Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The first in Charles H. Schneer and Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad trilogy, 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad' is filled with '50s charm.  That is to say, it's slightly cheesier than the later installments.  We've got a sense of innocence and wonder, but we also have stilted line delivery and a child actor.  The story is less of a globe trotting 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' style adventure like 'Golden Voyage of Sinbad' and more like a fairy tale with sort of a Classic Disney feel.

'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad' is often considered the preferred classic of the trilogy.  Cheesy as it may be in spots, it's hard to argue with the '50s charm.  They call it '50s charm' for a reason I suppose.  It's charming.  And of all the movies in the trilogy, this one pulls the most inspiration from the 'Arabian Nights' source material.  It's a beautifully simplistic story that holds together well.  I think that's why it's many people's favorite, and how it manages to hold up in spite of itself.

The story starts with Sinbad and his beloved Princess Parisa on the return voyage to Baghdad.  They've been blown off course so they stop at the mysterious Island of Colossa to take on fresh water and supplies.  While there Sinbad and his crew run afoul of the monstrous Cyclops, who is chasing a mysterious man in black.  The mystery man, whom we'll come to know as the magician Sokurah, uses his magic lamp to summon a genie (that fore mentioned child actor) who helps ward off the Cyclops so Sinbad and his men can escape.  But in the escape Sokurah drops the lamp overboard, and it is recovered by the Cyclops.  Sokurah offers Sinbad a fortune to return for the lamp, but Sinbad drops a ton of exposition stating that if he doesn't return Parisa safely to Baghdad for their arranged marriage, her father will declare war on his people.

So they return to Baghdad, and Sokurah does his best to hire a crew to take him back to Colossa.  After the Caliph refuses to give him a ship Sokurah curses the Princess, causing her to shrink.  Her father is none too happy about this, and the threat of war looms large.  Sinbad isn't too keen on the prospect of marrying Thumbelina, so he goes to Sokurah begging him to lift the curse.  "Sure," says Sokurah.  "I have everything I need to break the curse in my laboratory back on that Island!"  Sinbad doesn't seem to suspect that Sokurah is the one who cursed Parisa in the first place.  Sinbad is a little slow sometimes.

Other than Sinbad's first mate, most of his crew aren't in a hurry to return to Colossa.  So Sinbad hires a crew of cutthroats and murderers, offering them full pardons from the Caliph if they sail with him.  Because Sinbad is a little slow sometimes.  Naturally the crew mutinies after two minutes, and Sinbad, Sokurah, and the First Mate are all locked in the brig.  But Sokurah knows they are about to sail through haunted waters and advises our heroes to stuff cotton in their ears, as the siren calls drive men mad.  The mutineers don't stuff cotton in their ears, and when they discover Sinbad and his men are unaffected, they let them out so they can steer around the rocks.

So, they eventually arrive on Colossa, and split in three groups.  Because splitting up is always a good idea.  The first group stays on the shore to man a giant crossbow in the event of future Cyclops attacks, and Sinbad and Sokurah lead the other two groups.  They need to find a Roc eggshell to complete Sokurah's curse breaking potion.  Sinbad's group stumbles across a cave filled with treasures.  Sinbad tries to convince the ex-cons that his girlfriend is more important than stopping to fill their pockets, and that works out as well as you might expect.  But it turns out that the treasure trove is actually the secret stash of the Cyclops, who likes shiny thinks.  Sinbad and his men are captured and put in a gigantic cage, and the Cyclops ties the First Mate to a pole to roast over a fire.

Sokurah hears the commotion and decides to investigate.  But it turns out he's less interested in saving the crew as he is in raiding the treasure cave in search of the magic lamp.  Sinbad gets the idea to use Parisa's size to their advantage.  She can slip through the bars and open the latch!  They manage to escape and rescue the First Mate  About this time the rest of the second group shows up and they all fight the Cyclops.  Most of the crew are killed, but Sinbad is able to put out the Cyclops's eye with a torch and lure it off the edge of the cliff.

Sokurah has found the lamp, but Sinbad learns that it was all he was after the whole time and takes it from him to use as leverage.  They continue up the nesting cliffs to find a Roc's nest.  They find an unhatched egg, and the crew are tired and hungry and their feet hurt, so they suggest just using that egg.  Sokurah advises them that it's safer to use one that has already hatched.  The crew refuse to listen, and crack open the egg so they can eat the baby Roc inside.  They are attacked by the baby creature, but manage to overcome it.

Sinbad continues to mistrust Sokurah, but Sokurah's the only one who knows how to summon the Genie.  Parisa decides to go inside the Genie bottle and talk to the genie.  She and the Genie become friends.  Turns out he wants to be a 'Real Boy' Pinocchio style.  So she offers to free him in exchange for his help, and he teaches her a cutesy little Genie summoning rhyme.  Basically it's the Green Lantern pledge, but for Genies.

About this time they are attacked by an adult Roc - presumably the mamma of the one they just killed.  Sinbad tries to use the Genie bottle, but it falls from his grasp.  Sokurah and the First Mate fight for possession of the magic lamp.  The First Mate tosses it to Sinbad just before Sokurah kills him.  Sinbad is knocked unconscious, and carried off by the Roc to it's nest.  Sokurah kidnaps Parisa to use as a bargaining chip later, and scurries off to his evil lair.

Sinbad escapes from the Roc's nest and uses the Genie to guide him to Sokurah's underground castle.  He has to sneak past a the dragon Sokorah keeps chained up at the entrance to keep the Cyclops out.  He catches up to Sokurah who offers to trade Parisa for the lamp.  He returns her to her normal size, but Sinbad, who learned a thing or two after all the double crosses he's been through in this movie, tells Sokurah he'll only get the lamp when they're safely back at the ship.  So Sokurah summons a Skeletal warrior to kill Sinbad, and we get a preview of what would become Ray Harryhausen's most iconic scene - the Skeletal battle from 1963's Jason and the Argonauts.  Sinbad and Parisa escape from Sokura's lair, and they fulfill their promise to free the Genie. 

Unfortunately they run into a second Cyclops on the shore.  Sinbad cuts Sokurah's Dragon free and the two monsters do battle as Sinbad and Parisa make a break for the ship.  (This kicks off that tradition of each of these movies ending with two monsters fighting.  It works much better in this one than the Centaur/Griffon battle in 'Golden Voyage of Sinbad.')  The Dragon overcomes the Cyclops, and Sokurah sics it on our heroes.  But Sinbad's crew still have an ace up their sleeves in the form of that giant crossbow.  They slay the Dragon, who crushes Sokurah as it falls.

Poetic justice served, they sail off for Baghdad.  Now the the Genie is a real boy he's decided to join Sinbad's crew, and he just so happened to load the Cyclops treasure in the hold by magic.  Give 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad' a watch.  It's a classic, and if you're a Harryhausen fan, it's his first fantasy film, so you'll see how it shaped and influenced the rest of his career.


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