Friday, May 1, 2009

At the (old) movies: '7th Voyage of Sinbad'

Some notes from the local cinephile society’s latest presentation:

“The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (Columbia, 1958) is one of those movies that are mostly famous for their special effects. Ray Harryhausen is justly renowned for this film, in which he gets great performances out of such stop-motion creatures as a Cyclops and a dueling skeleton.

Unfortunately, the producers apparently wouldn’t let Ray anywhere near the actors, some of whom perhaps could have used his help. Then again, this isn't supposed to be the type of film that caters to audiences who hunger for in-depth demonstrations of Stanislavski’s theories.

One performer who does stand out is Kathryn Grant, later to become more famous as Mrs. Bing Minute Maid Crosby. Here she is charming as Princess Parina, who is Sinbad’s main passenger – and fiancée – as his ship heads from Chandra to Baghdad.

Our story gets under way as Sinbad (Kerwin Matthews), who apparently left his Triple-A guide at home before setting sail, makes the mistake of stopping for supplies at an island where a magician with a magic lamp is being pursued by a Cyclops. Sinbad, his crew and the princess escape – but the lamp falls into the hands of the Cyclops.

The magician (Torin Thatcher) is not pleased. Once in Baghdad, he tries to persuade the Caliph (the father of the princess) to give him a ship so he can return to the island. Yep, that wizard wants that lamp, and he wants it bad – so bad that there’s something disturbing about it, especially when you consider that the wizard is a middle-aged guy and the genie of the lamp is played by an actor (Richard Eyer) who was about 13 years old at the time.

But Sinbad persuades the Caliph that the return trip isn’t really necessary. The magician then puts on a magic show for everyone in which he turns Parina’s handmaid into a snake woman (terrific animation, but given the handmaid’s general personality, not much of an improvement), and makes yet another plea to the Caliph for the return trip. He eventually ticks off the Caliph so much that the Caliph banishes him, warning that if he doesn't get out of town within the next couple of days, the magician’s eyes will be poked out. (And you thought those New York critics were tough.)

So that night the magician sneaks into Parina’s bedchamber and casts some kind of spell that shrinks her.

And Sinbad finds her that way.

Now you would think, wouldn’t you, that if your future father-in-law banished and threatened someone who has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, and if you found the next day that your fiancée, with no prior history of glandular disease, was now only a few inches tall, you wouldn't need a slide rule to put two and two together, and you would then go after that magician and give him what for.

Our man Sinbad dutifully tracks the magician down – then tells him what happened to the princess and pleads with him to help. (Oh well. He was known as Sinbad the Sailor, not Sinbad the Mensa Member.)

The magician tells Sinbad that to help the princess they need a piece of eggshell from a bird that lives on that very island where the Cyclops hangs out. And Sinbad swallows this. (Hmm. I think I have a bridge I’d like to sell him. Several bridges, actually.)

So they head back to the island. The Cyclops reappears, Sinbad blinds and kills him (I did feel sorry for the big galoot -- I mean, Sinbad invaded his turf, not the other way around, right? Or did I miss something?), the aforementioned skeleton takes on Sinbad (perhaps the most impressive set piece) and a dragon squashes the magician after being nice enough to wait until the wizard has brought the princess back to her normal size.

In short, it’s the old Hollywood formula: Boy gets princess, boy loses princess (well, most of her, anyway), boy gets fully restored princess, along with lamp and genie and the Cyclops’ treasure.

But is that all there is to the story? After all, that poor Cyclops must have had some relatives. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the sequel, “The 7th Lawsuit of Sinbad.”

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