Things Roddy and Fiona said during “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”

I’d been meaning to revisit Ray Harryhausen’s first and best Sinbad picture for a while, and it occured to me that Fiona’s brother Roderick might also enjoy it. In the event, brother and sister formed an excellent double act, and a good time was had by all.

Fiona: “What’s with her hair? What’s that? It’s horrible!”

We all liked Kathryn Grant, the spunky princess, but her cowlick was an abomination. For a fifties kids movie, the film finds a lot for her to do, especially considering she spends most of the movie miniaturized.

Roddy: “Is their any insects in this one?” Roddy likes bugs and spiders in movies. It might seem that MYSTERIOUS ISLAND or SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER, with their big bees, would suit him better, but 7V is such a superior film to those two, I felt the choice was justified.

F: “Oh, he’s a sweet talker, that Sinbad!”

Ken Kolb’s screenplay provides surprisingly decent dialogue, allowing the romance to convince more than usual. Kerwin Mathews is an appealing hero, more so than John Philip Law or Pat Wayne in the sequels. None of them were exactly major personalities, but at least this time Sinbad has a personality, kind of.

F: “She is cute. Needs to get that hair fixed though.”

The story hits the ground running, with Sinbad transporting his new bride by sea, hopelessly lost in the fog. A mysterious island is discovered and then, in a scene that had seven-year-old me torn between fleeing the television and leaping forward to switch channels in terror, Torin Thatcher comes fleeing from a cave pursued by the Cyclops.

As always with Harryhausen, the mythological animal gets an upgrade, with satyr’s goat-legs and a horn added to the design. The legs are a nice touch: a purely humanoid giant could be played by an actor, but only stop-motion “Dynamation — the new wonder of the screen” could allow a creature’s legs to bend backwards like Cy’s.

F: “That hair’s going to drive me crazy.”

Torin is after a magic lamp, the perfect Arabian Nights MacGuffin, but he loses it escaping the giant. (In one of the original Arabian Nights tales, Sinbad does meet a giant, and although he’s not specified as of the one-eyed variety, the story is clearly plagiarized from Homer’s Odyssey, so Harryhausen is fully justified in making the monster cyclopean.

Bagdad!

F: “Nice outfit. It’s gone: the cowlick.”

Torin is trying to persuade everybody to return to the accursed island to help him get his lamp. Kerwin speaks of the magician’s obsessive desire which consumes him, and Kathryn sweetly turns the subject around to love, saying she pities Torin as she already has her heart’s desire.

But, after a brief turn by a serpent lady with four snaky arms, the princess is miniaturized by the evil Torin Thatcher (how well the words “evil” and “Thatcher” go together) and is discovered tiny upon her pillow, like a talking mint.

A shame the princess’s pillow looks so lumpy here — possibly it’s stuffed with peas.

To cure his pocket-sized fiancee (marriage seems impractical until this is sorted out), Sinbad embarks for the isle of the Cyclops, taking with him a Dirty Dozen crew of convicts, including Danny “One-Round” Green from THE LADYKILLERS, the only Cockney Arab in the Middle East.

F: “And don’t stand on my fruit!”

Mutiny! A slightly unconvincing fight among the crew: well, they only had three weeks to shoot the live action part of it.

R: “Cheez — missed him! Come on, Sinbad! Go for him! Look out! Whoops.”

The island is reached at last, and Sinbad’s crew start building a giant crossbow designed by Torin.

Fiona, to Roddy: “You need to say more interesting things so David’s got something to write about.”

R: “I’ll say something. Right. He is wandering about, looking at rocks.”

R: “It’s a club, that’s what it is. Told you.”

R: “Sh, sh!”

F: “He could at least kill him before he roasts him alive.”

I fail to point out Fiona’s schoolboy error in the above sentence, and merely add: “Or undress him.”

As the Cyclops prepares to feast on human flesh, Roddy belches, loudly.

R: “I’ve got interjestion.”

Sinbad cunningly plots to escape the giant’s cage with the aid of little Princess Kathryn.

R (confused): “Cannae escape. How can he, when she’s here?”

R: “We’ve got a woman like that at Canning Place.”

“That small?” I ask.

R: “No.”

R: “Don’t stand there, push, woman! Give it all your strength! Well done.”

R (to the Cyclops): “Look out!”

R: “Going mental, that monster, is he? Cheesy peeps!”

“Cheesy peeps!” is a strange expression almost unique to Roddy, who doesn’t swear. Being a true Dundonian, he doesn’t use negatives, either, so “Isn’t he?” is pronounced “Is he?” Somehow this is never actually confusing.

F: “You’d be going mental too if you were there, having spears chucked at you.”

R: “I’m not, though. I’m here.”

The logic of this is inarguable, and we all fall into silent contemplation for a bit.

R (apropos of nothing): “I’d like to be a vampire. In a horror movie, I mean. Do you think I’d make a good vampire?”

Fiona and I: “No.”

The Cyclops, blinded, falls off a cliff.

F: “And, as usual, you do feel slightly sorry for him.”

Sinbad’s crew decide to break open a roc’s egg.

F: You can’t get the staff.”

Harryhausen can’t leave the mythic roc alone either, so this one has two heads.

R: “There’s two of them!”

F: “It’s all cute and fluffy. Don’t tell me they kill it and eat it. Oh no.”

R: “What are they playing at?”

Torin raises a skeleton to attack Sinbad. “Kill! Kill!”

F: “They can’t just say “Kill!” once in these films, can they?”

F: “He knocked down his crocodile.”

R: “That was typical, is it?”

The skeleton fight was of course trumped by Harryhausen in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, where there are seven screaming skeletons, a brilliantly choreographed and incredibly elaborate piece of live-action/animation. Wishing he’d set that scene at night, for greater atmosphere, he re-staged it AGAIN in SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER, with three bug-eyed “ghouls” who look like starving Selenites.

R (general advice to the cast): “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

R: “That dragon’s no happy, is he?”

F: “Where are all the female cyclopses? How do they reproduce?”

Me: “Sodomy.”

R: “He’s happy, is he?”

R: “He’s still got a – in his -um, what do you call it?”

R: “I wish that was all mine as well. I would save it all up and go on holiday with it. On safari. Or Transylvania.”

UK: Sinbad Collection – Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad/Golden Voyage Of Sinbad/Sinbad And The Eye Of Tiger [DVD] [1958]

USA:The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (50th Anniversary Edition) (1958)

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (50th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]

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22 Responses to “Things Roddy and Fiona said during “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad””

  1. Saw it at the Roxy when it premiered. Great lively fun. Harryhausen’s imagination is the mark of his work. Today’s CGIs are Beyond Bland and inspire only yawns.

    A classmate at Communist Martyrs High (aka. The High School of Music and Art) back in the early 60’s ws obsessed with bernard herrmann. He was always complaining to the music teachers that he deserved serious consideration. And the work that enchanted him ost was the scro for 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

    Kerwin Mattews passed away a few years back. He had a moderately good run as a leading man, but very happily retired to San Francisco where he and his lover ran an antiques shop.

  2. Harryhausen’s genius was the real life he breathed into his creations. And he was one man, working almost alone. The difficulty with CGI tends to be the factory methods used to create it, although Monsters shows that alternative models are possible. That hasn’t translated into the same kind of personal touch, yet, but it certainly could.

    I love model animation, but I don’t think it’s morally superior to work done with computers. It’s all just a toolkit. The trouble is we’re all blase about CGI because we’ve seen so much of it done badly, blandly, or without reason. It’s a good illustration of Truffaut’s dictum that each advance in technology sets the art of filmmaking back ten years. Ultimately, it’s all to the good, once our sensibilities evolve to make correct use of the possibilities — I doubt any of us would regret the coming of sound today (although it’s always tempting to imagine what would have happened if it had come ten years later).

    Also: there will come a time when people feel nostalgic about weightless, poorly-rendered CG crud.

  3. Mine is probably a minority view, but violations of physics in films never bothered me until CGI, then my brain started carping about what my eyes saw, and it still happens after even this many years when I see bad CGI.

  4. It’s partly because of the photorealist surfaces, I think. And the common assumption by filmmakers that if they can make something look real, we’ll believe it. Whereas I think fantasy needs its own logic and consistency: if that’s supposed to be a normal hero fighting a monster, then I expect him to get hurt by a 10 ft fall the way I would. Or maybe a little less.

    It’s slightly different if the young Jackie Chan is doing it, because he’s doing it for real, so he can drop 50 ft and I’ll be impressed.

  5. Much of Harryhausen’s effectiveness springs from his dramatic timing. There’s always a sense of quivering anticipation before each fantastic creature is revealed. At that point we’re allowed to contemplate the thing for a moment or two before it takes any actual action against the humans. There’s a lovely ritual quality to all of this comparable to the climax of Rivette’s Noroit where the pirates take their time in hunting down and killing one another.

  6. David Boxwell Says:

    Kerwin, Kerwin, Kerwin, you blinded me with your beauty!

  7. One thing I’m surprised to see in the frame grab with the skeleton is that the lighting is inconsistent, with the skeleton lit from the front, and Sinbad, who is facing the skeleton, also lit from the front. Despite this, I’m sure the scene has a satisfyingly corporeal effect. CGI would have the lighting right, but the “corpus” would not be there.

  8. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, David E. I knew of Kerwin’s demise and his retirement. I tried to get an interview with him to clarify what scenes Robert Aldrich did shoot in THE GARMENT JUNGLE but to no avail. Probably, he felt that retirement meant exactly that.

  9. Randy Cook Says:

    Goodness. IT’S IN THE BAG and 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD within days of each other. 2011 is looking up.

    CGI vs Stop Motion: well, each method of fakery has its drawbacks. In puppet animation, strobing is a feature which needs to be consciously overcome. Ditto the difficulties of registration which can cause it to jerk and pop.

    CGI moves with a mathematical perfection not found in nature, so THAT has to be overcome.

    Stop motion demands that changes of direction or eyeblinks or footfalls all occur on individual frames, as opposed to the photographic recording of an actual moving event (where such actions often fall between frames and their timing relative to a frame is a matter of chance). This phenomenon gives puppet animation more punch and definition than live action can have, but it does differentiate it from live action, on at least a subconscious level. CGI animation has the advantage of being able to be “slid” in the software’s timeline, so that keyframed actions can occur BETWEEN frames, which tends to make the animation appear more natural, if that’s your idea of a good time.

    I never minded the stop motion “flaws” of Harryhausen’s work, which were always eclipsed (for me) by the thrill of seeing his wonderful creatures perform. Perhaps a more literal-minded person might disagree, but why’s a literal-minded person wasting his time watching fantasy movies, anyway?

    Ray was a one-man genre, and now everyone’s making movies of the kind he pioneered. 7th VOYAGE holds up for me, I suppose, because it was inspired & original, as well as damn good.

    I also thought Kathy Grant’s spit curl was hot. So sue me.

  10. I love the idea of mathematically precise violations of physics :)

    I have seen bad CGI “lighting”, but it’s rarer now.

  11. Probably one of the many pleasures of stop action photography is just how it suspends the “suspension of disbelief”, with its subtle “creakiness” making the gaps between the frames of the film more apparent. This sort of entropic logic only extends to the live action part the film, essentially reducing all of it to stop action.
    Was it some famous director who described filmmaking as having a train set to play with?

  12. Christopher Says:

    take me back to Bagdad..I’m too young to marry..
    I used to wear my baggy pajama bottoms without a top as a youngster..so I’d look like Sinbad!..in my Bagdad sailor britches..

  13. The skeleton fight’s lighting didn’t bother me at all! But then, I never minded that Marlene Dietrich always has a spotlight above her forehead wherever she stands in the room.

    I felt the lighting in the new King Kong was unconvincing, but there it was the live action which let it down. When they were all running along under a brontosaurus but still had direct sunlight on them from above. Is that bronto transparent?

  14. Maybe I’m being a bit obtuse, but I was pointing out the lighting on the skeleton to point out that even though the lighting is wrong, it still manages to be “real” in a way that CGI does not, or cannot do.

    Shanghai Express was on tv last night. That Marlene lighting is something else, but I actually ended up watching Anna Mae Wong more.

  15. AMW’s great because she’s even more mysterious than Shanghai Lily. Plus, there’s a suspicion the movie should really be about her.

    It’s true that the physical solidity of the skeleton is a factor in its favour. CGI can achieve the illusion of solidity only with great effort, and the little figurine has that already.

    Checking the scene again, the lighting favours both Sinbad and the skeleton throughout, in defiance of logic but in the Marlene tradition. It’s not quite clear where the light sources are in the magician’s lair… But the inconsistency of the film grain is far more distracting than the lighting. And yet, both are swiftly forgotten as the scene progresses.

  16. I trust we’re all familiar with Puzzle of a Downfall Child Jerry Schatzberg’s film about a neurotic model (Faye Dunaway perfectly typecast) named Lou Andreas Sand who is OBSESSED with Anna Mae Wong.

  17. Christopher Says:

    I used to have a charming extended trailer from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad on super 8mm film in that I got in the 70s with Kathryn Grant narrating the splendors of dynamation..can’t seem to find it on youtube..anyhow..some of the great score..

  18. I’m aware of Schatzberg but haven’t indulged. Have ignored countless promptings, and must make a move soon.

    Ah, Herrman’s music adds so much!

  19. david wingrove Says:

    Never have seen Faye as Lou Andreas Sand, but have seen Dominique Sanda as the original Lou Andreas Salome in Liliana Cavani’s splendid BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL. Now there’s a film that begs for rediscovery!

  20. Cavani’s film of Malaparte’s The Skin is also good, but The Night Porter inspired an extended fit of the giggles.

  21. david wingrove Says:

    Still a quasi-mystical experience for me, thanks to the divine presence of Dirk and Charlotte. If only the film itself were better…

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