After destroying Coney Island, tearing down the Golden Gate Bridge and laying waste to Washington D.C. and the Roman Colosseum in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth, legendary effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen decided to move on from telling contemporary stories and focus his efforts on creating cinematic adventures based on fables and myths, stories that have lasted for centuries, and for the first of those he chose The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
With Ray Harryhausen’s interests shifting from modern-day sci-fi monster thrillers to fantasy adventures it’s not surprising that he’d dive into the tales found in the Arabian tales of “One Thousand and One Nights” as this opened up so many possibilities when it came to wonderful monsters for Harryhausen to bring to life, and by that I mean Harryhausen took character and creatures from the Arabian tales and made his own stories because nothing in this film remotely resembles the story of Sinbad’s Seventh Voyage as found in those old tales, which had something to do with bird-people and Sinbad being captured and sold into slavery, needless to say, I think Harryhausen’s take on Sinbad was great and his amazing mythological monsters are still my go-to version of the Arabian myths, what is kind of weird is that he’d name his first Sinbad film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad when the seventh voyage was actually Sinbad’s last. Another odd thing that is not so much weird as it was a product of its time, is the fact that Sinbad looks pretty damn white for an Arabic sailor, he doesn’t even have a tan.
In this particular adventure we find Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) on route to Baghdad with his fiancé Parisa (Kathryn Grant), the Princess of Chandra, only to have this voyage interrupted by an unexpected detour to the island of Colossa, a mysterious and foreboding place full of monsters and ancient temples, but as their ship was running low on supplies this pitstop is almost fortuitous. Needless to say, a few complications arise as no sooner do they fill up some casks with water they are confronted with the sight of giant cyclops chasing a man across the beach – a sight that at this point in Sinbad’s career would be called a Thursday – but the man is actually the sorcerer Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) and he invokes the genie of the lamp he carries and orders it to form a barrier between them and the raging cyclops. Unfortunately, even though the genie (Richard Eyer) created a powerful and impenetrable barrier it also came with a height restriction and thus the cyclops could lob boulders over it, which results in their boat capsizing and the magic lamp ending up in the drink.
Sinbad and company make it safely back to Baghdad, where his wedding to Princess Parisa will unite Baghdad and Chandra and prevent a war, but throughout all these festivities we get Sokurah constantly begging for help in recovering his lost magic lamp but as stories of the dangers of Colossa have already spread amongst the populace his chances of getting a crew to undertake such a voyage would be next to impossible. Not one to take no for answer, Sokurah uses his prowess and powers to unveil a dark prophecy about a war between Baghdad and Chandra, one that can only be averted if they go to Colossa, seeing through this rather transparent ploy the Sultan orders Sokurah to leave the city under pain of death if he remains. That night Sokurah slips into the palace and casts a spell that shrinks the princess to the size of an action figure, and when her father discovers this, he tells the Sultan, “Look upon your city, enjoy the sight, for soon it will be rubble and bleach bone.” That may seem like an overreaction, but Sinbad takes it to heart and quickly races after the only man he thinks can solve this dilemma, Sokurah the sorcerer!
Sinbad learns from Sokurah that the only cure for Parisa’s condition is a potion whose key ingredient is a piece of an egg from the shell of Giant Roc, that can only be found on the island of Colossa, and hey, isn’t that the same place Sokurah has been weaselling a journey to all this time? It’s at this point we come to the realization that Sinbad may be a great sea captain but he’s not all that bright because even a four-year-old could easily connect the dots. Let’s review, Sokurah the dark sorcerer wants to go to Colossa, but no one will help, dark magic shrinks the princess and the only cure is on the island of Colossa, gee I wonder if there is a connection? This is the only major stumbling block in an otherwise great adventure film, it just makes Sinbad look colossally dumb, but it does lead to a return trip to Colossa and all the cool action that follows. I’ll overlook a lot of faults if the end result is a battle with a two-headed roc, a fight between a fire-breathing dragon and a giant cyclops, and a finale that would pit Sinbad against a living skeleton.
• Sinbad’s marriage to Princess Parisa creates an alliance between two kingdoms, in the hope of preventing a war, but Sinbad is only “like a son” to the Caliph so I’m not sure how this works politically.
• When it comes to Grand Viziers or Magicians in the Tales of the Arabian Nights it’d be best to simply behead them on sight, that would save everyone a lot of grief.
• When Sinbad is told they need a piece of an egg from the shell of Giant Roc he immediately points out that this is “A monstrous bird that nests on the peaks of Colossa” which is a bit of an odd piece of knowledge for him to have considering he only briefly set foot on the island.
• More proof that the Sinbad of this film isn’t too bright is when learns from Sokurah that there have been mutinous mutterings from the crew and he simply blows it off stating “The weapons are safely secured and without swords or knives there is nothing they can do” but as 99% of the crew consists of death row inmates, they don’t really need weapons to be a threat.
• Torin Thatcher would again play an evil magician a few years later in Jack the Giant Killer which is pretty cool typecasting.
• Actor Richard Eyer may have been young, but he was no stranger to fantastic tales as he also starred in The Invisible Boy with Robby the Robot.
• Kerwin Mathews was also the star of Jack the Giant Killer and when you watch that film you will be shocked at how much more than just the stars they borrowed to make that movie.
With this film Ray Harryhausen was able to marshal all the skills as an animator and a storyteller that he had accrued over the years to create one of the best fantasy adventure films to date, years later this movie still holds up perfectly well, if you are able to look past the unfortunate Caucasian casting, and with Bernard Herman’s rousing score and Torin Thatcher’s pitch-perfecting turn as the villainous sorcerer there is a lot to love about this film and it’s one I can’t recommend enough. So, if you like high adventure and fantastic beasts, and want to know where to find them, then check out The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, you will not be disappointed.
Note: Ray Harryhausen often has his creation go out in a dramatic fashion, much akin to that of a dying opera singer, and like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms the fire-breathing dragon’s death is quite operatic.
The 7th Voyage of Sindbad (1958)
Movie Rank - 8/10
This may have been Ray Harryhausen’s first Sinbad movie, despite what the title may lead others to believe, but it’s also the best of the three he produced as it perfectly captured the fantasy elements of those classic Arabian tales.