Ray Harryhausen Film Notes: THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

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*The following are my notes as part of an ongoing Ray Harryhausen film study course, which I currently instruct in Lawrence, Kansas.

We are about to set sail for a new type of adventure in our quest to explore the world of Ray Harryhausen. In this week’s screening and discussion, we take a marked turn from the black-and-white science fiction monsters and aliens. In Nathan H Juran’s THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), Ray Harryhausen ventures into a fantasy voyage- in color- for the first time.

Filmed in Technicolor, this kicks off the first of the three Sinbad films in the Harryhausen filmography. It also denotes the first time we see the term “Dynamation” used. Dynamation was a new brand for Ray’s style of stop-motion animation painstakingly blended with live action. Now filming in color, producer Charles Schneer felt they needed to market Ray’s special talents and designate his special effects as a modern update that is a significantly different effect from standard animation. Schneer was inspired by his Buick automobile that was embellished with the word “Dynaflow” on the wheel, which led to the new branding. Interestingly, this “Dynamation” term didn’t always stick. Other terms such as “Dynarama” and “SuperDynamation” were used in later films.

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As typical for many of the films partnering Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles Schneer, it all began with Ray’s drawings. Ray created a dozen such detailed drawings many tears prior to meeting Schneer, which he then presented for his concept for this particular film. Ray had his misgivings about the transition to color, which presented new challenges for his stop-motion animation techniques when sandwiching with live action. Ultimately, Schneer prevailed in convincing Ray to embrace color. Ray was able to produce this “dynamation” with stunning results.

Filmed in a remote section of Spain and on a tight budget, filming and production presented its own challenges. For example, after the long haul to this remote area in Spain far from any nearby cities, the prop crew realized the swords were left behind. So, they chopped down tree branches, formed and painted the wooden swords right on the spot.

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Most of the filming was done on a sound stage in Madrid. To capture the ‘princess on a pillow scene,’ Kathryn Grant stood on a giant pillow that was 25 feet high by 40 feet wide in size, occupying a corner of the sound stage. A camera crane then pulled back 70 feet to create the effect that she is doll-sized. In the end, this sequence and all the scenes were processed through a Technicolor optical printer in London.

After the live action sequences were all filmed, it was then turned over to Ray Harryhausen who spent 14 to 18 months splicing in his work.

Music:

This is the first, of four, film collaborations between Ray Harryhausen and composer Bernard Herrmann. They additionally collaborated on THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963). In my opinion, this score is truly magnificent and should be considered not only one of Harryhausen’s best music scores within his filmography, but also as one of Herrmann’s, as well.

When you listen carefully to the opening titles score of this film, which takes just under two minutes, it’s as breath-taking and heart-thumping as many of his most-popular scores composed for an Alfred Hitchcock film. For example, listen to the overture (opening title music) of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (https://youtu.be/s9eBhmIIf8k ) then listen to the overture music for North By NorthWest: https://youtu.be/db4LjufUY-Y Additionally, Herrmann’s treatment of the skeleton warrior scene is especially playful and memorable; a true signature.

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Well-known soundtrack producer Robert Townson has worked on many Herrmann projects, including the extended re-recording of a 7th Voyage Of Sinbad score by The Royal Scottish National Orchestra. In an October 1998 interview, Townson was asked about his attraction to this particular film score, he replied…

It’s always been one of my favorites and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. It’s so rich and vibrant. Herrmann is clearly having fun with it. I mean, he really just went crazy. It’s so witty and charming. He covers so much ground. I would cite The 7th Voyage of Sinbad as one of the scores which most validates film music as an art form and a forum where a great composer can write a great piece of music. As pure composition I would place Sinbad beside anything else written this century and not worry about it being able to stand on its own.

For the full interview on the Bernard Herrmann site:  http://www.bernardherrmann.org/articles/interview-townson/

Cast:

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Kerwin Mathews was under contract for Columbia and made the perfect choice for Sinbad. He was athletic, handsome, and adapted well to the unique skills needed for the action scenes to counter the stop-motion animation. From talking to a miniature princess on a pillow, to sword-fighting creatures like giant cyclops, a two-headed Roc, a skeleton warrior and even a dragon. Mathews worked with Italian Olympic fencing coach Enzo Musumeci-Greco for the fighting scenes. Greco stood in for the fighting skeleton but for the final shoot, Mathews had to pantomime fighting his opponent.

When Mathews was able to see the finished product for the first time at a premiere in Monte Carlo, even he was astounded by Ray’s work. He felt as though he was watching a completely different film from the one that he filmed in Spain, thanks to the magic of Ray Harryhausen. Mathews would work with the Ray Harryhausen magic again, when he appeared in the starring role in THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960), where once again he proved he could handle the task of portraying a ‘giant role’ in contrast to his miniature co-stars.

He retired from acting in 1978, when he moved to San Francisco to become an antiques dealer. He attended film conventions occasionally and always appreciated his fans and acting days. Overall, he kept his private life quiet. In 1961, he met Tom Nicoll, who was his life partner for 46 years, until his death. Tom was a British display manager for Harvey Nicolls. Kerwin died July 5th, 2007, at the age of 81.

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 Kathryn Grant portrays Princess Parisa, who spends a majority of this film appearing tiny enough to fit in Sinbad’s hand. You may also know Kathryn as Bing Crosby’s 2nd wife, Kathryn Crosby. When Bing married Kathryn, he had been a widower for 5 years. He was 54 years old at the time, Kathryn was 24. Born Olive Kathryn Grandstaff, she had been performing since age 3 and continued to find work on the big screen. But this film was a big break for Kathryn, giving her a starring role. This was not the first time Mathews and Grant performed together. They both appeared in a little film noir, starring Kim Novak, FIVE AGAINST THE HOUSE (1955). Usually playing small roles [such as an uncredited party girl at the song writer’s party in REAR WINDOW (1954), Lt. Betty Bixby in OPERATION MAD BALL (1957) with Jack Lemmon, and as Mary Pilant in ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959)], her career was just starting to gain traction when she semi-retired after marrying Crosby. Kathryn remains active and is still with us.

In a 2016 interview, she was asked, “Did you enjoy playing the leading lady in “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” which is now a cult classic?”

“It was wonderful. Jean Louis, Columbia’s big designer, made me gorgeous clothes. And then we shot in Spain, in Granada and Majorca and Barcelona and Madrid. We didn’t know what was going on much of the time. During the swordfight with skeletons, Kerwin (Mathews) was looking at a stick, and then (visual effects master) Ray Harryhausen did all of the drawings afterwards. Columbia Pictures was wonderful.”

To read the entire interview:  https://www.newsday.com/entertainment/music/kathryn-crosby-bing-crosby-s-widow-brings-irving-berlin-revue-to-li-1.11563275

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Richard Eyer portrays the Genie boy. The studio cut costs by filming his scenes in California, at a salary of $600 per day. In comparison to his co-stars, Eyer’s acting career was in many ways more prolific, with twice the career under his belt by late puberty. He was a child actor with 54 acting credits from age 7 to age 22.

When I think of Eyer, I enjoy his role as little Billy Kettle in a couple of the Ma and Pa Kettle films, plus as the boy with the pet goose in William Wyler’s FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956). But many science fiction fans may recall him more as the boy with Robby the Robot in the FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) follow-up, THE INVISIBLE BOY (1957). Eyer was also known for westerns, many TV series, and even crime thrillers. After quitting acting, he married (now divorced), had three children, and taught elementary school in Bishop, California. He still resides in that area.

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Torin Thatcher, who spins troubles and magic as Sokurah in this film, boasted the largest filmography of them all, though. From 1927 to 1976, Thatcher performed 154 acting gigs. He firmly projects a commanding presence on screen and has a full resume of stern and villainous roles. Born to British parents in Bombay, India in 1905, he began with a more Shakespearean stage onset to acting, but then found his way to a multitude of genres on the big and small screen. He passed March 4th, 1981.

Ray’s Creatures Checklist:

Tonight, we will be looking for the following creatures of Ray Harryhausen’s creation…

Serpent Woman

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Cyclops- TWO of them!

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Roc Hatchling

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Roc

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Fighting Skeleton

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Dragon

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Questions and thoughts for discussion:

How does this film compare to the film Ray made just one year (release date) prior with MILLION MILES TO EARTH, in terms of his special effects?

Now in color, what are, if any, noteworthy differences from his black-and-white work?

What do you notice about lighting, shadows, and live action blending?

What are some examples of Ray infusing personality and/or humanistic qualities to a creature?

In this film, what is your favorite stop-motion animated character?

What impact did the performances, Technicolor, Bernard Herrmann, and Jean Louis costumes have in adding to the success of this film?

For a fun bonus, we listened to a promotional song called, “Sinbad May Have Been Bad, But He’s Been Good To Me.” It’s swinging, sultry, little number that was given to select theatre managers (for playing in the lobby), as a marketing tool for the holiday 1958 release. Sung by Ann Leonardo. Take a listen: https://youtu.be/S_qZWzzAM3A

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