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Special effects master Ray Harryhausen is almost a genre unto himself. His films are a blend of charming stop-motion animation with lively stories - frequently drawn from mythology - that appeal as much to open-minded adults as to the kids they seem frequently created for. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) is one of Harryhausen's final films to date and shows many of his strengths as it careens from swashbuckling action to moody intrigue to fearful monsters.
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad starts in an appropriately mysterious manner as what appears to be a wayward albatross flying high above Sinbad's ship drops a gold medallion. Despite assurances from his crew that it's "bad luck," Sinbad decides to wear the medallion. He quickly gets to test that luck a few days later when he heads ashore only to have a domineering sorcerer and assorted henchmen demand the medallion. When Sinbad finds refuge in a nearby town he discovers that the sorcerer has been spreading his evil ways over the land during the disappearance of the true ruler. Fortified with partial knowledge of the medallion's secret and accompanied by a bronze-masked vizier, a merchant's shiftless son and a beautiful slave-girl, Sinbad and his crew sail off to free the land from the sorcerer's menace while combating all manner of mythical creatures.
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad was produced by Harryhausen and his long-time producer Charles Schneer from a script by Harryhausen and prolific TV and B-movie writer Brian Clemens (The Avengers). Shooting began in June 1972 in Spain in various locales: Madrid, Majorca and Palma de Mallorca. Primary filming lasted only eight weeks but due to the time-consuming special effects the film wasn't released until April 1974. In fact, the effects took so long that director Gordon Hessler was able to make another film, Embassy (1972), between the time of shooting Golden Voyage and the final editing. Music for Golden Voyage was supplied by multiple Oscar®-winner Miklos Rozsa.
In an interview for Cinefantastique magazine, producer Schneer discussed aspects of the art direction and process shots for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad with interviewers Dan R. Scapperotti and David Bartholomew: "The Fountain of Destiny was a Harryhausen designed miniature. I think it's one of the best of its kind. It was a miniature to this extent: it is combined with an actual set which we built in our own studios in Madrid. The only thing that's miniature in that set is the fountain. Everything else is built...The village of Moldavia we shot in Majorca, which is actually a village that was built there a number of years ago as a tourist attraction. It is a replica of the architecture of many of the various provinces of Spain...we didn't use a real ship [for the ocean sequences], but little miniatures, and they were shot in Malta, in a tank which has a normal horizon, looking right out into the Mediterranean...the deck of the ship was actually a full sized ship which we built on the plains of Madrid. They've never seen a boat in their lives there, because there's no water in Madrid, but there's a full-sized bow that we built there."
Fans of cult films will find several familiar faces in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Playing Sinbad is John Phillip Law, an American who found steady employment in Italy in the mid-60s. He has the lead role in Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik (1968) and opposite Jane Fonda in Barbarella (1968), later paying tribute to that era in Roman Coppola's affectionate homage CQ (2001). His opponent, the evil Koura, is Tom Baker, later to be familiar to millions of TV viewers as the fourth Dr. Who. Baker's performance in Golden Voyage is perhaps the strongest, as he projects a sense of real menace and intelligence without seeming campy. The freed slave Margiana is Caroline Munro, so memorable in films like Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1973) and At the Earth's Core (1974), though her main function in Golden Voyage is to provide the requisite sex appeal (and cleavage) to entertain bored Daddies in the audience. By the way, that's an uncredited Robert Shaw (Jaws, 1975) as the smoke-covered Oracle.
Producer: Ray Harryhausen, Charles H. Schneer
Director: Gordon Hessler
Screenplay: Brian Clemens, Ray Harryhausen
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Film Editing: Roy Watts
Art Direction: Fernando Gonzalez
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: John Phillip Law (Sinbad), Caroline Munro (Margiana), Tom Baker (Koura), Douglas Wilmer (Vizier), Martin Shaw (Rachid), Gregoire Aslan (Hakim).
by Lang Thompson