With the success of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad it’s no surprise that Ray Harryhausen and company would eventually return to this particular hero of the Tales of the Arabian Nights and though actor Kerwin Matthews wouldn’t be returning as the titular hero the amazing creations by Harryhausen would still be front and center, not to mention the added bonus of casting of the beautiful Caroline Munro as this film’s damsel in distress, and she brightens up any picture.
As in the previous Sinbad film, Ray Harryhausen and partner Charles H. Schneer were not interested in making a film that dealt with the actual mythology of the Arabian Nights, instead, the character’s existence in these films was simply an excellent way to showcase Harryhausen’s wonderful creations. This particular voyage begins when a mysterious flying creature is shot at by one of Sinbad’s (John Phillip Law) crew and as a result, a golden tablet is dropped on the deck of the ship, Sinbad’s second and command Rachid (Martin Shaw), is quick to call this item cursed and advises to all that it be thrown over the side, but Sinbad being Sinbad he keeps the golden trinket for himself and is soon plagued with visions about a man dressed in black, repeatedly calling his name, as well as a beautiful girl with an eye tattooed on the palm of her right hand. That night a sudden storm blows them off course and they soon find themselves off the coast of the country of Marabia where Sinbad has his first encounter with the Dark Prince, Koura (Tom Baker), an evil magician who plans to conquer Marabia and throw the land into darkness.
After escaping the clutches of Koura, Sinbad meets the Grand Vizier of Marabia (Douglas Wilmer), who has been acting as regent following the death of the Sultan, who had no heir, and he informs Sinbad that the amulet he obtained is but one piece of a puzzle to which the Vizier has another, and he tells of the legend claiming that once all three pieces are reunited it would reveal a map to the fabled Fountain of Destiny on the lost continent of Lemuria, and he who takes all the three pieces to the Fountain will receive “Youth, a shield of darkness and a crown of untold riches.” This seems like something right up Sinbad’s alley and the threat of further encounters with Koura only makes the challenge more enticing. The Vizier himself will be joining the expedition, wearing a golden mask to hide his disfigured face that was received due to Koura’s evil machination, but before setting sail Sinbad encounters a merchant who is anxious to hire Sinbad to take his lazy, no-good son Haroun (Kurt Christian) on this voyage, to hopefully make a man of him, and while Sinbad initially denies this request he then sets eyes on the slave girl named Margiana (Caroline Munro), who just so happens to be literally the woman of his dreams, palm tattoo and all. The group set sail on the next tide for the mythical island of Lemuria, but unbeknownst to them Koura has hired his own ship and with his magic, he will do his best to thwart Sinbad and claim the treasures for himself.
Aside from the inclusion of such things as Sinbad the Sailor, Grand Viziers and dark magic there really isn’t anything here that can be found in any of the Sinbad stories included in the One Thousand and One Nights but Ray Harryhausen and company were excellent at creating an atmosphere and overall feel that truly captured the genre, making this an exciting fantasy adventure that is fun for all ages. One of the best elements of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is that of its primary villain, Koura, who isn’t some all-powerful sorcerer that can hurl fireballs or conjure up any sort of threat at will, he is but a man whose magic is primarily centred on animating inanimate objects, in fact, every time he uses his magic a bit of his life force is drained away. At one point Koura used his abilities to create a little winged homunculus in his lab but mostly he “infuses life” into whatever is handy, such as bringing to life the wooden figurehead from the prow of Sinbad’s ship so that it could steal the map to Lemuria, and then later the animation of a stone statue of the goddess Kali to fend of Sinbad and his men, which is easily the best moment in the film. That is actually a key problem, the scene of Sinbad sword fighting with Kali is this film’s signature set piece but once it’s over we still have almost 30-minutes left to go, we do get a cool fight between a one-eyed centaur and a griffin but even that isn’t the final conflict, which is Sinbad fighting an invisible Koura, and thus the film doesn’t so much as have a rising climax as it does a slow denouement.
• Tom Baker as the villainous Koura is given a more Middle Eastern complexion while John Phillip Law simply relies on a faux Middle Eastern accent.
• This is the rare Arabian fantasy adventure where the Grand Vizier isn’t evil or vying for the throne, in this movie he has the throne and needs Sinbad’s help to keep it from an evil magician.
• Lemuria was a hypothesized continent proposed in 1864 by zoologist Philip Sclater to have sunk beneath the Indian Ocean, a theory that never quite got the love the stories of Atlantis received.
• Sinbad tells Margiana that “No human being has the right to own another” which is a pretty progressive attitude for someone of this place and time period.
• If it takes all three pieces of the amulet for one to receive “Youth, a shield of darkness and a crown of untold riches” it seems strange that Koura would try and seal Sinbad and his men in the temple of the Oracle when, at the time, Sinbad and company still held two of the pieces.
• Koura is briefly captured by worshippers of the goddess Kali, but these green painted primitives don’t look like your typical practitioners of Hindu and what they are doing on the island of Lemuria is never explained.
• I love it that Sinbad tosses Koura a sword so that they can have a fair fight and then Koura immediately tosses the blade to the animated statue of Kali so there can be an undisputedly unfair fight.
Where this film may disappoint some fans is in the number of fantasy creatures that our heroes will encounter; if we look back at Jason and the Argonauts we see that our heroes had to deal with winged harpies, a giant bronze statue, clashing rocks, the terrifying battle with the hydra that then culminating in a fight with seven sword-wielding skeletons, while in this film we get a wooden statue, a one-eyed centaur, and the badass statue of Kali, which was certainly cool but does kind of pale in comparison to what Jason encountered. The fact that Jason and the Argonauts was a financial disappointment may have had something to do with this movie not having a plethora of fantastical encounters, such things being rather costly, but the fight with Kali still stands out as a great moment in cinema history and though this entry doesn’t quite have the same level of excitement found in Jason and the Argonauts or The 7th Voyage of Sinbad it’s still a rousingly fun adventure film and John Philip Law made for an excellent Sinbad and Caroline Munro is always a treat and makes this film a more than enjoyable time for all.
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
Movie Rank - 7/10
With John Philip Law, Tom Baker and Caroline Munro leading the cast of a Sinbad movie you know you’re in for a treat, not to mention that Ray Harryhausen’s work here is as stellar as ever, but the rather thin adventure plot doesn’t quite have the payoff one would have hoped for.