Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Ray Harryhausen June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013

Although many other wargamers will no doubt be celebrating his life I really cannot let the passing of Ray Harryhausen pass without comment.

Along with another recent loss, Gerry Anderson, he defined much of my life when I was a child in the sixties. I think the first film I saw of his, on television, was The First Men in the Moon (1964), in black and white of course.  The first of his films I saw in colour was the peerless Jason and the Argonauts (1963) on my uncle's colour TV in the late sixties.  The amazing creatures and the sun-drenched Mediterranean scenery left me with an appreciation of these sorts of films that continues to this day and on a wargaming front is reflected in my Argonauts project.

I loved his three Sinbad films too and the dinosaur work on Hammer's One Million Years BC (1966).  I only saw the latter,  The Valley of Gwangi (1969) and his last film, Clash of the Titans (1981) at the cinema but have all his major film's on DVD.

  So, a review...

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The template for all that followed.

Best Creature: The cyclops!  I even painted my own version!

Babe: Kathryn Grant in figure hugging crop tops.

Do I own the soundtrack?  Yes! A great score by Bernard Hermann.  Harryhausen didn't want Hermann originally but changed his mind when he heard the score,  They went on to do three more films together. I have an excellent recording of the score played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by John Debney.

Mysterious Island (1961)

Parts of the opening were filmed in Shepperton Church Square about two miles from where I lived when I was young. A giant crab, Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo and the Nautilus!  Excellent!

The gorgeous Beth Rogan gets menaced by a very big chicken

Best Creature:  The Phororhacos.  Great interaction between the live actors and the model in this sequence.

Babe: Beth Rogan (who I have met) in a very un-Victorian doeskin top and shorts. Splendid!

Do I own the soundtrack?  Yes! Another great score by Bernard Hermann.  Minor key brass fanfares!  Crashing percussion! Excellent!

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

What can you say. His finest film!  A real galley, some superb Mediterranean locations and a great supporting cast.

Best creature:  The skeleton fight still holds up well today.  I saw the actual skeletons once at an exhibition at the BFI and they were very small but the sinister character Harryhausen conveyed in them by slightly caricaturing real skulls is impressive.  Talos a close second.

Babe: Nancy Kovacks as a slutty looking Medea; especially in the palace dance.  A pre-Goldfinger Honor Blackman scores highly too.

Do I own the soundtrack?  Yes!  Another excellent rerecording of the whole score by the Sinfonia of London under Bruce Broughton.

First Men in the Moon (1964)

Quite a steampunk one this, with an excellent Victorian spaceship.

Best creature:  Only the Selenites in this but I found them really creepy when I was small.  The first really alien looking aliens I had seen on screen.

Babe:  Martha Hyer was the sole female interest but a very interesting female she was too, especially in the Victorian lingerie shots they took for publicity purposes (the outfit, sadly, never appeared on screen).

Do I own the Soundtrack?  Laurie (The Avengers) Johnson came on board for this when Bernard Hermann wanted twice the fee that he had been paid for Jason and the Argonauts. Johnson's score does sound quite a lot like Bernard Hermann.  Update:  I have now obtained a CD of the soundtrack.

One Million Years BC (1966)

A Hammer, rather than a Harryhausen, production I saw it as a boy because of the dinosaurs.  The other attractions of the film became apparent in due course.

Best Creature:  It had to be the Triceratops; my favourite dinosaur of all time, then as now!

Simply the finest publicity still of any actress in the history of cinema!

Babe:  What can I say?  Utter perfection!

Do I own the soundtrack?  Again, this isn't available but there is a suite of Mario Nascimbene's music from it on one of those City of Prague Philharmonic's compilations which I do have.  Nascimbene's is best known for his stirring score to the Kirk Douglas/Tony Curtis epic The Vikings. 

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

Dinosaurs in the wild west.  What's not to like?

Best creature:  Gwangi himself, a sort of super Allosaurus, although the Styracosurus and the prehistoric horse were good too.   The scenes where the cowboys rope Gwangi are brilliantly done. 

Babe:  Miss Israel 1960 Gila Golan is never less than gorgeous throughout.

Do I own the soundtrack?  Yes. Again, the City of Prague Philharmonic have recorded extended highlights of Jerome (The Big Country) Moross' score.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Tom Baker as the baddie, more Arabian high jinks and a host of creatures mark Harryhausen's return to Sinbad after fifteen years.

Best Creature:  The positively balletic Kali trumps even the sinister figurehead which comes to life.

Babe:  The producers originally wanted Raquel Welch or Paula Prentiss but settled for Caroline Munro.  A most acceptable substitute!

Do I own the soundtrack?  Yes.  Miklos Rosza, who was Harryhausen's original choice for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in 1958, eventually gets to deliver his Sinbad score.  It features some creepy electronic effects.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Probably the weakest Sinbad film of the three with some dull creatures (A wasp? A walrus?) but some striking images nonetheless.

Best Creature:  The Minoton, although quite often played by a man in a suit rather than using stop motion animation.  Still a Harryhausen design, though.

Babe: Jane Seymour shows more skin than any other Harryhausen heroine to date in a (very modest) bathing sequence.

Do I have the soundtrack?  Yes, although I had to buy the out of production 1999 CD of Roy Budd's score at a ludicrous price.

Clash of the Titans (1981)

An end of an era as the economical Harryhausen style was eclipsed by bigger budgets and more modern techniques in the science fiction and fantasy films of the day: from Star Wars (1977) to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).  Both Spielberg and Lucas (and, indeed, Peter Jackson and Nick Park) have been vocal in acknowledging the influence that Harryhausen had upon their careers.

Best creature:  Harryhausen's Medusa was one of the very best creatures he ever produced and was, as ever, better because it had reptilian skin rather than fur (which he never did get to look convincing).

Babe: Judi Bowker was a pretty but modestly dressed heroine (her famous bath scene was done by a (much bustier) body double, sadly).  Actress Vida Taylor, who played Perseus' mother flashed the only nipple seen in a Harryhausen film, in an early breast feeding sequence and posed nude in Oui magazine in May 1981.

Do I have the soundtrack?   Yes. I bought the 2 disc special edition full soundtrack of Laurence Rosenthal's excellent score last year. 

My signed book

I met Ray Harryhausen a few years ago at a book signing where he took the trouble to speak individually to every person there.  For more than forty years I have been able to submerge myself in his extraordinary worlds and am glad that in the last few years he started to get the general recognition that he deserved.

Now the only thing left to do is decide which of his films I am going to watch tonight.  Although I suspect there is really only one choice!


  1. The skeletons and Munro are my highlights among highlights!

  2. Well played, sir... yours is the only blog I read that has made mention of the sad event... well done.

  3. I remember seeing Clash, and on TV, the Sinbad movies, and as a child of the Star Wars generation thinking them hopelessly silly and dated. It wasn't until later that I got a real sense of who he was, and how without him, Star Wars, and everything that followed it, wouldn't have happened. Now when I see his stuff, I get a happy nostalgic glow.

  4. I agree with all your thoughts in your wonderful romp through movie nostalgia... the effects, the females... delightful, whats not too like about scantily clad females in a Mediterranean climate!
    Of course many of the effects looks dated now, but they were classics in their time and still worthy of watching today.
    There was a curiously hypnotic sequence in one of the Sinbad movies I think with the 'evil female' wearing spikey red head gear that always sticks in my mind for some reason...

  5. Great post, entertaining as always. I watched a film/documentary 'Ray Harryhausen Titan' recently (at a local art house cinema but hopefully it should be available on DVD). Had forgotten just how good & inspirational he was, everything from Avatar to Wallace & Gromet and practically every film that I been influenced by in between. It reinforced the fact that models are 'real' and we interact with them, even if its just to figure out how it was done as opposed to CGI. It's amazing to see how badly a lot of, even recent, CGI film effects look dated but Harryhausen's work will remain timeless.

  6. A great tribute to a great man. I remember seeing Jason and the Argonauts for the first time as a kid, and watching the Skeleton fight from behind the sofa! I was scared and fascinated in equal measure. That scene still stands the test of time, even in this CGI age.

  7. That's a great trip through the movies I enjoyed watching as a kid.

    Another huge talent has gone to meet the great animator in the sky.