Director: Gordon Hessler. Columbia (U)
Cast & credits
Producers: Charles H. Schneer, Ray Harryhausen.
Writer: Brian Clemens.
Camera: Ted Moore.
Music: Miklos Rozsa.
Sets: John Stoll.
John Phillip Law, Caroline Munro, Tom Baker, Douglas Wilmor, Martin Shaw, Gregoire Aslan, Kurt Christian.
Sinbad the sailor (Law) battles with the evil Black Prince Koura (Baker), who wants a golden tablet that leads the way to a mysterious island that contains a magical fountain that gifts youth and riches on the person who steps into it. Accompanying him are slave girl Marjiana (Munro), a disfigured Sultan (Wilmer) and loyal crewman Shaw. A series of fantastical monsters stand in their way.
In the early 70’s, stop-motion special effects pioneer Harryhausen had been at the fore-front of movie wizardry for nearly 20 years since his first credit for visual effects with 1955’s It Came From Beneath the Sea, concerning a giant octopus that terrorises California following H-Bomb tests.
His meticulousness, perfectionism and saintly patience meant he only made another 13 or so movies until his final film Clash Of the Titans (1981) and they were of varying levels of success in terms of writing, acting and direction, but peerless from a technical perspective. This, the second of the three Sinbad films he would work on, signals the beginning of the end of his unique style of effects-laden movies and there is a notable dip in quality with the story.
There is a pervading feeling throughout this film that it is all ‘throwaway’. The story and settings are a confusing hodge-podge of myriad misplaced periods and styles. The Fountain of Destiny is surrounded by Stonehenge, the statues around the harbour of Lemuria are seemingly from India and farther east, all whirled together by the production designer hoping for the best outcome. The Oracle, supposedly middle eastern but looking like an Olde English/Norse deity ‘advises’ in riddles but actually speaks like a literal, lucid travel itinerary for these treasure-hunters.
There are however some forward thinking aspects to the writing. Sinbad is a modern, human-rights slanted Prince of Baghdad, into women’s suffrage as he frees Munro from a life of slavery. Christian plays a callow youth put aboard the ship to be made into a man but who provides some welcome light relief, explaining that he is brave in his heart ‘It is just my legs that are cowardly’. The overall tone of the whole film is one of over earnestness, the lack of fun readily apparent.
Law is an athletic and handsome, yet wooden and boring leading man. He has the most attractive of facial hair and wears a turban fetchingly enough, but is seriously unexciting. Munro is also impossibly pretty but somewhat vacant as the alluring slave girl, but this could be more related to the part as written as she has little to do during the proceedings.
Thank heavens then for the measured and menacing Baker as the villain of the piece, his booming voice commanding attention, with just the right amount of pantomime chucked in.
As is so often the case with such films, the only reasons for tuning in are the creatures, including a ship’s figurehead, a multi-armed, Bhangra dancing statue, a horny, one-eyed Centaur and (unaccountably) a Griffin. A little bit of fevered randomness then with these choices, as if Harryhausen plucked them from thin air.
But then fantasy film is as fantasy film does, all bets are usually off with such movies. One can at least marvel at his calm hands and even calmer personality, particularly with the Kali statue as she dances and later sword fights with each of her six arms sworded up, a real testament to the late master’s skills.