This film is so fun! It’s the first of three Ray Harryhausen movies about the wild adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, and it’s got dangerous monsters, evil magicians, beautiful princesses, and a palpable sense of danger. When you’re an adult, you’ve long passed the point where you understand the supporting characters are going to get killed off, but our son’s right at the age where seeing the good guys die one after another raises the stakes for the hero.
That said, I’m afraid that the special effects casualties at first had him more amused than frightened. As members of Sinbad’s crew get crushed or stomped by tree-carrying monsters, or fall to their deaths from mountain peaks, he chuckled a lot. Almost comedic “waaaaah!” noises by the dead and dying probably didn’t help. But as the story went on and the stakes grew higher, I noticed a change in his chuckling, and it gave way to nervous giggles. Sinbad has a sword fight with an animated skeleton in one of the film’s signature pieces, and the tones of his laugh were entirely different. Bunched up on the couch with his knees literally knocking and his eyes wide, kids don’t come more thrilled. Five years later, of course, Harryhausen would ask “So, you liked that sword fight with one skeleton, did you?” We’ll see what our son thinks of what would come next in a few months.
In the cast, we’ve got Kerwin Matthews, who’d later play another iconic role in The Three Worlds of Gulliver, as the hero, Kathryn Grant as the heroine, Alfred Brown as the comedy sidekick, and Torin Thatcher as the villain. They’re all really good in their roles, with Thatcher doing a great turn on the “sudden but inevitable betrayal.”
This really is a “what’s not to love” movie. It’s got great actors, fabulous monsters, a memorable score by Bernard Herrmann, one of those rock bridges over a river of molten lava, terrific direction by Nathan Juran, and if our modern, jaded, and practiced eyes can spot the joins and note the change in film quality whenever a fantastic creature is about to attack the human players, the kids of 1958 sure couldn’t. Neither did today’s. This is absolutely great, escapist fun. Every kid should see this movie.