Friday, November 27, 2015


The sorcerer Pendragon (Torin Thatcher) was exiled from Cornwall years ago but is now scheming to regain his power. At Princess Elaine's birthday party, Pendragon arrives in the guise of a foreign prince and brings an unusual present for her: a music box out of which pops a tiny jester who dances about then goes back in the box. Everyone is quite taken with it until, that night while Elaine sleeps, the jester emerges and magically grows to become a giant who smashes up her room and abducts her. He takes her to the shore where Pendragon's dwarf underling Garna is waiting with a ship to take her to Pendragon's castle, but the simple farmer Jack (Kerwin Mathews) comes to her rescue, not realizing she is royalty. Jack kills the giant, Garna has to leave empty-handed, and Princess Elaine's father, the king, knights Jack and gives him the task of keeping Elaine safe as he sends her off to the safety of a faraway convent—which you can tell bums Elaine out as she's fallen for her brave hero. But the royal Lady Constance (Anna Lee) has been placed under the control of Pendragon and lets him know about the King’s plan. En route, glowing witches fly down from a purple sky and attack the ship carrying Elaine and snatch her away where Pendragon turns her into an evil version of herself. It's up to Jack and his buddies—the Viking Sigrud, the young lad Peter, and a little leprechaun-type imp in a bottle—to track her down and save her from what would undoubtedly be a fate worse than death.

Even though this gets roundly criticized as a sub-par Ray Harryhousen steal (not just in its use of stop-motion creatures but also for certain plot elements), I have great affection for it. I had a comic book of it when I flew alone from Arizona to Ohio at the age of 10 and I read it over and over on the flight. I didn't see the movie until a few years later, but still, I saw it before I saw JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS so this didn’t feel like a rip-off. As an adult, I can see that the special effects are indeed lacking—though that first battle between Jack and a two-horned giant is carried off pretty well—and the plotline is rudimentary at best, though plots are never the selling point of 50s and 60s fantasy movies. Some effects that come off as cheap to adult viewers (colored rays beaming from Pendragon's eyes, magic sprinkles from the imp) looked cool to a child, and they still look cool to me (see also similar effects in the duel of the magicians in Roger Corman's THE RAVEN). So since I still see this movie through the rose-colored glasses of my youth, I may not be the most objective critic. I can see that Matthews, the handsome hero of Harryhausen's SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, was in his mid-30s and starting to look a little old—especially around the eyes—to be playing an innocent farmboy, but he still has a heroic physical presence and can do the necessary swashbuckling. Judi Meredith is competent but not much more as the princess, though she does a nice job playing the evil princess (in the picture at left, the good princess looks at the evil princess in a mirror), and Torin Thatcher isn't giving 100% as the villain. The leprechaun and his constant rhyming speech get a bit tiresome, and the wonderful Anna Lee (Sister Margaretta in THE SOUND OF MUSIC) is underused. In the 70s, this was reedited into a musical, of all things, but it is to be avoided. Otherwise, this remains one of my favorite fantasy films and I recommend it to the young at heart who can overlook its flaws and find snatches of magic in it. [DVD]

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