window dressing for the opportunity to bring Westerns and dinosaur flicks on a collision course, the sort of cross-genre nonsense that I can’t imagine fans of either clamouring for. It takes a while for the creatures to appear, but when they do the film suddenly becomes a real thrill ride. The effect of cowboys trying to lasso Gwangi (for the record, it’s sort of a cross between a Jurassic Allosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus Rex from the later Cretaceous period, and I for one love that Harryhausen grab-bagged from both to create Gwangi because, you know what, it’s just fantasy!) looks amazing, human actors and stop motion creature interacting seamlessly, though of course it was a scene that took months to perfect. The actors had to throw their ropes around a pole erected on a jeep, and then Harryhausen overlaid the film with his creature, ensuring the strings around its neck were synchronised with the men’s actions so that the illusion wouldn’t be shattered. Genuinely astonishing work.

Gwangi and his stop motion mates are undoubtedly the stars of the show, which basically means it’s Harryhausen’s film. The director and cast are subservient, and only Jerome Moross’s rabble rousing score, like a rehashing of the brilliant music he produced for The Big Country, really stands out.

Our hero is Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus), a cowboy working for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century. I remember Franciscus best from Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where his role was basically to reprise Charlton Heston from the first film, which he did to largely anonymous effect. Here, he has more upon which to chew; his character, Tuck (named after the friar?), is essentially on the make. Despite breaking the heart of T.J. Breckenridge (Gila Golan) previously, he wants to buy out her struggling show, shrugging off her reticence, not to mention her rather obvious personal dislike. T.J. thinks she’s found the answer to all her problems, a miniature horse that appears to be a throwback to the prehistoric Eohippus, an ancestor of the modern horse when they were the size of small dogs. Its origins are identified by Sir Horace Bromley (Laurence Naismith), a paleontologist who’s digging away in the nearby desert. A group of gypsies, led by the reliably demented Freda Jackson, kidnap the Eohippus and try to return it from whence it came, via a tiny crack in the side of a mountain. But Tuck and crew discover the crack, realising it leads somehow into a hidden place, the Forbidden Valley, and break through into a land where prehistoric animals still roam.

Naturally, as soon as he comes across Gwangi, the opportunistic Kirby sees money, the prospect of exhibiting a dinosaur as part of his show and rake in the millions. So far, so King Kong, which is what The Valley of Gwangi becomes. Unsurprisingly, the film started life as a project by Willis O’Brien, the predecessor in many ways to Harryhausen, who worked on the stop motion effects for the original King Kong and the 1925 version of The Lost World, and saw Gwangi as an amalgamation of both. For Warner’s, it must have felt like a no-brainer to put the money into production, but Harryhausen’s work took a long time to reach fruition, two years in fact, during which time audience tastes had moved on and a lightweight matinee flick, which this is, held dwindling appeal. It doesn’t help that the hero isn’t especially likeable, just coming across as greedy without appearing to gain much in terms of a conscience as his plans for Gwangi naturally turn to disaster. That said, it’s a film that never outstays its welcome, particularly once the dinosaurs turn up, and there’s a cheerful rush towards the climactic scenes that’s missing from more ponderous epics. The end for Gwangi, staged inside a Gothic church, is very impressively done and shows a nice clash between the raw power of the dinosaur and human structures.

The Valley of Gwangi: ***

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Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

When it’s on: Sunday, 3 June (3.25 pm)
Channel: Channel 5
IMDb Link

Welcome to matinée film making from a more innocent time, when stop-motion animated creatures ruled the world and stories were thinly disguised linkage points  between the appearance of fantasy creatures. Unfortunately, by the time Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger was released – encouraged by the success of 1973’s Golden Voyage of SinbadStar Wars had done enough to alter audiences’ perceptions and expectations, leaving it to appear antiquated and out of touch.

I remember one of my favourite TV shows as a child was The Incredible Hulk. That was until my dad informed me that the producers could afford to transform Bill Bixby into Lou Ferrigno only twice per episode, no more and no less, which broke the spell because it was then apparent that the plot had little point other than to build up to these moments, making it seem contrived and utterly artificial. Eye of the Tiger is a bit like that. There was always an element of films involving Ray Harryhausen that the narrative served to shoehorn his creations into the frame at regular points, but by this film it’s more obvious than ever. There’s a scene that takes place in the Arctic? Bring on the giant walrus! Melanthius wants to test the evil witch’s magic potion? Roll out the enlarged wasp!

Worse still is the fact these animated creatures started to look really dated by 1977. Given the choice between watching almost photo-realistic spaceships and stop-motion baboons, what would you choose to see? It doesn’t help that for this film, Harryhausen applied his arts to animating real animals – wasps, apes and walruses – and they look as artificial as they obviously are. His work is at its best when fantasy creatures are on the screen, such as the imposing Minaton (a bronze automaton in the shape of a minotaur), which evokes memories of Talos from Jason and the Argonauts, but such creations are few and far between.

The Eye of the Tiger was directed by Sam Wanamaker, best known as an actor but with numerous directing credits, mainly for television productions. His effort here was bloated one, rather poorly edited by Roy Watts who simply let the camera linger on a scene long after it had finished. These moments really matter. The viewer expects something to happen, only it doesn’t, and thanks to movie watching convention you’re drawn right out of the picture.

Then there’s the acting, the really awful acting. It isn’t often this writer misses Kerwin Matthews, yet the bland star of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad – more or less the go-to man for matinée leads where the focus was elsewhere – is a cut above Patrick Wayne (John’s son!), who brings a curiously wooden quality to the lead role. Wayne looks the part, but that’s about it, and indeed develops into the least effectual Sinbad as the sailor turns out to have little to do. Taryn Power and Jane Seymour are on hand to provide eye candy and a willingness to wear tiny outfits, including a brief, family friendly nude scene. Margaret Whiting plays the villainous Zenobia. I was never at all clear on her motives beyond serving up classic villainy and Whiting duly hams it up, channelling Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch in her cackling performance. It’s left to Patrick Troughton as the alchemist Melanthius to provide a touch of class, and even he has an especially poorly scripted scene in which he’s left to question Zenobia, only to reveal all his plans and nearly get killed in the process.

These films were never great but they were nearly always fun, easy viewing for PG audiences. Yet here the drawbacks finally outweigh the benefits; Harryhausen’s genius had been caught up by time and the end is a bit of a shambles.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger: *