[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]
Sean Connery knew when to get out. The new James Bond film is a poor-kid’s followup to the modest achievements of the preceding seven Fleming adaptations (I’m not counting the multi-director fiasco CasinoRoyale, backed by a different producer). The double-entendres fairly double over with arthritis, the girls and the bad guys are a dreary lot, and the big set-piece, a motorboat pursuit through twisty inland waterways, is a protracted steal from TheMechanic. Sex was real—i.e., had something to do with emotions—only in OnHerMajesty’s Secret Service (and why hasn’t Peter Hunt directed anything since?), but even the Playmate-style romps of the other Bond flicks had some verve and wit about them; here either the couplings are all but accidental or the implicit logic behind them threatens to plunge the film into a neurotic introspection that the writer, the director, and the star are unprepared to risk.
[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]
Watching the last three James Bond films in close succession, one constantly sees contrasts. Not so with the first two films of the series, Dr. No and FromRussiawithLove, which frequently play together as a double feature. They invite comparison rather than contrast, their parallels in plot and style having established a “James Bond formula” with which viewers quickly became familiar, expecting its recurrence in subsequent films. Goldfinger, Thunderball and YouOnlyLive Twice fulfilled the expectation.
But the juxtaposition of the next two films, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and DiamondsAre Forever, which also have circulated as a double bill, impresses the viewer more with differences than similarities, provoking one to redefine his notion of exactly what a James Bond film is, or is supposed to be. And the most recent offering, LiveandLetDie, compared with its two immediate predecessors, comes off decidedly third-best.
There is little doubt that Ray Harryhausen is the defining creative force behind the stop-motion fantasies and adventures he made with producer Charles Schneer. While he’s never taken credit as director, he developed the stories and scripts and co-produced the films along with designing and executing all of the special effects. And it’s pretty clear when Harryhausen was on the set, at least on his seventies productions The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), as his tight budgets and creative control had him trading down with both leading men and directors.
The 1973 The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, sort of a sequel to his glorious The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), was a return to Harryhausen’s love of myth and grand fantasy with the colorless John Philip Law shedding his shirt and flashing his eyes as Captain Sinbad, the blue-eyed Arab adventurer racing evil sorcerer Koura (Tom Baker) to a magical treasure. Sinbad and his crew battle a centaur, a gryphon, a statue charmed to life by Koura, and most impressively the six-armed goddess Kali, a gold statue that Koura animates to do his bidding. Director Gordon Hessler (a horror veteran of garish Hammer Films knockoffs) seems barely present through most of the film, letting performances slip every which way and staging dramatic scenes so sloppily that you can’t always tell what’s even going on. Until one of Harryhausen’s creations appears, that is, at which time the screen takes on a painterly composition and the performances become more disciplined and focuses.
Tom Baker, who went on to become the most beloved Doctor of the original Doctor Who series, is in Christopher Lee mode as the scheming Koura, a humorless villain who loses a little of his life with every incantation but shows a sliver of affection for every one of his homunculi creations. But for all of Harryhausen’s magic, the film’s greatest special effect is former Doctor Phibes muse and future Bond girl Caroline Munro in harem girl bikinis. And give Harryhausen credit for commissioning a rousing old-school score from the great Miklos Rozsa, which helps give the film a scope that the budget never quite delivers alone. Like all Twilight Time releases, the score is available as an isolated soundtrack, and the disc includes featurettes on three earlier Harryhausen productions (previously available on other DVD and Blu-ray releases).
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) trades out Law for Patrick Wayne, even more wooden as a would-be swashbuckling hero who comes to port to ask the for the hand of Princess Farah (Jane Seymour) and ends up on a quest to save her brother from a curse: his stepmother (Margaret Whiting) has transformed him into a baboon (another Harryhausen creation, of course). The film is a bit sluggish and director Sam Wanamaker, a better actor than director, manages to let Seymour, who was quite assured in Live and Let Die, come off awkward and amateurish. Luckily Patrick Troughton, another Doctor Who of note, plays the ancient world scholar and scientist Melanthius, who navigates the signs on a journey through arctic waters and to a land that time forgot, and he gives the film a solid character at the center (the strength of his presence alone as the curious, wizened old scholar steals the spotlight from Wayne. Taryn Power (daughter of Tyrone Power) come along for the ride as his daughter, another beauty on hand more for window dressing than dramatic purpose.
Harryhausen pits them against a bronze Minotaur, a giant bee, an mammoth Walrus that breaks out of the ice and an ancient sabre-tooth tiger, but he puts his heart into the baboon, a tortured beast hanging tight to the human inside as it slips away under the spell, and a grunting troglodyte, a giant mythic caveman with a horn on his head and an affection for the baboon. Roy Budd provides the score, which is available as an isolated soundtrack.
Both discs looks terrific but the increased detail and color, unfortunately, reveals some sloppy matte work at times. They are colorful films, however, and the disc brings out the best of the fantastic sets and art design and exotic costumes. And, as with all Twilight Time releases, they are available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM and limited to 3000 copies.