Full disclosure from the start: this is, for the most part, not a good film – at least, not if you’re over the age of eleven. I was that age when the movie came out, several weeks after a little number called STAR WARS appeared. I desperately wanted to see STAR WARS, without knowing anything more than what I had seen in the brief commercials at the time (ahh, the days before the Interwebs) but my father, during one of his times when he wanted to prove he was a real Dad, preferred to see a Sinbad movie, so we went to this one. By the time I got to see STAR WARS, the lines were already beginning to go around the block…
However, for all its flaws, I’m discussing it here, partly because when you reach my age, nostalgia grips you like that inexplicable neck ache, partly because I’m sitting here trying not to think about my gout, and partly because I’m still waiting for some decent horror to be reviewed (I’m looking to get Hammer Films’ latest offering, THE QUIET ONES, so that will probably be my next review).
Sinbad was perhaps the first nautical hero, a legendary Seventh Century sailor whose adventures in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the Far East eventually reached Western audiences via translations of Arabic texts from the Nineteenth Century explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, via his translation of 1001 Arabian Nights, where Sinbad appeared in some of the stories (Burton also translated the Kama Sutra. And I’m sure he spent many a long night alone in his bedroom giving that a good hard translation). Sinbad has appeared extensively in movies since then – and as far as I can tell, has always been portrayed on screen by a white guy. Well, we wouldn’t want kids to admire someone who wasn’t, would we?
SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (whose title must surely have inspired the band Survivor a decade later) was the third and final Sinbad movie that Columbia Pictures made in collaboration with the late, great Ray Harryhausen, another good reason why this movie isn’t totally irredeemable. The movie was directed by Sam Wanamaker, an American actor/director whose membership in the American Communist Party blacklisted him in the Fifties and forced him to move to England, where he carved out a career in film and television (and was responsible for helping to restore Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, putting much of his time and money into it from 1970, though sadly he died before it was finally completed and opened to the public in 1997).
I’m glad he has this as his legacy, because to judge from his SINBAD movie, he wasn’t a great director. Not terrible – he knew how to point a camera at the people talking, and gave you a sense of what was going on – but given a movie set in a distant land and time full of magic and wonder, he filmed it like it was a documentary on Chilean collective farms.
SINBAD opens with some fireworks over an Arabian city (okay, stock footage of fireworks, which at one point illuminate a telephone wire), and through the garish credits we witness a Royal Coronation for Prince Kassim (Damien Thomas), though we don’t get to learn his name until later. Within the assembly, a veiled, black-cloaked woman with weird eyes and I’m sure no evil intentions whatsoever makes the fires magically flare up, something happens, and another woman screams! Oh, those wacky Royals!
Later, Sinbad (Patrick Wayne, son of John Wayne, who made a number of films with his father, and has a bland charm to him, though his attempt to portray a Persian adventurer works as well as his father’s attempt to portray Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR) and his men arrive at the city on a booty call, finding the gates locked for a curfew (you should have emailed ahead and said you were coming). They are given some exposition by a local, who offers to take them in for the night, generously offering food, belly dancing women, and poisoned wine – well, two out of three ain’t bad…
When this attempt to kill them fails, the same veiled woman we saw at the Coronation appears, and her eyes turn feline as she summons from the depths of Hell three weapon-wielding insect-like demons to attack them! Sinbad and his men escape, rowing or swimming back to his ship along with his one true love Princess Farah (future Dr Quinn Jane Seymour, looking like a proto-Bo Derek with her cornrows), who had snuck out of the city to meet him. She tells him that her brother Prince Kassim has fallen victim to some foul spell, rendered by Zenobia (Margaret Whiting), their evil stepmother (Evil stepmother? Who knew?), and if he’s not made Caliph in seven moons, the crown will go to Zenobia’s son, the supremely bland Rafi (Kurt Christian). Oh, bureaucracy…
Sinbad, wanting to tap that Princess, agrees to help, but knows of only one man who might be able to cure Kassim: the legendary Greek alchemist and brainy guy Melanthius. He plans to set sail immediately and find him. But when Zenobia appears at the ship and taunts them, Farah lets slip their plans to her (girl, you may be good on the eyes, but you don’t know when to shut up). Thus, it becomes a race, and Zenobia builds herself the Minoton, an animated giant gold statue that will do all the rowing, heavy lifting and such, since her son is a lazy bastard who’ll probably spend his days boning the chambermaids and leave Zenobia to handle the union disputes.
Meanwhile, a caged baboon is brought onboard, one that can play chess (Sinbad states that the ape has beaten him twice already, which might be more a reflection on him than the baboon). This turns out to be Kassim (though for some reason the movie attempts to generate some mystery as to what has happened to the prince, though at least he’s a handsome primate), and understandably he seems more than a little miffed at what’s happened to him (why didn’t Zenobia simply kill him? There’s talk of no one being able to spill Royal blood without being cursed, but you’d think a witch like Zenobia could handle something like that).
Sinbad and company reach an island (filmed at the treasury house of El Khasne in Petra, Jordan, the same place where Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail in LAST CRUSADE) and find a beautiful woman, Dione (Taryn Power, daughter of screen legend Tyrone Power), and her father, the great Melanthius (former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton, also famous as the priest who got impaled by the church spire in the original THE OMEN). After some initial scepticism, Melanthius agrees to help, but knows of only place where he might do it: the distant ice-covered land of Hyperborea (the plot plays out like a Dungeons and Dragons quest: find a wizard, then a power object, fight some goblins, etc). But they must hurry: the longer Kassim stays a baboon, the more the animal nature takes over. And Zenobia, accompanied by her son and the ever-reliable Minoton, remains ever in pursuit…
Even by the standards of the day, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER was not a great film. The acting, with the exception of more experienced hams like Troughton and Whiting, was bland. The plot (written by Beverley Cross, who had penned JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and the later CLASH OF THE TITANS) relied on the stupidity of certain characters to drive it along (In addition to the aforementioned bit with Farah and Zenobia, there’s another point later when Zenobia turns into a seagull to fly over to Sinbad’s ship and learn where they’re going, and when she’s captured, the wise man Melanthius gives away their own plans to her to make her talk, before she escapes).
This also leads to a sequence where she finds she’s run out of sufficient potion to return to full human form, and is left with a giant seagull’s foot, leaving her to moan, “Not enough! Not enough!” And leaving my partner and I to mock her mercilessly. Oh come on, Zenobia! It’s still a cool-looking foot, you could slice people’s throats open with its talons, and I bet you can still whip up something when you get home – or at least get yourself a custom-made boot to cover it. The pace is slow for much of the movie, and the rear projections used at times is laughable.
But, one doesn’t see this as a Sam Wanamaker film, or as a Patrick Wayne film. This is a Ray Harryhausen film. So, how are his creations? Well, while not up to the level of the ones in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, we at least get some variety: the aforementioned baboon and the Minoton, as well a giant wasp, a giant walrus, a resurrected sabre-toothed tiger, and best of all, a horned troglodyte in a Flintstones loincloth who first appears when he spies the women bathing nude (thus demonstrating how lax the G Rating was for movies in those days).
It took Ray one and a half years to complete the animation from his home studio – alone! – and had extra work when the original plans to have the troglodyte played by a man in a suit fell through, but this won’t be the movie that embodies his best work-
You know what? Screw this criticism. There’s no point in judging this with the eyes of an adult. It was meant for my eleven-year-old self. And I was amazed. And when my daughter saw this at that age, she was amazed, too. For all its flaws, it will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s available in various formats, and the trailer is below.
Director: Sam Wanamaker
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 1 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. And Edna.