You don’t know Jack

This is a magnificently awful thing.

JACK THE GIANT KILLER is a terrible film already, a cynical and actionable rip-off of Ray Harryhausen’s classic THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, with pretty much every set-piece, character and story point duplicated in an inferior way (it even casts the same actors as hero and villain).

But in the seventies, it was decided to turn it into a musical. Not by remaking it, like HAIRSPRAY or HIGH SOCIETY. Not by filming new musical numbers and cutting them into the original, like… no film ever, that I can think of, though I daresay it must have been attempted sometime. Tip-offs on this subject received with interest. No, the geniuses responsible simply wrote songs that could be dubbed onto the film, turning existing dialogue into lyrics and repeating shots in order to turn simple statements (“We have failed, master!”) into choruses.

Yes, this song appears to be called, “We Have Failed, Master,” and a more fitting title could hardly be imagined, unless it were “What Were We Thinking?” or “We Are the Stupid Men.”

We’ve all seen failed musicals where the songs caused the plot to grind to a halt. But we’ve never seen that concept literalized so spectacularly, with shots going magically into Cocteauesque reverse, and recurring on seemingly infinite GROUNDHOG DAY loops, in order to accommodate the musical styling of Mr. Moose Harlap Charlap. Yes, his name is Moose Harlap Charlap. Not actually the world’s worst songwriter, if you caught him on a good day. But with a tendency towards being on the nose. Which, in a medieval fairy tale about giants, could be an even bigger hazard than usual.

My Musical Theater Consultant tells me that Harlap Charlap was responsible for the Peter Pan musical that Mary Martin mad such a splash in, but that it was substantially worked over by greater talents. Harlap’s chief contribution of note was the number “I’m Flying,” which gives you an idea of the way his mind works. A song in which a character flies about and sings about how they’re flying about. As does the above number, which is extraordinary in its redundancy. Two characters sing at each other about what’s going on, but nothing is going on. And they’re not really singing. And the flag is billowing in curiously repetitive motions, time suspended in a listless loop.

But this is the crowning un-glory. Director Nathan Juran rips off the skeleton fight from SEVENTH VOYAGE, a movie he’s credited with directing (with the same hero and villain actors), but which BELONGS to Ray Harryhausen. The sequence also seems to anticipate the skeleton fight in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, released the following year, with deathless warriors grown from teeth, but I am unwilling to give the makers of this ugly film any credit — they must have somehow stolen that from Ray H also, either with industrial espionage or time travel.

What ole Moose does with the music is truly appalling, and he achieves the impossible: by dubbing on a jaunty comedy track, he actually makes this cheap-ass sequence disturbing.


14 Responses to “You don’t know Jack”

  1. That’s Moose Charlap.

    His Broadway credits include “Whoop Up!” a musical about modern day native Americans.

  2. I bet that’s not at all embarrassing.

    I am suitably embarrassed about getting his name wrong, though.

  3. Randy Cook Says:

    Charlap wrote the music for his songs in PETER PAN. He also wrote the music for the Broadway musical KELLY, with book and lyrics by Eddie Lawrence, a comedian familiar to a couple of us as “The Old Philosopher”. KELLY, about a guy who may or may not have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, opened and closed the same night, which may give you some idea. But it contained one song, “I’ll Never Go There Anymore” which was pretty damn good, though no “We Have Failed, Master”, of course.

  4. Jack Lechner Says:

    First: This is INSANE. (And here’s much more detail than anyone might ever want to know:

    Second: To be fair, Moose Charlap and lyricist Carolyn Leigh actually wrote a full half of the PETER PAN musical, including classics like “I Won’t Grow Up” and “I Gotta Crow.” When he was good, he was very, very good. (And when he was bad, etc.) The lyrics for the musical JTGK are by his wife, singer Sandy Stewart; their son, Bill Charlap, is a famous jazz pianist.

    Third: I was delighted to realize that the deep bass voice singing for villain Torin Thatcher is none other than Thurl Ravenscroft, the go-to bass session singer in Hollywood for decades. He’s best known as the voice of Tony the Tiger, the Frosted Flakes / Frosties mascot; and as the singer of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in Chuck Jones’ animated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I have a feeling Mr. Ravenscroft might have left this particular credit off his CV.

  5. Jack Lechner Says:

    And, come to think of it, there is exactly one movie that was shot as a straight drama, then reshot with musical numbers: The 1929 hit THE DANCING CAVALIER, starring Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont.

  6. Based upon these three clips, I think this is my new favorite movie. Can’t decide which is the wormiest earworm, “We Have Failed, Master”, or “A Spectacle”. Is that Marni Nixon dubbing in Walter Burke’s voice?

  7. chris schneider Says:

    Charlap also wrote the music for THE CONQUERING HERO, a musical version of HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO that lasted 8 performances. One source I encountered said that Bob Fosse, the designated director, had epileptic seizures during rehearsals and was replaced by someone else.

  8. chris schneider Says:

    Post-Script: the epilepsy explanation, which didn’t sound right, has been contradicted by talk of disagreements over choreography and direction.

  9. Disagreements leading to epilepsy, I bet.

    OK, I’ve been a little unfair and inaccurate to Mr Charlap, even getting his name wrong. But still, he put his name to this (in a lurid felt-tip pen credit sequence drawn specially for the musical version).

    My friend and sound designer Travis also nominated The Dancing Cavalier, via Facebook. Dignity, always dignity.

    If I were really well off, I’d hire whoever today’s Moose Charlap is, to musicalize the works of Michael Haneke.

  10. Maybe the guys who did this– — could take a whack at Michael Haneke?

  11. Re the troubled stage “Hero”: According to legend, librettist Larry Gelbert expressed the hope that if Hitler was alive, he was out of town with a new musical.

  12. Ha!

    The Thing musical is terrific! Yes, these guys could certainly be entrusted with The Piano Teacher or The White Ribbon.

  13. A possible modern equivalent: Richard Williams’s long-gestating epic “The Thief and the Cobbler”. When “Roger Rabbit” gave him some bankability, he was finally pushing towards completion when the backers panicked and handed it over to somebody else to complete.

    Disneyesque songs were written, animated and inserted. The title characters, evidently designed to be mute, acquired non-stop voices: The cobbler became the movie’s narrator, while the thief’s continuous thoughts were voiced by Jonathan Winters. To me at least, it looked like much of the original film was meant to be wordless and somebody was afraid of the silence.

    Don Bluth’s animated “Anastasia” feels very much like a live action musical, with the stuff about Rasputin and the bat not-too-completely grafted on to justify animation.

    And a few cases of the inverse: A TV version of “Great Expectations” that began shooting as a musical but was completed as a non-musical. I vaguely recall reading that there was a lawsuit over the decision:
    The 1952 remake of “What Price Glory” was planned as a musical and James Cagney signed on with that assumption. But director John Ford killed the musical angle before shooting began (Cagney was not happy).

  14. I don’t understand why Don Bluth was an animator when he seemed to have no sympathy for the form.

    There’s a fan edit of the Thief and the Cobbler that restores much of Williams’ vision, using multiple sources, reverting to pencil sketches where necessary. The story still wasn’t any good, alas.

    I recently got a glimpse of what Williams has been up to in recent years, animated sketchbooks of awe-inspiring beauty and precision.

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