Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Fantasies: Kerwin, Ray & Dynamation ...

After all those blondes last week (as below), a brunette: and he is Kerwin Mathews, star of some very pleasing fantasy films with those great early special effects (before CGI) by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. I certainly recommend THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD in 1958 and THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER from 1960, both perfect of their type. This kind of fantasy cinema passed us by a lot at the time, but I remember particularly liking MYSTERIOUS ISLAND in '61 with that giant crab, and honey bee, and of course Michael Craig and Joan Greenwood and Michael Callan and Herbert Lom as Nemo.
Kerwin was one of the 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE (Kim Novak label) which I saw recently, he did quite a few for Columbia back then (THE GARMENT JUNGLE) before joining the fantasy world of Harryhausen and producer Charles H Schneer. In THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, Sinbad travels to the island of Colossa to save a beautiful princess. He and his men are confronted by all manner of evil beasts, including marauding cyclopes, fire-breathing dragons and a swashbuckling skeleton. It is a delightful special effects extravaganza made in an era long before computer animation and movies with nine-figure budgets. Kathryn Grant (who left acting to become Mrs Bing Crosby)  is delightful too as the princess who is shrunk to tiny size, all part of the evil plotting by Torin Thatcher as the sinister magician with his own agenda ....Nathan Juran keeps it moving nicely.
THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER is just what it was meant to be - an entertaining family-friendly fantasy adventure, lacking Swift’s bitterness and complexity, but still possessing some satirical jabs as the satire has been leavened by farce. Again a splendid cast of characters support our hero: Peter Bull, Gregoire Aslan, Charles Lloyd Pack, Noel Purcell, as well as Jo Morrow and Lee Patterson. Gulliver's love interest is the lovely June Thorburn - the forest queen of 1959's charmer tom thumb - who was killed in a plane crash in 1967. 

The special effects that let Gulliver be a giant in Lilliput and tiny in Brobdingnag are by the reigning genius of the day, Ray Harryhausen, but writer/director Jack Sher's 1960 film wisely uses them only in the service of the story. There are several charming moments, including Gulliver singing, and the effects, though obvious now, must have delighted children back then, unused to computer games and CGI stunts. I liked it a lot, it is nicely plotted and the effects charm, as do the leading players. It remains an intelligent adaptation, if abridged and lighthearted, of a great classic, that stands on its own for entertainment.
The dvd has some great special features including an almost an hour long documentary on Ray Harryhausen (left) and how he developed his Dynamation and stop-motion animations, covering all his successes like the very popular JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and the follow-ups to SINBAD with John Philip Law and Patrick Wayne, and the 1981 all-star CLASH OF THE TITANS which we liked a lot.

PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER is grimmer fare from 1962 (part of a Hammer 4-pack which includes DEVIL SHIP PIRATES, TERROR OF THE TONGS and THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY, again long unseen but we remember them from that 1959/early '60s glut of Hammer films - see Horror label. Kerwin is a straightforward lead here, where Christopher Lee menaces the town looking for treasure with his gang of pirates including Oliver Reed and Peter Arne who have some good moments.Watch out for the piranhas ...

Kerwin continued in films (THE DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK with Tracy and Sinatra in '61) until 1977, including playing that French secret agent OSS 117 (taken over by Jean Dujurdin), I would like to see his 1960 peplum SAPPHO VENUS OF LESBOS. In his later years he became an antiques dealer in San Francisco and died in his sleep in 2007, aged 81. He somehow kept his male partner of 46 years a secret, in an era when everyone knew or guessed about Rock and Monty and Tab and Tony Perkins and .... He never minded that most of his movies have long been forgotten and those that endure are considered campy cult classics and seems to have been a thoroughly charming fellow. I wonder what his JACK THE GIANT KILLER is like?


  1. You can view SAPPHO at one of my Youtube channels: