Saturday, February 17, 2018

Magoo's Arabian Nights!


Mister Magoo is a great character -- a near-sighted cantankerous coot who blunders through world in full confidence that he has the complete picture when clearly he doesn't. UPA had a hit on their hands with the myopic animated star and they sought to capitalize not only with well-crafted short films, but a feature-length animation in the manner of Disney. So they took their star Magoo and blended him with the well-trod yarns of 1001 Arabian Nights and give us a diverting film which beautifully done and beautiful to watch.


The story is a simple one really, the handsome youth Aladdin falls in love with the Princess Yasminda who sadly is pledged in marriage to the wicked Wazir so that the kingdom can pay its debts. The Wazir in an attempt to get power learns that Magoo the uncle of Aladdin can lead him to a magic lamp and the jinni inside. Later the Wazir uses Aladdin to find the lamp but loses it and Aladdin himself gets control of the Jinni. It's helter-skelter from there and if I told you it had a happy ending, I'm sure you wouldn't be too surprised.


Aside from the antics of Magoo (my favorite moments are his entanglements with the thread of a flying carpet) we have a standard love story filled with magic. The real allure of this movie though is the animation style, which in the manner of UPA is less rendered than Disney or Warner Brothers and more stylized. The backgrounds are gorgeous pageants of color and line. This is the elegance of the movie which has great movement, but even better composition. Also a curiosity in this one is that the actress who performs the voice of Princess Yasminda was Kathryn Grant (Crosby) who had already portrayed Princess Parisa in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad the year before.


Highly recommended.  Here are some more images.





More Magoo to come tomorrow.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

In The Days Of The Gun!


Well we've had another school shooting. What was once upon a time a freakish and unthinkable event has now become a commonplace. I know this from firsthand evidence.


When the tragic events of Columbine occurred there was true shock and an utter transformation of how schools thought about day-to-day operations. Cameras became ubiquitous, security drills became mandatory, and police officers became a mainstay of many schools. I have worked in schools before and after Columbine and the differences are obvious. I've worked in schools with armed personnel as a regular feature of the day. I've led students in various kinds of security drills. At first we hid in the farthest corners with the doors locked and the curtains drawn and lights out. Then as time passed and panic diminished we just locked the door and took account of the students in the room. Later still we got orders to leave the curtains open so that the cops could search the building for culprits more effectively. We were trained to throw books and other items at attackers if all else had failed. And most importantly we were cautioned always to keep our heads on the swivel.


I work in a facility right now which has room numbers on the exterior walls of the building for the express purpose of assisting cops and other responders in the case of the inevitable attack. We were scheduled to have a security drill this week, but that has almost certainly been pushed back after the events in Florida.  But here is the thing that makes me know these shooter attacks, these mundane mass murders are now just part of the fabric of daily life; we had a moment of silence for the victims at my school, but otherwise things progressed normally. No crackdown on backpacks, no counseling services made available for especially stressed students, no urgent e-mails telling us to stay calm and go about our business. We just did. The day after the most recent school shooting, one of the top ten such crimes in American history, was almost identical to the day before, and that sober reality is the utter and complete tragedy of what has become life in these needlessly dangerous United States.

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Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger!


Sinbad and the The Eye of the Tiger is a diverting adventure tale with lots of delightful fantasy elements blended into it. It's hurt from the get-go by its lead Patrick Wayne. Sadly Wayne is simply not up to the role and while perfectly handsome enough lacks the acting chops to hang with pros like Patrick Troughton and Margaret Whiting. Fortunately for Wayne he has relative novices alongside him such as pretty Taryn Power and a lovely up and coming Jane Seymour. Both are absolutely lovely to look at, but their acting in this vehicle at least is pretty indifferent.


On the Harryhausen special effects front, this is a movie with strengths and weaknesses, but mostly lost opportunities. The Minoton which dominates a lot of screen time marches all the way to the top fo the world with the villains but then gets crushed moments before a potentially awesome battle with the Troglodyte who ends up fighting a Sabretooth tiger instead. Why not have both. Harryhausen has said this movie was a bit of a rush job, in response to good ticket sales on The Golden Voyage several years before and frankly it shows.


The show even fails to my mind to make full use of such awe-inspiring sights as Petra which is only glimpsed in the early parts of the movie. Apparently none of the main actors went to the location and that really damages the sense of wonder which could have been achieved there.


The story itself seems a patch job, too similar in many respects to the earlier Golden Voyage. This is the only one of the three Sinbad movies I got to see in the theater and I remember being diverted by it at the time. But having seen the others, the deficiencies in this entry are sadly all too apparent.

But the ladies were beauteous! Behold!



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Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad!


The Golden Voyage of Sinbad from 1973 is a diamond in the rough when it comes to Sinbad lore. John Phillip Law is my favorite of the three Captains Sinbad who appeared in the Schneer-Harryhausen fantasy films. He feels like a rogue who could be a hero.


He comes across as more legitimate visually and tonally than does Kerwin Mathews and both of them are much better actors than the later Patrick Wayne. Teamed with the exotic and attractive Caroline Munro and you have a delightful pair of protagonists to watch as the adventures unfold.


The villain of this one is Prince Koura played wonderfully by Tom Baker. Reports say that his performance here convinced the Doctor Who folks to give him that gig which made him a superstar among fantasy fans. If he'd never been Who, he'd still have been one of the best villains in a Sinbad movie. The way his magical efforts keep draining him as the movie progresses is remarkable to watch. I was also struck by the loyalty his man has for him throughout the film, which never waivers. Koura must have some characteristic which instills such loyalty, making him a worthy opponent.


The battle with the goddess Kali is among my favorite Harryhausen moments in any of his films and works beautifully in this one. I think I might like it a little better than the famous skeleton fight from Jason and the Argonauts...a little. The Centuar and the Griffin are fine as they go, but lack the visual impact of earlier Harryhausen beasts like the Cyclops or the Hydra.



This movie got the full adaptation treatment from Mighty Marvel in two issues of the science fiction comic Worlds Unknown. Clearly the folks at Marvel saw potential in crossing over these stories with fans of Conan.

And for fans of the lovely Caroline Munro here you go. First with the rest of the cast and then by her lovely lonesome.



Yum. More Sinbad tomorrow.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad!


I've seen The 7th Voyage of Sinbad many many times, but always in the context of the fact it's an important Ray Harryhausen movie. This time I was watching it as part of a long part of films drawn from the mythology of The Arabian Nights. So I have to say the story was more a focus than the techniques of filming for the very first time, which sadly should be the way one watches any movie.


I will assume everyone has seen this movie, so this is a spoiler rich overview. I've never been particularly warm to Kerwin Mathews as Sinbad, but this time his performance didn't annoy as much as it has in the past. I was more plugged into Sinbad as a character and frankly he's quite the piece of work. Head over heels in love with his Princess (Kathryn Grant) he puts everyone else around him at extreme risk and frankly their lives are less important to him than hers or his own.


Beyond the striking creations of the Cyclops and the Dragon, this movie offers up a fantastic villain in Torin Thatcher as Sokurah the Magician. His grasping for power is what motivates all the action in the movie and his schemes put all the characters into extreme danger, but it's readily evident he cares not a whit for anyone. Even his own personal safety is secondary to his getting and keeping power, particularly the magic lamp which will give him control of a very youthful-looking genie.


The scene pictured above of Kerwin Mathews at the wheel of his ship was mentioned in some of the extra material I watched and he said he was incredibly ill on the day this scene was shot and he stepped out of his sickbed for this one scene only. It has become a signature image for the movie thanks to the comic and the soundtrack album which both sport it as a cover.


Marvel adapted the story, combining in one vigorous image by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott Sinbad, his Princess, the Cyclops and the deadly sword-swinging skeletons.

More Sinbad tomorrow.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Alexander Korda's The Thief Of Bagdad!


Alexander Korda's Thief of Bagdad is a splendid movie which ripens nicely with subsequent viewings. Learning a lot about its origins thanks to a very informative commentary I now know that the movie's weaknesses are the result of a desire for it to be many different things at different times.


The movie at different times was supposed to be an intimate love story, an operatic musical, and still later a sprawling fantasy adventure. That final intention finally took hold thanks to Korda but the other elements still reside inside the tale in some respects. We have a lush, brightly colored fantasy yarn here which takes two attractive heroes -- Prince Ahmed (John Justin) and the titular thief Abu (Sabu) -- and transports them across the landscape as they encounter deadly soldiers, wizards, distant and ancient cults, and ultimately a powerful djinn.  Thanks to Abu, wit and smarts are the currency which pays the biggest dividends and the story is more about that than swordplay, which in this movie is pretty paltry.


The villain is an usurper and wizard named Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) who is so magnetic that you almost root for him at times. He wants the love of the Princess (June Deprez) but you know he will never, never get what he wants. His tragic nature is only overcome by his evil intentions and lust for power and willingness to sacrifice almost anyone to achieve it.


The Djinn almost runs away with the movie. The battle of wits between him and his "Master" Abu is probably the most compelling section of the story and the truth is they both win...a little. Rex Ingram as the Djinn is absolutely awesome and his cackling laugh no doubt informed Hanna-Barbera's Shazzan a few decades later.


This is a rousing adventure, full of bright images which hold the eye and the imagination. I highly recommend it. More Arabian Nights tomorrow as Captain Sinbad sails into view.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

The Thief Of Bagdad!


This Douglas Fairbanks movie The Thief of Bagdad is a bravura event from 1924 and features the famous silent movie hero in a rousing adventure which sprawls across a geography which is as much mythical as historical. We meet the titular thief immediately in the movie as he's brazenly plying his trade in the streets of Bagdad with little regard for those he might hurt. His confidence is staggering and you can see immediately that a fall is coming. He spies a princess from afar and falls in love and plots to pretend to be a prince himself to get close to her and possibly make off with his new-found object of obsession. But after meeting her he falls truly in love and despairs his fraud. He is discovered and then seeks to find a way to make himself truly worthy which results in a wildly dangerous quest into a magical land which has him battle dragons, cross fiery chasms, battle deadly sea spiders and sail across the sky on flying horses.  He gets the treasure he seeks and is just in time to save his beloved from the schemes of a Mongol prince who has made moves to take not just the Princess but all of Bagdad as well.


I would love to see a cleaner version of the movie than I personally own (a pretty cheap one). The images are wonderful to see and the fantasy elements, which run throughout, but are clustered in the final section of the movie are amazing on screen. There is a magic rope, a cloak of invisibility, a flying carpet, and more as the story keeps a pretty good pace most of time. The middle of the film which spends a lot of time focusing on the Thief's regrets seems to lag some, but once he's on his quest the tempo is brisk indeed.


If you haven't seen this one, it's well worth the two hours or more it takes to enjoy it. More Arabian Nights tomorrow.

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