CULT CORNER: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Cal gets all Ray Harryhausen with this vintage classic. 

Who made it?: Nathan Juran (Director), Ken Kolb (Writer), Charles H. Schneer (Producer), Morningside Productions.

Who’s in it?: Kerwin Mathews, Kathryn Grant, Richard Eyer, Torin Thatcher.

Tagline: “See these incredible scenes before your unbelieving eyes!”

IMDb rating: 7.2/10.

Special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen was responsible for a number of esteemed classics, but 1958’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad remains one of his best-remembered efforts. This is a breezy, entertaining action-adventure, and it’s easy to see why children were so besotted with it back in the day, and why it inspired so many budding filmmakers and special effects artists. The production has dated in some respects, yet this is not enough to diminish the movie’s limitless charms, and it remains a quintessential special effects picture that film buffs simply need to see.

While sailing through the Persian Gulf, Captain Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) and his crew happen upon the island of Colossa, where they find ample supplies to feed the starving men. However, a giant Cyclops does not take kindly to the crew’s intrusion, forcing them to set sail and leave. In the scuffle, magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) loses a precious lamp containing a boy genie (Richard Eyer). Sokurah pleads with Sinbad to return to Colossa to retrieve the lamp, but the mission is deemed too risky. Back in Baghdad, the desperate Sokurah secretly shrinks Sinbad’s beloved Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant). Sokurah tells Sinbad that he can reverse the curse, but claims that an essential ingredient for the required magic potion can only be found on the island of Colossa. Left with no options, Sinbad embarks on a perilous voyage, with Sokurah joining his crew.

Running at a scant 88 minutes, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is concise and to the point, remaining involving and entertaining for the majority of its runtime. Interesting to note, this is one Harryhausen film for which the animator was heavily involved in the pre-production process. Harryhausen hatched the idea of a special effects-laden Sinbad movie, drawing up sketches of the creatures, and doing work on the movie long before director Nathan Juran or screenwriter Ken Kolb were recruited. Thus, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is designed for maximum action scenes and creatures, but the story nevertheless does its job well enough, stilted though it may sometimes be. Indeed, the material set in Baghdad is hit-and-miss, but the picture really hits its stride once Sinbad and his men arrive on Colossa. The actors are mostly effective, with Mathews a bit wooden as Sinbad, but as Harryhausen himself has pointed out, he does do a convincing job playing opposite creatures and actors who were not present on-set. The only real standout is Thatcher, who’s a memorable antagonist.

To be sure, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad has dated a fair amount, even by Harryhausen standards. Produced five years before 1963’s still-impressive Jason and the Argonauts, the animation does lack refinement, and some of the creatures look too much like clay toys. As to be expected, too, the rest of the special effects work does look rough around the edges, but this adds to the movie’s old-world charm. Indeed, it’s still easy to enjoy and admire Harryhausen’s special effects work, and it’s easy to see why kids were so enraptured with this film back when it was first released. Harryhausen did such a good job, in fact, that his effects technique earned its own label: “Dynamation” (see Useless Trivia, below).

There are a number of notable set-pieces throughout¬†The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and Harryhausen also wonderfully pays homage to the beloved 1933 incarnation of King Kong, with a late battle between the infamous Cyclops and a dragon looking delightfully reminiscent of the sequence of Kong taking down a long-necked dinosaur. Another memorable aspect of the movie is Bernard Herrmann’s score. This was Herrmann’s first time composing a score for a Harryhausen picture, and he does a fine job. The central theme is insanely memorable, while the music throughout effortlessly amplifies the sense of adventure and excitement.

It’s hard to predict any individual’s reaction to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in the 21st Century. If old-fashioned action-adventure pics are your jam, you will probably enjoy it and appreciate the artistry onscreen. But if you have a low tolerance for “old” movies, there’s no talking to you. For my money, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad has its drawbacks, but it’s nevertheless a fun action-adventure.

Best Scene

An example of Harryhausen at this best.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • “Dynamation” (a portmanteau of “dynamic animation”), the name of the visual effects technique created by Ray Harryhausen, was introduced for this film. The name was coined by producer Charles H. Schneer, who decided that he and Ray needed a gimmick to sell this technique, and distinguish the model animation technique from cartoon animation (which was not taken seriously, even back in the day). Schneer got the inspiration from a car he owned, a Buick (which he rode along Sunset Boulevard to the studio each morning), with the name “DynaFlow” printed on the car’s wheel, and was so impressed that he wanted a name similar to this, but dropped “flow” and added “mation” (from “animation”). This new brand was heavily promoted, especially in the film’s original 1958 “This is Dynamation” theatrical trailer, and billed as “The New Miracle of the Screen” in the opening credits. The “Dynamation” process would also go by different names in some of Schneer and Harryhausen’s later films: “SuperDynamation” for The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960) and Mysterious Island (1961), and as of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), “Dynarama.” Ironically, the 1975 reissue of this film (re-released to capitalise on the success of Golden Voyage) bills the process as “Dynarama”, rather than “Dynamation.”
  • This was the first feature using stop-motion animation effects to be completely shot in colour.
  • A soundtrack album of Bernard Herrmann’s score was released on Colpix, Columbia’s record label. In later years it would become one of the most sought-after albums by soundtrack collectors. It was finally released on CD, along with the full score, in 2009.

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