Supernal Dreams: Ray Harryhausen on the original CLASH OF THE TITANS

Perseus (Harry Hamlin) battles giant scorpions.
Perseus (Harry Hamlin) battles giant scorpions.

With the re-make of Clash of the Titans hitting theaters this week, Warner Bros. has released the original 1981 film on Blue-Ray disc. To celebrate, here is part V of my interview with Ray Harryhausen, discussing his hand-crafted approach to creating the film’s special visual effects.
Mr. Harryhausen, who will celebrate his 90th birthday in June, will be having a retrospective exhibition of his original stop-motion models and related items at the Academy of Motion Pictures Gallery the same month.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you supply the original story for CLASH OF THE TITANS?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, it was Beverly Cross who came up with a 25-page outline called Perseus and the Gorgon’s Head, taken from Greek mythology. Beverly has worked with us for some time. He also worked on Jason and the Argonauts and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and had written a picture for Charles (Schneer) called Half a Sixpence. We had quite a good relationship with him on all of those films. He is also a Greek scholar, which was important and rather rare. In his college days he studied all the Greek classics, so he also knew all the stories of ancient Greece. Beverly also lived in Greece for quite some time and he told me that while he was living on a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, he felt he could develop something with Perseus. I had always wanted to do the Perseus story, in fact right after Jason I wanted to make it, but I never clearly saw the development of the story. So Beverly came up with quite a good outline of how we could get a progressively good story out of the tale. Then I went my way and made some drawings of what I thought the visual elements should look like and Beverly enhanced his treatment, incorporating my visuals, because in our type of picture we have to start with the visuals.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You took certain liberties in adapting the Perseus myth to the screen, didn’t you?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, because most mythologies are rather fragmented, with many of the climaxes occurring in the first reel. In Greek mythology, the stories are so episodic you have to rob from one legend and put it into another. You can’t just take the Greek myths the way they are. You have to shape it and glamorize it. I like to glamorize my skeletons and I like to glamorize my dinosaurs. I think if you just took Greek mythology and put it on the screen you’d find it would be a big bore to everybody, because you don’t have a natural development of what is needed for a screenplay. We don’t like to tamper with the myths, but for example, in CLASH OF THE TITANS, we found that according to the legends, Pegasus is supposed to come from Medusa’s blood. Well, if we left it that way, we couldn’t have Pegasus come into the picture until reel eleven. Since we wanted to use Pegasus throughout the story, we had to develop another concept to account for him, which we did by having Zeus explain that Calibos was once a normal person, who was given a certain area to control on Earth and he slew all the herds of Zeus’s wonderful flying horses. That accounted for the fact that Pegasus came into the story before Medusa got her head cut off.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: The idea of the Gods playing with the life of the human characters was an idea you carried over from Jason and the Argonauts, wasn’t it?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, we really needed a transition between the Gods and the mortals, like the chessboard we used in Jason. You’re dealing with an almost surrealistic type of film that needed to depict the Gods, so I came up with the idea of a miniature amphitheater where the Gods could put these miniatures figures into the arena and shape their destinies.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: On CLASH OF THE TITANS, you had your biggest budget ever. Did you still find you had many shots that could have been improved?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh yes, many. You always run into that problem. You see, there’s this delusion, where people on the outside of filmmaking think you take a camera and just put it down under ideal conditions. But when you’re on location, taking 80 people from country to country, there are many compromises you have to make, because of the weather, because of accommodations in the summer, because of many things. For example, we had to shoot some plates in very bad weather, and I regretted that, but we’re not in a position to keep re-shooting scenes until we get it perfect. On all the pictures we had to compromise, because we usually had very tight budgets, especially compared to pictures that are made today. Today a picture can cost $100 million dollars and you don’t even see half of it on the screen, or if you do see it, you can’t understand the story. But as somebody once said, “these are the conditions that prevail.”
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What about the seagull that appears behind the opening titles of CLASH OF THE TITANS. Were you satisfied with that?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Well that was done mostly with high contrast mattes in the optical printer. After we had filmed the seagulls, we took them out and put them in a different background, simply because we were in no position to find a talented seagull to take with us to the Amazon jungle and put them in the proper background we had chosen for the trip to Mount Olympus.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: If you were offered the chance to make a film with a $100 million budget, what would you do?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: I think I would faint! Seriously, working as I did on mostly very tight budgets it made you think about cheaper ways of doing things. I had to do that right from my first solo effort, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which only cost $200,000, so I had to devise a simplified way of combining the models with a live action background. Even with a bigger budget, you still have to find short cuts and make compromises.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Is that what happened with the Kraken scene in the finale of CLASH OF THE TITANS? It looks like there is a background plate of the sky that is missing.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, I had always planned to have dark and threatening storm clouds behind the Kraken for the sacrifice of Andromeda, along with lightning effects to suggest the wrath of the Gods, but because of time and budget considerations, we were never able to complete the scene to my satisfaction.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: The Kraken is actually taken from Scandinavian mythology, isn’t it?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: The name is, but the sea monster is from the Greek myths. However, in the Greek stories, the sea monster was never actually named which is why we borrowed the name from the legends of the great giant squids of medieval times, when sailors didn’t have a name for a giant squid, so they called it a Kraken. John Wyndham wrote a story called The Kraken Wakes (1953) and several other stories have been written using that name, as well. But the Kraken is definitely a much later name than the sea monster that is supposed to devour Andromeda in the Greek legend. And since we had to give our creature a name and we didn’t want to call it Leviathan or Behemoth from the Bible, we decided to settle on the Kraken.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Was CLASH OF THE TITANS the first time you had assistance on the animation?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, because we had deadlines and had to get the film out by a certain date. As I result, I had to take on help. So I asked Jim Danforth to come in and animate Pegasus, because I had seen a horse he had done for a commercial some years before, while he was at Cascade. It was a commercial for a floor wax that showed a herd of horses that went rushing across the floor, so I felt he would be the right man to do the flying scenes of Pegasus. He also animated Dioskilos, the two-headed dog. Then we hired a young English animator, Steven Archer, because I had seen some of his work with clay figures. He had done three or four test subjects on his own, just for fun, but under very distressing circumstances, so I thought he would work out well. Steven ended up doing most of the animation for Bubo, the owl. Then both Jim and Steven did bits and pieces of the Kraken, because we had spasmodic pieces of film shot for each sequence of the Kraken.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You mentioned earlier that one of the keys to your long collaboration with Charles Schneer was that you never agreed. Couldn’t that be a real problem if you and Jim Danforth or Steven Archer had differences of opinion on how to animate a sequence?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Not really, because most of the sequences had already been laid out in storyboard form, so there was already a broad outline for both Jim and Steven to follow. Of course, any animator has to use his own judgment, because while you are animating on the set, so many things can be suggested. Once you are on the set, one pose suggests another, so most of the animation has to be done right there on the spot. So what I tried to do was to focus everyone’s attention towards the one specific channel that I thought would work for our overall purpose.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Earlier you said you never wanted to do a scene like the skeleton fight in Jason again, but you didn’t make things very easy for yourself when you gave Medusa all those snakes in her hair.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Well, with Medusa we needed to have a lot of snakes in her hair, otherwise she wouldn’t look right. After all who wants a Gorgon that’s skimpy on snakes! We ended up giving her twelve snakes, plus one on her arm. Each snake had a head and a body with a ball and socket armature, so I had to animate twelve snakes for each frame of film, plus the rattle of her tail, keeping all of that in synchronization. Then, because she plays opposite Harry Hamlin in a ten-minute scene and had to shoot arrows, we had to have an intricate model that was fully jointed. The final puppet had 150 joints throughout her body. Each of her fingers was jointed as well, so she could shoot arrows. We also built a much larger Medusa model, but it didn’t photograph with as much detail, so it wasn’t used in the final film.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What was your inspiration for the design of Medusa?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: I did a lot of research, and looked at Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze sculpture in Florence which shows Perseus holding Medusa’s head up at arm’s length. But I found that most of the classical Medusa’s were simply a rather attractive looking woman’s face with snakes in her hair. That wouldn’t turn anybody to stone, unless I miss the point of Greek mythology. Most artists, other than Cellini, all pictured her as a normal woman who simply had snakes in her hair. That wouldn’t be very dramatic for a motion picture, so I gave her a scaly face, and a more evil face than most of the classical concepts. Then I thought that the serpentine motif could be extended, by making her into a snake woman, which is something you find in German Gothic concepts. They used to combine the snake and the woman—no reflection on womanhood—but many of the early Gothic concepts involved that type of idea. Maybe that came from my Germanic background.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: The Snake woman in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD was sort of a early version of Medusa, and there’s a beautiful color sketch of her in The Art of Ray Harryhausen (on page 158).
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: That was just a simple tinted watercolor. The Snake woman was a forerunner of Medusa, but she had a bra. For Medusa we also started out by giving her a boob tube, but we didn’t like it, we thought it would look too vulgar, so we just decided to light her very discreetly. We wanted her to appear in a very mysterious kind of lighting to maintain the mood.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In An Animated Life you talk about the film Noir type of lighting in MILDRED PIERCE (1945) that influenced the Medusa sequence.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, I was very impressed by Mildred Pierce which I had seen years ago, and how they did the lighting on Joan Crawford’s face where she was moving in and out of shadows. So I tried to get that type of lighting on Medusa. That lighting was all dictated by what was going on in the background plate that had already been shot by our cameraman, Ted Moore. We had flames flickering throughout the sequence from braziers on the full-size live-action set, so I had to have a flicker effect on Medusa to match it, otherwise she would look like she had just been pasted on. I did all the lighting myself and devised a red and orange color wheel that cast colored light on the Medusa puppet, so it appeared as if she was lit by torch fire.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: And Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932) inspired Medusa’s initial entrance.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, I remembered seeing FREAKS, which had a man in the circus with no legs who had to pull himself along the ground with his arms. So when I began animating Medusa that image came to my mind, because she has no legs either. I thought it would be a good way to have her enter the scene—having her pull herself along with her arms. It gives a very weird impression when you first see her. She seems like a freak, so you feel a bit sorry for her.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: How did you achieve the effect of having Medusa’s arrow knock over Perseus’s shield?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: On the live-action set we had a long wire going up to the shield, and off camera we had a man who shot the arrow. The arrow rode along on the wire, and we put hydrochloric acid on it so it would smoke as it went by. Then when I went to animate Medusa, I put her in the right position, so when she releases the miniature arrow it matched the rear-projection plate that was behind the model.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: After Perseus decapitates Medusa what did you use for the ooze that comes out of her neck?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: That was done with wallpaper paste tinted red. It was quite effective and originally it was supposed to poison anyone who touched it. But we found we didn’t want to go into that kind of extreme detail for the scene, so in the end we didn’t use it.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you ever think about having Medusa speak?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, because then you’d be getting into the realm of the puppetoon, and we didn’t want that. It’s all right for puppetoons, but it’s never convincing for an animated character. No matter how carefully you animate a creature like Medusa, if you attempt to use dialogue you are really trying to play God, and that’s not my mission in life.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Is that why you decided to use an actor for Calibos, alongside the stop-motion model?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, because we initially started out with Calibos as being only a bestial character, with one cloven hoof and a tail. Naturally you can’t find an actor with a cloven hoof and a tail, so originally Calibos was just going to grunt and groan, a la ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. Then we decided in the final screenplay that we would need to have some exposition and dialogue from him, in order to keep him from being a dull character.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Calibos also has a touch of pathos about him. When he gives Andromeda the necklace, it invokes the memory of their past love and what he once looked like.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, Desmond Davis, the director was trying to get the feeling of Jean Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST into those scenes. Calibos was simply the victim of circumstances. Zeus turned him into this apparition of horror because they were whimsical Gods who were created in man’s image and they seemed to like revenge, which is really not very God-like. But in those days the Gods had many whims.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: CLASH OF THE TITANS was the first and only time you had a cast of big name actors to work with.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, we never really had stars in our pictures. We didn’t think we needed them because the pictures didn’t have star parts. Instead we tried to keep a minimum of dialogue and stress the fantasy aspects of the pictures. CLASH OF THE TITANS was the only one where MGM felt it was necessary to have some star names. We got some notable actors, mostly to play the Greek Gods. Beverly Cross had written a section into the script that glamorized the Gods, which I think worked out quite well, because who else could play Zeus, but Laurence Olivier? Maybe Charlton Heston, since he played God*, but Laurence Olivier was ideal. Although he wasn’t very well at the time—he was sort of on his last legs, and in rather poor health, but he gave a good performance. So I was most grateful we had at least one picture with a lot of stars in it. Of course, the stars got more money working for two weeks than I got for working two years! But that’s the way the cookie crumbles and you can’t worry about it.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In your earlier films, although you didn’t have star names, you always had excellent British character actors, like Douglas Wilmer, Laurence Naismith and Patrick Troughton. In fact, all those actors appeared in Sir Laurence Olivier’s film version of RICHARD III. Did you see RICHARD III when it came out in 1955?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh yes, although that was many years ago. And as you say, we always had very talented actors, even if they were not what today you would call stars. But they were all very competent actors: Douglas Wilmer was brilliant as King Pelias in Jason and later we used him in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD as the Grand Vizier. Laurence Naismith was also in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, and we used him again in THE VALLEY OF GWANGI.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What led you to retire after making CLASH OF THE TITANS?
Ray Harryhausen with the Medusa model from the 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS
Ray Harryhausen with the Medusa model from the 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS

RAY HARRYHAUSEN: I had enough of spending my time in a dark room after everybody else went home. I spent most of my life in a dark room, painted black, which can be depressing if you are aware of it, although I was never aware of it. I also felt that tastes had changed. After CLASH OF THE TITANS, we were going to do a follow-up, and I helped Charles develop a script with Beverly Cross called FORCE OF THE TROJANS, although a lot of the effects work would have been farmed out to someone else. But even though CLASH OF THE TITANS had made a lot of money for MGM, they didn’t want to back it. They felt costume pictures weren’t suitable, and the pictures the studios wanted you to make all had to have explosions in them every five minutes. So I’m grateful that I got in on the tail end of the great days of Hollywood.
FOOTNOTE:

  • Actually, Heston played Moses in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and John the Baptist in THE GREATEST STORY EVERY TOLD, but not God himself.

Sense of Wonder: Special effects titan Ray Harryhausen clashes with modern fantasy

Old legends never die; they just fade away…

Ray Harryhausen with the Medusa model from the 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS
Ray Harryhausen with the Medusa model from the 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS

Over at NJ.com, Stephen Whitty has an interview-profile of Ray Harryhausen, the legendary special effects maestro responsible for the original version of CLASH OF TITANS. The 90-year-old Harryhausen is a major influence on today’s fantasy filmmakers, but he seems indifferent to their efforts. His reaction to the remake (which he has not seen) is: “Not really my cup of tea.” He explains:

“When they said they were going to make a new ‘Clash of the Titans,’ I read they were going to make it in a ‘realistic’ way,” he says. “Well, how can you do that? Who in their right mind is going to believe a horse can fly? If you want realism, you should go look at reality. What we always gave the audience was fantasy.”

Whitty’s article provides a good synopsis of Harryhausens film career, which stretched from the 1940s to 1981’s CLASH OF THE TITANS, and it is nice to see that the remake has lead to the spotlight shining back on the man who gave so much to so many of us during the formative years of our childhood, when we could evade giant caterpillars on the moon, face off against six-armed statues in the Middle East, or face Hydras and Kracken’s in Ancient Greece.
However, it is just a little bit saddening to see Harryhausen so removed from the movie medium. I suppose he is simply sick of the Hollywood rat race and has no interest in even acting as a mentor to the filmmakers of today who grew up on his work. Instead, he prefers to spend his retirement working on special edition DVDs of his old movies or publishing glossy books about his work.
What really hurts, however, is seeing that his Sense of Wonder seems to blunted. Harryhausen was once an innovator: he  took a technique that dated back to the silent era, and he updated and modernized it, breathing life into inanimate objects that became incredible creatures on screen. Critical reaction to his work was often muted, praising the effects but dismissing the films overall as mere showcases for his talent, as if Harryhausen’s own special brand of movie magic was not justification in and of itself. (Why is writing a good line of dialogue considered more praise-worthy than bringing imagination to life?)
Today, however, Harryhausen sounds a little bit like his old critics, irritated by advances in film technology, indifferent to the wonderful achievements they have engendered, openly hostile to advances in story-telling. Just look at this:

What he thinks about current fantasy films, though — well, that’s not so delightful.
The pacing annoys him. (“Modern-day audiences seem to expect an explosion every five minutes.”) So do the plots. (“We went back to the old legends. They base their movies on comic books.”) And most of the major “breakthroughs” leave him unmoved.
“‘Avatar,’ I’m sure it’s impressive,” he says. “But it’s more or less ‘Flash Gordon,’ isn’t it? And 3-D — I suppose it’s more refined now, but we had that back in the ’50s.”

I have never been a fan of what I term the “Golden Age” approach to film criticism, in which a mythical Golden Age from the past (usually conforming to a viewer’s impressionable youth) is revered as the high-water mark in the history of cinema, followed by an inevitable decline. Motion pictures – like all the arts – live and breathe and grow. The classics of yesteryear retain their appeal, and we celebrate them for it, but we should not hold them up as the eternal yardstick by which all modern work seems lacking. ”
The lesson that Harryhausen never learned from the formative experience that inspired his career  – a childhood screening of KING KONG (1933) – was that, although a fantasy, the film was grounded in unpleasant reality (the Great Depression) that reverberated with audiences; also, it was filled with dark undercurrents that register more profoundly with adults than with children. Do I really need to point out that the plot is driven by a primitive, sub-human creature’s lust for a beautiful blond woman? And that the resulting sexual frustration leads to an orgy of destruction and loss of innocent life? As wonderful as Harryhausen’s films are, he never captured that kind of raw, primordial power, even when the scripts he worked from were based on Greek mythology, like CLASH OF THE TITANS.

Medusa rears her ugly head
Medusa rears her ugly head

Harryhausen was a master at providing child-like fantasy that appealed to young and old with an innocent sense of awe and wonder, but his technique was capable of achieving much more. In fact, perhaps the best single sequence he ever created is the Medusa set-piece from the ’81 CLASH OF THE TITANS, which plays like a mini-horror movie. I guess that scaring an audience – as opposed to amazing viewers – was not where his heart was at, but even fairy tales can be Grimm – and are the better for it.
I don’t know whether the new CLASH OF THE TITANS will match its predecessor or successfully capture an adult tone appropriate to the tragic nature of Greek mythology, but the remake deserves to be assessed on its own terms, and a “more realistic” approach to characters and storytelling (even in the context of a mythical fantasy) could yield interesting dividends. If you don’t at least believe in the possibility, then your Sense of Wonder is as dead as a victim who has stared into the Medusa’s eyes.

Supernal Dreams: Ray Harryhausen on Willis O’Brien and “A Century of Stop Motion Animation”

If you asked me what I thought Ray’s greatest achievement was, I’d say that in my mind it has been his whole life, his entire career. He is the finest animator that ever existed.
—Ray Bradbury



Ray Harryhausen’s latest book, A Century of Stop Motion Animation (Watson–Guptill) arrived in bookstores last November without much fanfare; Harryhausen did not make a trip from London to promote it stateside, as he had for his previous two volumes. But placed alongside An Animated Life and The Art of Ray Harryhausen, the current book completes a trilogy of essential reading for anyone with the slightest interest in Harryhausen’s work or stop-motion animation. In fact, taken together, the three books beautifully compliment each other; there is very little duplication among them, so with the three volumes you get a wonderful wealth of pictures and information on virtually every aspect of Harryhausen’s films. As Harryhausen frequently replied when asked questions while promoting An Animated Life in 2004, “It’s all in the book!”
This newest volume is once again beautifully designed (by Ashley Western), with many rare drawings, diagrams, models, posters and production photos taken from the vast archive of material Harryhausen began accumulating in 1933, after seeing King Kong for the first time.
Given Harryhausen’s preeminence in the field, he is ideally suited for writing a history of stop-motion: after meeting Willis O’Brien in 1939 he has known virtually every prominent practitioner of the craft. Tony Walton actually narrates the history in this volume, but Ray’s knowledge of the craft is clearly at the heart of the story.
As an admirer and friend of Willis O’Brien, Harryhausen devotes almost one-fourth of the book to his mentor (60 out of 240 pages). The chapter on O’Brien, entitled “Visionary and Star Maker,” is nothing less than spectacular. Gorgeous shots from The Lost World, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, The Animal World and The Black Scorpion are featured alongside rare O’Brien artwork for his many unrealized projects, such as Creation, War Eagles, Gwangi and King Kong vs. Frankenstein.
The first chapter outlines all the basic techniques involved in stop motion, with illustrations featuring models of creatures taken mostly from Ray’s own films. This is followed by a fascinating history of early stop motion efforts, from 1897 to 1930, providing valuable background on the now mostly forgotten pioneers of the art.
A chapter on contemporaries of O’Brien and Harryhausen features George Pal, Jim Danforth, Jiri Trnka, Karel Zeman, and several European animators with whose work I suspect many people will be quite unfamiliar.
There is also an invaluable chapter in which Harryhausen discusses in some detail his creative approach toward animating his creatures, from his beloved dinosaurs to the skeletons and Medusa.
Rounding out the book is a chapter on the Cascade Pictures generation of animators, including David Allen, Phil Tippett, Dennis Muren, Doug Beswick and Randy Cook, followed by a closing chapter devoted to the work of the newest group of animators employed by Tim Burton and Aardman Animation.
To call it the best book written on the subject is really an understatement, since as Ray points out in his forward, there really has not been a history of the art and craft of stop-motion before this. This is why it is such a joy that the first comprehensive volume on the subject has been written authored by the world-renowned maestro of the art!
To celebrate, here is Part IV of my interview with Ray Harryhausen, wherein he talks about the work of his mentor, Willis H. O’ Brien.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: How did your first meeting with Willis O’Brien come about?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: I first learned about Willis O’Brien from an exhibit at the Los Angeles natural history museum. They had several of his miniatures on display in the basement. Then while I was still in high school, one day during study period I looked over at a girl who had this big book with all these wonderful illustrations from King Kong in it and I almost flipped. I went over to her and introduced myself and told her about my desire to do animation and she said her father had worked with Willis O’Brien on The Last Days of Pompeii. She told me that O’Brien was now working at MGM on War Eagles and that I should call him up there. So the next day I called him at MGM and he kindly invited me down to the studio. When I got there I was in complete awe at all the pre-production drawings that were covering every inch of the walls. They showed all these giant eagles, who at the climax of the picture were seen perched atop the Statue of Liberty! So after that meeting I kept in touch with O’Brien, and he encouraged me and became my mentor. I learned many things from Obie.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You devote a whole chapter in A Century of Stop Motion Animation to Willis O’Brien, who began his career right here in San Francisco.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, Obie did some of his first animation on the roof of the old Bank of America building here, using two clay figures. He started out way back in 1914, or even before that in some of his early experiments, but he was from Oakland and worked as a sculptor for the San Francisco World’s fair in 1915. Then he worked for the Edison Company and tried many different things. When he was very young he ran away from home and became a cowboy, then a sports cartoonist for a San Francisco newspaper. He loved boxing and wrestling, so when we were preparing Mighty Joe Young, we used to go to quite a few boxing matches, because there was a time when we thought we’d have two Gorillas let loose in San Francisco beating the heck out of each other on top of a cable car that had broken loose and was going down a hill. Obie made several big drawings of that sequence, because he loved San Francisco, but unfortunately that was discarded in favor of the burning of the orphanage.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Weren’t both your mother and your grandfather originally from San Francisco as well?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, my Grandfather first came to San Francisco in 1850, and he was a gold miner, who moved to Nevada City where my father was born. But my mother grew up in San Francisco.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In the book you also talk about the many projects Willis O’Brien planned that never materialized.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, a lot of pictures he planned folded under him because of budgets and things like that. War Eagles collapsed at MGM when Merian Cooper was called into the Army to join the Flying Tigers. While Obie was at MGM he also had some ideas for the Marx Brothers. He wanted to have these three big Pelicans carry the Marx Brothers in their sacks and have them crash land on an island in the Pacific. He made many drawings for that, but I don’t know what happened to them. Then Obie had Gwangi set up at RKO, until it was canceled and replaced with Little Orphan Annie. He had a lot of personal tragedy in his life, as well.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: When you were making Clash of the Titans at MGM, did you attempt to locate any of the War Eagles drawings from the MGM archives?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, because Obie had done many drawings for the project and way back in 1939 when I first went to see Obie at MGM, I saw three rooms where every inch of wall space was covered with all these drawings and beautiful paintings. Only a few of them seemed to have survived. I think they must have chucked them all into the furnace. Miklos Rozsa told me that all the scores he wrote at MGM ended up being tossed into the furnace, so I don’t think many of those drawings exist anymore.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Or else they may have sold them off in the ’70s, when MGM auctioned off all their props and got out of film distribution.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: I did hear a story later on about some of the drawings being sold on Hollywood Boulevard, but I never saw any of them. Charles [Schneer] and I had even considered doing War Eagles right after we finished Clash of the Titians. Charles had gotten the original scripts that were written by Cyril Hume out of the MGM library, but nobody at the studio seemed to be interested in making it.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: After working with Willis O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young in 1949 did you hope to continue collaborating with him on his future projects?

RAY HARRYHAUSEN:
Yes, because initially Merian Cooper was going to produce H. G. Wells The Food of the Gods, but that was dropped, and I think Cooper also had in mind Mighty Joe Young Meets Tarzan, because we had made Mighty Joe Young at the old Selznick studio, and at the time Sol Lesser was making the Tarzan pictures there. Then Obie had a story idea he had sold to Jesse L. Lasky, The Valley of the Mist. But we were unfortunate, because we got caught in a change of management at RKO and all the overhead of the studio got dumped onto our picture. It made Mighty Joe Young appear to be far more costly than it actually was. So nobody wanted to touch animation. Obie’s technique also involved using these large glass paintings about ten feet wide and he painted all the scenery on the glass so you could get this wonderful jungle, like you saw in King Kong. But that was a very costly process because of all the time it took to paint the scenery. You had to have a staff of two or three very good artists to make a painting of a tree, actually look like a tree. It was just too costly.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In your Film Fantasy Scrapbook, you mention that O’Brien’s story idea for Valley of the Mist somehow won an Academy Award.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, there was a big problem with that, involving lawsuits and everything else. I don’t know all the details, because I heard the story second-hand, but Obie had originally prepared a story about a boy, a bull and a dinosaur. The story ended up in a bullring with the boy’s pet bull fighting an allosaurus. Obie had made a thick book of production illustrations that was very impressive and Jesse L. Lasky was going to produce it for Paramount. Jesse Lasky, Jr. who had written The Ten Commandments for Cecil B. DeMille was writing the final screenplay based on Obie’s outline, but once again it was one of those projects that never matured. Somehow it went through various hands, and I think it came back to O’Brien and he sold it to Eddie Nassour and then it went somewhere else. There were all sorts of problems with the rights to it, until eventually they took the dinosaur out of it and made it as a separate picture in 1956, called The Brave One.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: And the story credit for The Brave One was given to “Robert Rich” who was actually Dalton Trumbo hiding under a pseudonym, because at the time he was blacklisted for supposedly being a communist.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, so nobody knew who the author was. There was a lot of talk, then a lawsuit with the Nassour brothers, who made The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956), which was a sort of modification of Obie’s story.

A gorilla versus a dinosaur

LAWRENCE FRENCH: None of O’Brien’s films dealt with mythological subjects, did they?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, most of his animation dealt with either a gorilla or dinosaurs. He made that wonderful silent version of The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, with Wallace Beery and Bessie Love that had many dinosaurs, I think 25 dinosaurs. He had always been associated with the prehistoric world, which is wonderful. It’s earlier mythology than Greek mythology.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In The Art of Ray Harryhausen you talk about how Gustave Doré was your inspiration for much of the pre-production artwork you and Willis O’Brien drew.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, in fact I very rarely did any drawings in color, because Gustave Doré’s black and white engravings had always excited me. I thought he had a wonderful theatrical style, and many art directors copied Doré in the silent period, as did Cecil B. DeMille for many of his silent biblical pictures. But I originally started out making continuity sketches by doing something I got from Obie. He used to take pieces of photographic paper that hadn’t been developed and sketch out a basic idea and then wipe the back of them with powdered charcoal and pick out the highlights with an eraser. Then he’d sketch in the outlines with a dark pencil. Later on, I began doing these big drawings in black and white, based on Gustave Doré’s technique. His drawings were perfectly set-up, with a dark foreground, a medium middle ground, and a hazy light background, so you got a wonderful sense of depth. In fact I’ve always wanted to do Dante’s Inferno, because of Gustave Doré. He had done the first illustrated book of Dante’s Inferno—“A Trip Through Hell”. I felt that would look terrific in animation, but when I got deeper into it, I thought, “Will people be able to sit through an hour and half of tormented souls writhing in Hell?” Although these days they sit through over two hours of tormented souls!

Cybersurfing: 7th Voyage on Blu-ray

While surfing around the Internet, I stumbled upon DVD Beaver’s comparison of the various discs of 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. The fantasy classic, featuring stop-motion monsters by Ray Harryhausen, is available in three different versions: Columbia Tri-Star’s DVD (from 1999), Sony’s 50th anniversary DVD, and Sony’s 50th anniversary Blu-ray (both of which were released last year. Author Gary W. Tooze offers a slew of screen grabs so that you can see the difference in color and framing among the three versions, and he earns extra points for linking approvingly to our article by Lawrence French on the subject of the 50th anniversary release. French’s article contains comments from Harryhausen regarding his preference for working in the standard frame aspect ratio, rather than in widescreen formats – which explains why the 50th anniversary discs have been transferred in a a 1.66 aspect ratio instead of the wider 1.85 ratio of the previous disc (and theatrical presentation.

Charles Schneer: Another Look at a Shadowed Icon

An affection tribute to one-half of the team that brought some of the movies’ most memorable monsters to life

Jason and the Argonauts

“Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane. I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made.”

Tom Hanks affectionately spoke these words while on stage at the 1992 Academy Awards ceremony for science and technology. It seemed fitting for him to be there and to speak as he did. After all, it was that film and the people behind it which made him want to become an actor.
Although the popular main figure behind the iconic piece of cinema was Ray Harryhausen, and the person for whom Mr. Hanks was at the ceremony to honor, there was another person heavily involved in its production, someone who was with Ray practically from the beginning of some highly influential motion picture history. He was Charles H. Schneer. His may not be a household name, but the films he made with Harryhausen stirred the imaginations of at least three generations and ignited a passionate flame within innumerable young souls – souls who would move and shake the visual effects industry.
That half of a salient team passed away in Boca Raton, Florida on January 21, 2009. He was 88. Together, Schneer and Harryhausen (who were born the same year) took millions of viewers on voyages of wondrous, dreamy imagination. With them, youngsters around the world fought giant bronze Titans, seven headed Hydras, one-eyed Cyclopes, Medusa, and even a horde of skeletons! They were practically inseparable in their work and one wonders, without each one would there have been a complete other?

A Ray Harryhausen sketch for 7th Voyage of Sinbad
A Ray Harryhausen sketch for 7th Voyage of Sinbad

At the time the potential production of one of their most successful and most fondly remembered films, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, came along Schneer and Harryhausen had already worked together thrice before. All three low-budget films had turned tidy profits, but even with these recent successes under his belt, Harryhausen’s Arabian Nights pet project was turned down by several studios. But in stepped an interested party: Charles Schneer. “Ray had done these absolutely splendid charcoal drawings,” said the producer. “I thought they were the most unusual visuals I’d ever seen. I was swept off my feet by the images they conjured up. But all Ray had were these spectacular drawings. He didn’t have a story. So I hired a writer named Kenneth Kolb, and together we built a story line around Ray’s drawings.”
It was also at this time that Schneer—in a clever turn of showmanship—coined the term ‘Dynamation,’ (later also known as ‘Dynarama’) partially to separate in the mind of the public Harryhausen’s unique work style from other forms of animation. “The ‘mation’ suffix comes from ‘animation,’ of course,” Schneer reminisced. “I knew it needed something to go with it.’Dyna’ came from a Buick I once owned, which had the word ‘Dynaflow’ printed on the dashboard. The term ‘Dynamation’ had never been used before, so I immediately patented it. That’s one word we put into the film business.”
You might say that in a sense, Schneer was a modest-budget George Lucas to Harryhausen’s Steven Spielberg. Both men were deeply involved in all aspects of their films. Schneer provided the means, the support, and extra inspiration, while Harryhausen provided much of the creative elements. They made a well matched team—one needed the other in order to create a cohesive and successful whole—and it remains a bit confusing as to why Schneer is a mere and minor afterthought. He is little known for his efforts or his loyalty to the genre he helped propel forward. There is something very sad in that.
It Came from Beneath the Sea
It Came from Beneath the Sea

Mr. Schneer sole-produced his first film in 1955 (under the Columbia Pictures banner, for which he worked). Rather prophetically, it was the first of the aforementioned films, It Came from Beneath the Sea and would be a Harryhausen effort. A year later both men teamed up a second time on the rather unique and gutsy effects endeavor, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. And in the next year they sent a Venusian creature on a trip that would be 20 Million Miles to Earth.
But something different had occurred in relation the production of 20 Million Miles to Earth.   Schneer had decided to go solo as a producer and moved away from Columbia Pictures and his long-time boss and mentor of sorts, producer Sam Katzman, to set up his own production company called Morningside Pictures. This move would come to allow Schneer and Harryhausen a sense of autonomy concerning their films.
Interestingly, though, Harryhausen didn’t immediately think of Schneer when he was finding himself in a state of rejection time and again whilst trying to get his Sinbad project off the ground. But while all that was going on Schneer had made an advantageous arrangement with Columbia that allowed him deeper access to the studio’s costumes and sets and generally gave him a bit more money and material with which to work. The planets must have been aligning just right, for it was about at this time that Harryhausen’s project came across his desk. With Schneer’s immediate interest in it, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad became the fourth Schneer/Harryhausen collaboration. And with that, it seems an historic film union had been decreed unbreakable by the film Gods.
The duo wound up making no less than 12 movies together. Schneer produced nearly all of Harryhausen’s work, except for Animal World (which actually came not long after It Came from Beneath the Sea and was an early Irwin Allen production that wound up landing on the ash heap of history) and Hammer Films’ One Million Years B.C. (that film was as famous for what Rachel Welch’s costume did for her fame as for anything Harryhausen did).
The two men understood each other, worked well together, and from that time on they would be nearly inseparable partners. They would go on to create eight more projects together: some that were held dear to fans (Mysterious Island, The Valley of Gwangi), and some that were bitter disappointments (Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger – though less due to Harryhausen’s work than to the horrendous storyline and overall execution).
Jason and the Argonauts

It was in 1962 that the two would make what is considered their genre masterpiece, Jason and the Argonauts (originally titled “Jason and the Golden Fleece”). And for the first time Harryhausen asked for an official associate producer credit. This had much to do with the fact that the project was an original idea of Harryhausen’s and he was crucial to the design and execution of the picture. Schneer was more than willing to give him the title, saying later, “Actually, it was long overdue. Ray asked for that credit, and I had no problem with it. If he wanted it, he could have it.” Harryhausen would also be credited as associate producer for First Men in the Moon and The Valley of Gwangi; on all of their subsequent projects together he would receive equal billing as producer.
Harryhausen had a wonderful talent and was able to work in a disciplined fashion, but that in itself was not enough to ensure a successful career in his area of expertise. Demonstrative of this are the likes of the great American pioneer of stop-motion animation, Willis O’Brien (whose 1933 King Kong is one of the most admired and successful films of all time), and individuals like Art Clokey (who did find success on the small screen with the simple settings of the low-budgeted Gumby series), Peter Kleinow (who worked with Clokey for a time), Jim Danforth (who has kept busy over the years, but still seems to be known for his work on the soft-porn sci-fi spoof, Flesh Gordon) and David Allen (also known partially for his work on Gordon, in addition to the prehistoric dino-spoof Caveman). Talented men all, but none had a strong producer and supporter like Charles Schneer to fully propel their work into the public consciousness.
Allen, for example had a project that he’d been trying to get off the ground for years. Finally, in 1978 he began production on it with producer Charles Band. The film was the subject of a cover story in Cinefantastique Magazine that year, but despite the interest, the production was shut down. Examples like this are why the importance of Schneer’s contribution to Harryhausen’s success, as well as the fantasy & science fiction film genre, and film history itself, should not be undermined. He was a man who had illusory prowess, like his partner, and he knew his business.
Producer Paul Maslansky (Damnation Alley, Return to Oz, the Police Academy films,), who began his career with Schneer, once said of the seasoned producer, “Charlie was very particular about things. He was from the old Harry Cohen tradition; though much nicer, from what I hear about Cohen. His methods often weren’t exactly the way mine would be, but the biggest lesson I learned from Charlie was being tenacious, persistent. His brief was to make movies economically. If he got ‘No’ for an answer, he’d find another way of asking the question. That first price you get from someone is not necessarily the best price. You negotiate with technicians, with actors, everyone. Negotiate with strength, to find a better price, then hold up your end of the bargain. He taught me to be specific, not vague. Have facts and figures to back up your pitch. Don’t just say, ‘Oh, I think we’d need about six weeks to make this picture.’ Never be abstract. Have everything broken down; figures and boards, and say, exactly, ‘Here’s our schedule. We need precisely this much money and this much time.’” Schneer was a man who could make things happen in a tough industry—and he could do so on affordable budgets. It was why he was able to continue making fantasy films while the efforts of many others stalled.
Clash of the Titans

Schneer produced several films unrelated to Harryhausen over his near three-decade long career (Half a Sixpence, Good Day for a Hanging, Hellcats of the Navy – with future president, Ronald Reagan), but it seems fitting that 1981’s Clash of the Titans would be his—and, up to now, Harryhausen’s—last film. Both men essentially retired after that (though Harryhausen is reported to be serving as a producer for an old Merion C. Cooper story, titled War Eagles, set for a 2010 release). Titans was one of Schneer’s most ambitious projects, attracting some of the most respected actors in film, with Sir Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Burgess Meredith and Claire Bloom among them. A remake of the film is currently in progress, with a screenplay penned by Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Mr. Schneer truly was a pioneering and visionary producer within the fantasy & science fiction genre. Harryhausen understood this better than anyone, writing in the preface of his book with film historian & archivist Tony Dalton, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life, that Schneer was the “the unsung hero” of their films and Harryhausen’s own career. “He is a man I respect immensely. …He would supply the practical element, backed up with copious amounts of memos, and always knew what would work and what wouldn’t,” wrote Harryhausen. “Without his help and foresight, much of what we planned together would not have seen the light of day. …Thank you, Charles.”
The projects he and Harryhausen generated together inspired many of cinema’s greatest artisans: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Rick Baker, John Dykstra Richard Taylor and, yes, Tom Hanks, to name just a few. These individuals are giants in their fields, and Schneer had a noteworthy, albeit indirect, hand in that. He has essentially been relegated to two-sentence footnotes in film history; however, he deserves far more recognition for what he helped make possible. And though Charles H. Schneer has largely remained a man in shadows, he is an important part of cinematic annals and someone of whom we should take note. I, for one, will miss his presence on this little dust ball of ours.
Filmography of producer Charles H. Schneer

  • Clash of the Titans (1981)
  • Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)
  • The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)
  • The Executioner (1970)
  • Land Raiders (1969)
  • The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
  • Half a Sixpence (1967)
  • You Must Be Joking! (1965)
  • First Men in the Moon (1964)
  • East of Sudan (1964, executive producer – uncredited)
  • Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
  • Siege of the Saxons (1963 – uncredited)
  • Mysterious Island (1961)
  • Wernher von Braun (a.k.a., I Aim at the Stars – 1960)
  • The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960)
  • Good Day for a Hanging (1959)
  • Face of a Fugitive (1959 – executive producer)
  • Battle of the Coral Sea (1959)
  • The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
  • The Case Against Brooklyn (1958)
  • Tarawa Beachhead (1958)
  • 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
  • Hellcats of the Navy (1957)
  • Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
  • It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)
  • The 49th Man (1953 – associate producer)

Note: Ted Newsom kindly offered some statistical information in relation to this article.

Obituary: Charles H. Schneer, producer of 7th Voyage of Sinbad

7th Voyage of Sinbad, produced by Charles H. Schneer
7th Voyage of Sinbad, produced by Charles H. Schneer

Charles H. Schneer – the producer of 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and numerous other science fiction and fantasy films – passed away on January 21, at the age of 88.
Schneer’s filmography includes over twenty-five titles, but he will be most remembered for the twelve movies he produced for stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen, including EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, and their last and biggest collaboration, CLASH OF THE TITANS.
The Schneer-Harryhausen collaboration began in the 1950s, during the era of cinematic sci-fi devoted to alien invasions, giant bugs, mutated monsters, and radioactive dinosaurs. Harryhausen had apprenticed under effects pioneer Willis O’Brien (KING KONG) on 1948’s MIGHTY JOE YOUNG at a time when stop-motion effects (a time-consuming process) were the province of big-budget studio pictures. When the bottom dropped out of the market after the relatively poor showing of MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, Harryhausen adapted his techniques for low-budget films, starting with THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) for producer Jack Deitz.
Schneer, who was developing IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1954) at Columbia, hired Harryhausen to supply the film’s giant octopus – which, famously, had only six tentacles, due to budget reasons. The success of that film led to two subsequent black-and-white sci-fi films, including 1957’s 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (about a creature from Venus that hitches a ride to Earth on a space probe) .
Schneer convinced Harryhausen to work his movie magic in color. Shifting from sci-fi to fantasy, Schneer and Harryhausen created 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD, one of the most beloved fantasy films ever. This led to subsequent efforts like 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, the latter being one of their most highly regarded efforts. Eventually, two SINBAD sequels were produced, 1974’s GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and 1977’s SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER.
An allosaurs is roped like a steer.
The allosaurs in VALLEY OF GWANGI.

Along the way, Schneer and Harryhausen returned to a contemporary setting one last time for THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969), about a dinosaur discovered alive in an isolated valley. The storyline had been developed years earlier by Harryhausen’s mentor, O’Brien, but like many of O’Brien’s dream projects, it never came to life. Thanks to Schneer’s efforts as a producer, Harryhausen was able to succeed where O’Brien had not.
The films that Schneer produced for Harryhausen were modestly budgeted, peopled with reliable character actors rather than big name stars. Critics complained that the scripts short-changed plot and characterization in favor of monster set-pieces, but many of the films stand up better than expected on subsequent viewings, thanks to the light-hearted family-friendly tone that makes the monster-mayhem enjoyable fun instead of terrifyingly traumatic.
CLASH OF THE TITANS (which, like JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, was based on Greek mythology) was the one opportunity for Schneer and Harryhausen to work with an A-list cast, including Laurence Olivier. Rather more elaborate than their earlier efforts, CLASH suffered somewhat from being released in the post-STAR WARS era when special effects and audience sophistication had shifted. Nevertheless, the film was a grand affair that did solid box office, providing a perfect coda for their long collaboration.
Harryausen is the figure beloved by fans, because he supplied the amazing movie monsters that were the films’ true stars, but Schneerwas responsible for getting the films made. During an era when fantasy and science fiction were low-budget affairs that typically relied on man-in-a-suit effects, when studios were loath to finance Harryhausen’s more intricate stop-motion magic, Schneer produced a series of stop-motion films whose colorful effects and lovely location work often overcame their limited resources, turning them into mini-classics.
Schneer’s importance to the genre is perhaps best illustrated by comparing Harryhausen with his mentor O’Brien, whose career after MIGHTY JOE YOUNG consisted of providing effects for a handful of low-budget titles (e.g. THE BLACK SCORPION, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH). Harryhausen could easily have devolved down a similar path – a technician for hire, supplying special effects for other people’s movies. Instead; instead, Schneer turned Harryhausen into a virtual star, enabling him to develop his own projects, specifically designed to showcase his unique brand of movie magic. 
For that, all fans with a Sense of Wonder should be truly grateful.

Library of Congress selects Terminator, Invisible Man, 7th Voyage

Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator
The Terminator

The LIbrary of Congress latest round of picks includes three genre films that encompass science fiction, fantasy, and horror: THE TERMINATOR (1984), THE INVISBLE MAN (1933), and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1957). Each year, the Library of Congress selects 25 titles to be added to the National Film Registry for preservation because of their “enduring significance to American culture.”
Other titles added to the Registry as part of the 2008 picks (announced on December 30) include John Boorman’s 1972 film of backwoods terror, DELIVERANCE, and the 197 IN COLD BLOOD, which might well be considered a real-life horror story (based on Truman Capote’s non-fiction novel of a shocking real life murder).
THE TERMINATOR was James Cameron’ break-out film – an action-packed science-fiction thriller produced on a modest budget that galvanized audiences and wowed critics, becoming a sleeper hit when released. Despite his earlier turn as Conan the Barbarian, this is probably the film that best utilized Arnold Schwarzenegger as an actor, his imposing size and sharp features perfectly tailored for portraying an unemotional killing machine.
THE INVISIBLE MAN is one of four horror films directed by James Whale back in the glory days of Universal Pictures’ early black-and-white horror classics. Based on the H.G. Wells novel, it stars Claude Rains as a mad scientist who has achieved invisibility and uses it to inflict a “reign of terror” on the populace. The film is notable for its impressive special effects, which mostly hold up today, and for Whales penchant for leavening his horror films with campy humor (which in this case includes portraying the title character skipping down a road looking like a disembodied pair of pants while singing, “Here we go gather nuts in May…”).
7th Voyage
7th Voyage

The Arabian Nights fantasy 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is the first color effort from special effects expert Ray Harryhausen, who used stop-motion techniques to bring to life a series of mythical monsters such as the Cyclops, the Roc, a dragon, and perhaps most famously a sword-wielding skeleton. Harryhausen had made several black-and-white science-fiction films by this time, but 7THE VOYAGE provided the perfect home for his particular brand of movie magic, resulting in a memorable adventure of the sort that appeals to children of all ages. Read about the 50th anniversary DVD of the film here.
This year’s selections raise the total number of Registry titles t9 500. The Library of Congress preserves the films in Culpeper, Virginia, at the Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center .

Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

The Grand-Daddy of Giant Radioactive Prehistoric Monster Movies.

Ray Harryhausen’s first solo opportunity to supervise special effects (after apprenticing under Willis O’Brien, the technician behind 1933’s KING KONG) is the archetypal model for dozens of sci-fi monster flicks that followed, during the 1950s, and beyond. The story begins with an H-Bomb test, which awakens a predatory dinosaur from a multi-million-year sleep, frozen in icy tundra. A nuclear scientist (Paul Christian) who saw the creature tries to warn the military (in the form of Kenneth Tobey), but no one listens to his story until several boats are sunken, the survivors telling tales of sea serpents. A sympathetic paleontologist (Cecil Kellaway) and his beautiful assistant (Paula Raymond) identify the beast as a rhedosaurus and deduce that its path of destruction is taking it toward New York, where it goes on a rampage. The Beast carries unknown disease that preclude blasting it to pieces (which would only spread the germs), so the nuclear scientist devises a radioactive isotope that will kill the monsters and the bacteria it carries. The lethal antidote is fired (by Lee Van Cleef, later to be a gunslinger in Italian Westerns opposite Clint Eastwood) from atop a roller coaster when the Beast attacks Coney Island, for a fiery and spectacular conclusion.The story of BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is derivative of KING KONG and, more particularly, O’Brien’s 1925 silent effort THE LOST WORLD (which was based on the novel by Sherlock Holmes-creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Like those earlier works, BEAST features a prehistoric monster let loose on a modern city. But those stories had been more or less adventure-fantasies that unearthed their monsters in unexplored, exotic territory. BEAST, with its use of the H-Bomb, added a modern science-fiction edge, coming at a time when audiences really did fear the Bomb, which had the potential, for the first time in recorded history, to bring about the end of recorded history.
Thus, the BEAST becomes a walking metaphor for real fears, a sort of fantasy mirror into which audiences can gaze at something to horrible to contemplate directly. The effect is somewhat muted by the fact that the film ultimately assures us that radiation is okay (a radioactive isotope is used to kill the beast). In this regard, at least, the BEAST’S Japanese clone GOJIRA is considerably more powerful. Nevertheless, BEAST is an effective template from which many other subsequent films were fashioned (including Sony’s misnamed 1998 effort GODZILLA, which far more resembles this film than its namesake).
Unlike many of the movies that worked from its blue print, BEAST has a decent script. The story movies along nicely, with a minimum of downtime (even the obligatory romantic subplot fits in smoothly and unobtrusively). The writers appear to have done their homework, as the scientific jargon rings true and there are few obvious factual howlers. The dialogue is reasonably terse and even displays some clever wit. (At one point, Kellaway chides Tobey for not believing in flying saucers – reminding viewers that Tobey starred in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, which featured a flying saucer that brought an alien invader to Earth.)
The cast is made up of competent character actors who bring a decent level of conviction to their roles, spouting off paleontology terms like “Cretaceous” and “Jurassic” as if they know what they are talking about. There is little or none of the flat, cardboard feeling you get from similar films from the era, which tended to be filled with squared jawed heroes and fainting women.
A former production designer, director Eugene Lourie gets everything possible out of his limited resources, using lighting and camera placement to disguise the low-budget. The film looks atmospheric and moody, not cheap, and the judicious use of stock footage adds a sense of scope to the proceedings.
But of course the real star of the film is the special effects. Harryhausen used stop-motion to bring the titular character to life, but instead of creating a KONG-like fantasy world with the use of glass paintings and miniatures, Harryhausen kept the budget down by relying on “plate photography” of actual locations. (In other words, footage of New York streets, etc., was shot and then projected behind the tabletop miniature where Harryhausen animated the armature puppet of the Beast, one frame at a time.)
Being a dinosaur, the Beast cannot win our hearts in the same way that Kong could. But Harryhausen does invest some personality into the creature. Although fearsome and destructive, the rhedosaurus does not seem malignant; he’s just a creature lost in time, returning to the only home he ever knew. He manages to inspire a certain amount of awe, and you’re actually sorry to see the creature collapse and die at the end.
BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS admirably stands the test of time. Despite its financial restrictions, it is a solid effort that works on all levels. Not a masterpiece, perhaps, but definitely a classic of its genre – and vastly better than the 1998 GODZILLA.

FAVORITE SCENES

The paleontologist who wants to preserve capture and preserve the rhedosaurus descends in a diving bell to search for the creature. When he makes visual comment, his enthusiasm for his discovery blinds him to any danger. He enthusiastically describes the variations between what he expected from fossils and what he is actually seeing (“the dorsal spine is singular, not bi-lateral as we thought”). His final words are “But the most amazing thing is…” – just before the dinosaur’s open mouth lunges for the diving bell.
A New York cop, obviously not one to let monsters rampage through his neighborhood unopposed, walks down the middle of the street like a gunslinger, firing six shots from his revolver into the rampaging Rhedosaurus. Stopping to reload, he looks down at his gun – the hungry dinosaur reaches down and lifts him up in his mouth, flipping his body like a cat swallowing a minnow.

TRIVIA

The inspiration for the screenplay is credited to Ray Bradbury, but it appears that the script was not actually based on his short story. When he was offered the chance to do the effects, Ray Harryhausen showed the script to his old friend Bradbury, who noted that the scene wherein the Beast attacks a lighthouse was similar to his story “The Foghorn.” The rights to the story were purchased in order to avoid any legal problems. Since then, Bradbury has speculated that the screenwriters had read the story and incorporated the scene, whether consciously or not. Harryhausen provided a slightly different version of events at a 2006 screening of the film, stating that, after the script was written, the film’s producer came in with a copy of the Saturday Evening Post (which had published the story) and insisted that the lighthouse scene should be added.
This was the directorial debut of Eugene Lourie, who went on to direct two other movies about reawakened rampaging reptiles: 1959’s THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (a.k.a. THE BEHEMOTH, which, ironically, featured special effects by Harryhausen’s one-time mentor, Willis O’Brien) and 1961’s GORGO.
Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was, according to legend, inspired by THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. After a co-production deal fell through to make a large-scale war movie, he conceived of a Japanese version of BEAST. The result was 1954’s GOJIRA, which was released in the U.S. two years later as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. However, it remains unclear whether the late Tanaka had actually seen BEAST or had merely heard about it.

The prehistoric monster roars at the modern surroundings.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. (1953). Directed by Eugene Lourie. Written by Fred Freiberger and Louis Morheim, “inspired” by the short story “The Foghorn” by Ray Bradbury. Cast: Paul Christian (a.k.a. Paul Hubschmid), Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey, Donalds Woods, Lee Van Cleef.

Supernal Dreams: 50th Anniversary DVD Sinbad's 7th Voyage

The cyclops battles the wizard's dragon at the climax of SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD 

Columbia Pictures has announced a special 50th Anniversary DVD edition for Ray Harryhausen’s first Technicolor movie, the Arabian Nights fantasy, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. It will street on October 7. 2008, well in advance of the movies actual anniversary, when it opened at New York City’s fabulous Roxy Theater (seating 5,800) in Rockefeller Center, two days before Christmas on December 23, 1958. True stop-motion fans will remember that Willis O Brien’s KING KONG also debuted at the Roxy Theater, 25 years before, in March of 1933 (Across the street from Radio City Music Hall, where KONG was also playing.) But sadly, the Roxy, like many of America’s greatest movie palaces, met the same fate as the dinosaurs and was torn down in the early sixties.
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The Art of Ray Harryhausen: Interview Part 3 – "One Million Years, B.C."

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.

Since Ray Harryhausen recently completed a mini-tour of California in February, here – in advance of the opening of 10,000 YEARS, B.C. – are some of Ray’s comments on his own prehistoric dinosaur epic from 40 years ago: ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: After doing THE ANIMAL WORLD, you didn’t work with dinosaurs again until you made ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. for Hammer. Before that, did you ever try to get Charles Schneer interested in making a dinosaur film?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, because we were always doing pictures with very tight budgets. We were able to get a better budget from Hammer for ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.That was their 100th anniversary movie and they spent a little more money than they usually did. We went on location to the Canary Islands, shooting mostly on Lanzarote, which had many bleak and desolate landscapes that were made of pure volcanic rock. They lent themselves quite well to re-creating the landscapes of a prehistoric world.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you know that in America Fox released the 91-minute version of the movie on DVD rather than the more complete 100-minute UK version?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh really? I didn’t know that. Of course, I have no control over what the studios do, but that actually goes back to one of problems we had while we were making the film. [Producer] Michael Carreras realized the film was going to be too long and originally it ended up with a sequence where a brontosaurus attacked the Rock people in their cave. But it was decided that we already had enough animation sequences and rather than doing any more costly animation, we abandoned that entire sequence, which I quite regretted. But because the model of the brontosaurus had already been built, I used it for a few shots at the beginning of the picture, where John Richardson sees it moving behind a hill.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: According to the production log for ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C., you spent eight months in 1966 animating the film. From March 17th to April 7th you worked on the pteranodon scenes, from April 12 to the 30th on the giant turtle, from May 2nd to June 3rd the allosaurus battle, and the longest time (June 6th to July 15th) was devoted to the ceratosaurus fighting the triceratops. By contrast, it took you less than a week to film the live-action of the iguana, so you saved quite a bit of time by using a real lizard.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, that’s the reason I used the iguana, to save time. I also thought by showing a live creature at the beginning, it would make the animated ones more convincing, but it did just the opposite, because the lizard kept falling asleep and we had to substitute other lizards. When I animate my creatures they all do exactly what I want them to do. There is no talking back.
Raquel Welch in ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.LAWRENCE FRENCH: When ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. came out in 1966, it became a big hit, possibly because of Raquel Welch appearing half naked on screen, more than your dinosaurs.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, it turned out to be quite a success and it made Raquel Welch into a big star. It also led Charles and I to try dinosaurs once again for our next picture, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. But it took us over two years to make GWANGI, and the people at Warner Bros who we started the picture with, were gone when it was finished. The new people at the studio had no respect for what the old people had sanctioned and GWANGI really needed a really big publicity campaign, because most people thought GWANGI was another Godzilla type of thing.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Would you have liked to animate some of the newer dinosaurs species, such as the velociraptors that were so popular in JURASSIC PARK and KING KONG?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh, sure. But at the time, I used the most popular ones, because one was enough for me to animate, let alone a herd of them.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: After you worked at Hammer, did you ever think about using their most famous actor, Christopher Lee as a villain in one of your movies?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, but I knew Christopher Lee because we lived near him when we moved to Cadogan Square. Christopher still has a flat there.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: And until he died, Boris Karloff lived right next door to Christopher Lee on Cadogan Square.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, that’s right. But when we moved to Cadogan Square, Boris Karloff had already died. Since that time we’ve moved to Ilchester.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Looking back at your sixteen feature films, you made six movies in the fifties, and six films in the sixties, but only two in the seventies. I know animation is a very laborious process, but is there any reason for a four-film difference in the seventies?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Good Lord! I never added it up that way. I don’t know how to account for that, really. I guess we were more prolific in our early days.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Of your sixteen films, all of them were produced by Charles H. Schneer after you first began to work with him in 1955, with the exception of ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. which you did for Hammer. How were you able to maintain such a long and successful working relationship?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: By never agreeing, I suppose. We were together for a long time. Charles always had a great sympathy for fantasy. We had many disagreements, which brings up that old saying, “if two people think exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary.” So we battled out many things in the name of the film, and in the end we’d come to a compromise.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Bernard Herrmann, who scored four of your films was quite a temperamental person, so was there ever any trouble with him about scoring JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS? The reason I ask is because the initial 1963 credits list Mario Nascimbene as the composer for JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, Bernie was always going to write the music for JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Crediting Mario Nascimbene was probably just a mistake somebody in Columbia’s publicity department made.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you have any input about using Mario Nascimbene to score ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. ?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, getting Mario Nascimbene was something I had nothing to do with. Hammer made the arrangements to use him. But I thought he did a very effective score, although his music was not in the tradition of what we usually did – but it certainly seemed to fit the picture.
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