Ray Harryhausen brings his stop-motion magic, and Bernard Hermann brings his musical touch to this film that retells the story of the famed Greek hero in this next recommendation from The Thief of Bagdad in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book.
Todd Armstrong is Jason, a hero prophesied to become the king of Thessaly. Something the current king, Pelias (Douglas Wilmer) doesn’t want happening, seeing as he murdered Jason’s family to assume the throne. During a chance meeting, with Jason not recognizing who Pelias is, the tyrant suggests an odyssey for Jason, and recover the magical Golden Fleece. A journey, Pelias is fairly sure Jason won’t return from.
Jason, however, sees this as an opportunity, and throws together a crew to man his ship, including prisoners, warriors, and even a demi-god, Hercules (Nigel Green). Their journey is overseen by the goddess, Hera (Honor Blackman) who speaks to Jason through the ship’s figurehead, but can only aid him in his quest five times. And honestly, he pretty much wastes his lifelines with her.
Along the way, Jason and his fellows find themselves in a bunch of trouble, defying the gods, fighting an army of skeletons, harpies, and being pursued by a giant brass statue, all courtesy of Harryhausen’s visual effects wizardy. Yes, you can tell that everything was added after, but that doesn’t ruin the sense of fun that seems inherent in the film, though not quite so much as with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
Honestly, Armstrong is rather bland as Jason (but that may have something to do with the fact that his dialogue was re-recorded by Tim Turner and looped in), and Hercules isn’t around long enough to make for a big impact, though he’s performance is pretty enjoyable. The film also takes too long to introduce the film’s love interest, Medea (Nancy Kovack), a priestess who has access to the Fleece.
It was a joy, however, to see Patrick Troughton, in heavy makeup, as a blind man, Phineas, who is being besieged by harpies, which Jason happily frees him of.
But of course, it isn’t the actors, or the story that we’re here for, in this case, we are here to watch the masterful work of Harryhausen, and it’s fantastic here (and I’m very excited that there is one more film on the list of recommendations to watch featuring his work). The skeletons are great, the harpies are actually pretty frightening, and move incredibly believably, there were moments when I thought it was a cross between stop-motion and people in costume, and the giant statue, with some great sound effects thrown in, is entirely convincing as it stalks Jason and his crew across an island.
What’s your favorite Harryhausen film? Mine is about to show up on the list!