Thursday, March 28, 2019

Seven Things to Know About Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen and friend.
1. Ray Harryhausen's interest in "dimensional animation" was spurred by his viewing of King Kong at age 13. Many years later, he showed some of his own animation to Kong's creator, stop-motion pioneer Willis O'Brien. The latter was impressed enough to hire Harryhausen as his assistant on Mighty Joe Young (1949). In his delightful Film Fantasy Scrapbook, Harryhausen noted that O'Brien was "so involved in production problems that I ended up animating about 85 percent of the picture." Mighty Joe Young won an Oscar for Special Effects.

2. After World War II, Ray made several short films, including a series of five fairy tales with animated puppets: Mother Goose Stories, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and GretelThe Story of Rapunzel, and The Story of King Midas. His mother did the costumes and his father helped make props.  As of this date, you can view Mother Goose Stories and The Story of King Midas on Amazon Prime as part of a film anthology with the uninspired title Puppet Movies.

Bad news for Golden Gate Bridge!
3. Due to budget and time constraints, the giant octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea only had six tentacles. Harryhausen dubbed it a "sexopus." Still, the creature was strong enough to crush the Golden Gate Bridge!

4. Ray Harryhausen's first feature-length movie as lead special effects creator was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which was based on Ray Bradbury's short story "The Fog Horn." Harryhausen and Bradbury has been friends since they were teenagers. According to Bradbury, they met in 1937 when "Ray walked into the Little Brown Room at Clifton's Cafeteria in Los Angeles for a science fiction fan-writer meeting."

Jason fighting skeletons.
5. Ray once wrote that "of the 15 fantasy features I have been connected with, I think Jason and the Argonauts pleases me the most." (Incidentally, it's the Cafe staff's favorite Harryhausen movie!) It took four and a half months to film the famous skeleton fighting sequence.The special effects wizard wrote that his one regret was that the scene didn't take place at night, noting: "Its effect would have been doubled."

6. The Valley of Gwangi (1969) was based on an idea hatched by Willis O'Brien back in the 1940s. O'Brien was keen to pit cowboys against an allosaurus. That film was never made, although it served as the basis for a low-budget 1956 picture called The Beast of Hollow Mountain. Harryhausen brought the idea to life in grand fashion with The Valley of Gwangi. Of course, several of Ray's ideas for movies never reached the silver screen. Notable ones are:  Sinbad and the Valley of the Dinosaurs; Sinbad Goes to Mars; Evolution (set during the Earth's early days); Jupiter; an adaptation of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds; and Force of the Trojans, a follow-up to Clash of the Titans which is currently being developed by Morningside Productions and the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation.
Cowboys lasso a dinosaur!

7. Ray Harryhausen married Diana Livingstone Bruce in 1963. Her great-grandfather was Dr. David Livingstone, the famous Scottish physician and missionary ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"). Ray and Diana had one child, Vanessa, who is a board member for the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, which is dedicated to archiving, preserving, and restoring his father's work. We recently interviewed John Walsh, another member of the foundation's board.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Movie-TV Connection Game (March 2019)

James Stewart and Marlo Thomas.
With spring just around the corner, it must to be time to play this blog's most popular game! If you're new to this game, here are the rules:  You will be given a pair or trio of films or performers and will be required to to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question. 

1.  Batman TV series and the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

2.  Nigel Bruce and Joanne Woodward.

3.  Robert Taylor and Cornel Wilde.

4.  Ronald Colman and Don Adams.

5.  Howard Keel and Richard Dean Anderson.

6.  James Stewart and Marlo Thomas.

7.  Paul Newman and Frankie Avalon.

8.  Shirley MacLaine, Muhammad Ali, and Sophia Loren.

9.  Clifton Webb and Marilyn Monroe.

10. Walter Matthau and Tony Curtis.

11. Robert Mitchum and Gabe Kaplan.

12.  Boris Karloff and Buster Keaton.

13. Lee Van Cleef, Yul Brynner, and George Kennedy (answer must be specific!).

14. Angela Lansbury and Helen Hayes.

15. Lionel Barrymore and Christopher Lee.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

A six-armed statue come-to-life.
Fifteen years after The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles Schneer revisited their legendary hero with The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. John Phillip Law (Barbarella) replaced Kerwin Matthews as Sinbad. And in lieu of Kathryn Grant's spunky princess, Caroline Munro came on board as a slave girl.

This time around, Sinbad gets involved in a new quest when one of his crew fires an arrow at a strange bird carrying part of an amulet. The Vizier of a nearby country has a second piece of the amulet and Sinbad quickly realizes that the two pieces provide directions to Lemuria, a mythical island that holds the secret to absolute power.

Tom Baker as Koura.
Unfortunately, an evil wizard named Koura (Tom Baker) sends a homunculus to spy on Sinbad and learns about Lemuria, too. It soon becomes a race to the island between Sinbad and Koura.

Naturally, Sinbad's journey is filled with amazing, fantastical creatures animated by Harryhausen. The highlights include a Centaur, a Griffin, a wooden figurehead come to life, and a six-armed statue of a goddess that fights Sinbad and his crew with a sword in each hand.

The homunculus.
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is colorful and visually exciting, but lacks the pizzazz of its predecessor. The first thirty minutes are mostly build-up to the journey. Harryhausen's creatures are still jaw-dropping, but somewhat derivative. The six-armed goddess reminded me of the four-armed siren in 7th Voyage. The homunculus, which is genuinely eerie, looks a bit like the Ymir in 20 Million Miles to Earth. And the Centaur could pass as a distant relative to the Cyclops in 7th Voyage.

Caroline Munro.
John Phillip Law is an acceptable Sinbad, but the beautiful Caroline Munro has little to do. That's surprising given that Brian Clemens, who wrote the script, gave Munro one of her best roles in Hammer's vampire adventure Kronos (1974). Tom Baker hits all the right notes as the despicable Koura. He would later become one of the most popular Doctor Who's. (Fans of the British detective series George Gently won't recognize its star, Martin Shaw, as one of Sinbad's mates.)

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad performed well at the boxoffice. It even led to a theatrical re-release of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. It also convinced the producers that there was enough interest for a second sequel--which happened with the release of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger in 1977.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Seven Things to Know About Constance Towers

1. Constance Towers' first lead role was opposite John Wayne and William Holden in John Ford's 1959 Civil War Western The Horse Soldiers. She was 26 years old. Towers followed it up with another John Ford film: Sergeant Rutledge (1960).

2. Her most famous movies, though, are two Samuel Fuller productions released in the mid-1960s. In Shock Corridor (1963), she plays the stripper girlfriend of a journalist who fakes insanity in order to gain access to three murder witnesses in an asylum. In my opinion, her best performance was in Fuller's next film, The Naked Kiss (1964), in which she plays a prostitute trying to lead a normal life working as a nurse in a children's hospital ward. The New York Times called it "a wild little movie"--and I can't argue.

3. Constance Towers was also a busy guest star on popular television series such as The Outer Limits, The Rockford Files, and Hawaii Five-O. She was a favorite on Perry Mason, in which she appeared five times.

4. She was also a stage performer and starred as Anna opposite Yul Brynner in the 1977-78 revival of The King and I. Towers also played the titular role in Anya, a 1965 musical with Lillian Gish. The play was a fictionalized account of Anastasia.
Yul Brynner and Constance Towers.

5. She has a son and a daughter from her 1959-1966 marriage to businessman Eugene McGrath (who was actress Terry Moore's ex-husband). In 1974, Towers married actor John Gavin (Psycho, Spartacus); she was 41 and he was 46. They remained together until his death in 2018. During their marriage, Gavin was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico by President Reagan. He served in that capacity from 1981-86.

6. Constance Towers has appeared in four daytime dramas on American television: Capitol, Sunset Beach, General Hospital and The Young and the Restless (one episode only). On General Hospital, she took over the role of the villainous Helena Cassadine, which was originated by Elizabeth Taylor in 1981. Towers played the part on a recurring basis from 1997 to 2017. Supposedly, Helena Cassadine is dead now--but, hey, she's been dead before and it turned out she was alive!

7. Constance Towers devotes much of her time to charitable causes these days. However, she has not retired from acting. In 2016, she appeared in Hulu's time travel miniseries 11.23.63 and in 2018, she starred in the Hallmark Channel's family drama The Storyteller.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Ray Harryhausen's 7th Voyage of Sinbad

The cyclops on Colossa.
"Nothing quite like its contents had been seen on the screen before."

That's special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen's assessment of his own 1958 fantasy adventure The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The usually modest Harryhausen knew what he was talking about --7th Voyage shines the spotlight on his incredible stop-motion animation. And for the first time in his feature film career, it was all displayed in glorious color and with a splendid music score to match, courtesy of Bernard Herrmann.

Princess Parisa and Sinbad.
The film opens with Sinbad transporting Princess Parisa to Bagdad (sic) where he plans to marry her and seal an alliance between their countries. Along the way, Sinbad (Kerwin Matthews) and crew land on an island where they encounter a magician who has stolen a magic lamp from a cyclops. They help the magician, Sokurah, escape, but he loses the lamp in the process.

Once they reach Bagdad, Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) tries to convince Sinbad to return to the island of Colossa to retrieve the lamp. Sinbad refuses--at least until Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant) is mysteriously reduced to doll size. Sokurah claims he can restore the Princess to her normal height, but his potion requires the egg shell from a Roc...meaning that Sinbad needs to transport the magician back to Colossa. Once there, they encounter cyclopes (that's plural), a two-headed Roc, a fire-breathing dragon, and--most famously--a sword-wielding skeleton.
A cyclops and the dragon battle on the beach.
The credits for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad tout that it was filmed in Dynamation. The term was coined by producer Charles H. Schneer to describe Harryhausen's painstaking process of combining live action with his stop-motion animated creatures. At the risk of simplifying the process, it consisted of filming the actors alone and then projecting that footage one frame at a time as Harryhausen animated his creatures in front of it. Obviously, the actors' movements had to be precise, which makes Sinbad's swordfight with a skeleton the film's highlight.

Sinbad against the skeleton.
In an interview (included as a DVD extra in some boxed sets), Kerwin Matthews describes the complicated "choreography" of the duel. He and Italian Olympic fencing master Enzo Musumeci-Greco rehearsed the sequence until Matthews knew it by heart. Then, Matthews had to replicate it with precision and by memory without Musumeci-Greco. In post-production, Harryhausen animated the skeleton opponent. Matthews didn't see the finished sequence until he watched the film at a theatre in France the following year. It truly is an incredible sequence and Herrmann's music, which is synchronized with each physical movement, is the perfect complement.

Torin Thatcher as the magician.
Of course, a film with nothing but great special effects would grow tiresome eventually. Thus, it's fortunate that The 7th Voyage of Sinbad benefits from enthusiastic performances. Matthews makes an appropriately dashing hero (though maybe not the brightest...Sinbad doesn't seem to suspect Sokurah of shrinking the Princess). Torin Thatcher makes a delightfully evil villain and Kathryn Grant--the future Mrs. Bing Crosby--is charming as the plucky princess, whose resolve saves Sinbad from being a cyclops snack.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad isn't Ray's Harryhausen's most jaw-dropping fantasy adventure. That honor belongs to the excellent Jason and the Argonauts (1963), in which the hero battles an army of skeletons. However, it's a colorful, exciting fantasy adventure with enough visual marvels to make you feel the wonderment of childhood again.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Chamber of Horrors: The Fear Flasher and the Horror Horn!

Important! Please click on the video below to watch William Conrad's brief warning about the film we are reviewing:

Made in 1966, Chamber of Horrors is not a William Castle film, though it certainly could have been made by the Master of Movie Gimmicks. Instead, Chamber of Horrors was originally intended as the pilot movie for an ABC TV series called House of Wax. The network rejected the series, allegedly because the movie was deemed too intense. Its running time was subsequently expanded to feature-length and Chamber of Horrors was released to movie theaters. As a youth, it was easy to convince my dad to let me see it since the cast included Patrice Wymore, Errol Flynn's last wife, and my father was a Flynn fan.

Cesare Danova as Tony Draco.
Set in Baltimore at the turn of the century, the opening scene is a wedding ceremony in which the bride is a blonde-haired corpse and the groom is pointing a gun at the officiating reverend. By the time the police arrive, the killer--a mad man called Jason Cravette--has escaped. The murderer's wealthy aunt engages Anthony Draco (Cesare Danova) and Harold Blount (Wilfred Hyde-White) to find Cravette. Draco and Blount, who operate a wax museum featuring "history's most notorious murderers," moonlight as criminologists and have solved a "dozen of the most baffling cases."

With the help of their diminutive assistant Pepe, they track down Cravette (Patrick O'Neal) in a brothel where he "marries" the same blonde prostitute every night. The police arrest Cravette, who is tried and sentenced to hanging. However, en route to his fate, he stages a miraculous escape by jumping off the train crossing a bridge. (I'll omit the details here since it's the film's best scene, but let's just say that it marks the first appearance of the Fear Flasher and the Horror Horn). The authorities believe Cravette is dead--but he survives and begins to plot his revenge.

Patrick O'Neal as Cravette.
Given what must have been a modest budget, Chamber of Horrors emerges as a delightfully atmospheric chiller with a perfectly-cast villain. Channeling Vincent Price, suave Patrick O'Neal gleefully immerses himself into the part of the mad murderer. For much of the movie, he sports a mustache and beard that makes him look like Mr. Price. The film's creepiest scene (which isn't even preceded by the Fear Flasher) features O'Neal positioning an uncomfortable prostitute in the same pose as his first victim--whom he strangled with her own hair. (Interestingly, I recently watched O'Neal play another insane killer in a season four episode of Route 66.)

Laura Devon as Marie.
As the headlining sleuths, the dapper Danova and the always reliable Hyde-White make an effective duo. The standouts in the supporting cast are Jeanette Nolan as a cigar-smoking socialite, Marie Windsor as a brothel madam eager to be rid of Cravette, and lovely Laura Devon as a streetwalker who unwittingly assists Cravette with his revenge. There are other familiar faces, too, such as a young pre-M*A*S*H Wayne Rogers and, in a quick cameo, Tony Curtis.

As I watched Chamber of Horrors, I couldn't help but be reminded of Dark Intruder, which was released the preceding year. It was also set at the turn of the century, except in San Francisco, and starred Leslie Nielsen as another dapper amateur detective with a dwarf assistant. And like Chamber of HorrorsDark Intruder was also a busted TV pilot that was released theatrically. A key difference between the two films is that Dark Intruder dealt with the supernatural while Chamber of Horrors opted for more realistic chills.

Despite the presence of the "Four Supreme Fright Points," there is nothing gory nor particularly frightening in Chamber of Horrors. What you get instead is a colorful, well-crafted thriller with a tongue-in-cheek approach and a witty script. I love the little touches like the bar maid wiping the beer foam mustache from her face or when a pretty hooker describes her job as an artists' model and Cravette quips: "Oh, you're a tramp."

And, of course, you get the Fear Flasher and the Horror Horn! Really, who could ask for more?

Allied Vaughn Entertainment provided a review copy of this DVD (which also includes Christopher Lee in The Brides of Fu Manchu). You can purchase it from retailers such as MovieZyng.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Interview with Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation Trustee John Walsh

Skeleton from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
All this month at the Classic Film & TV Cafe, we will be paying tribute to the genius of special effects master Ray Harryhausen. We thought the best place to start was with the Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, which Ray established in 1986 to archive, preserve, and restore his extensive collection. John Walsh, who serves on the Board of Trustees, recently agreed to participate in an exclusive interview.

Café:  How did you come to know Ray Harryhausen?

Ray Harryhausen and friend
from Clash of the Titans.
John Walsh:  By the late 1980s, I had become a student at the London Film School and was looking for a subject for my first documentary film. I thumbed through a copy of the British Telecom phone book and found a listing for an "R. Harryhausen" at Ilchester Place in West London. Did I dare give him a call? What would I say? This was to be my first pitch and I didn't even know it. As this was the time before mobile phones and the prices of calls were dictated by the time of day and the duration of the call, I had to check with my parents for permission before dialing. Once I had clearance, the call commenced. Ray answered the phone, and I explained what I wanted to do: Make a fifteen minute sixteen-millimetre documentary about his work and techniques. He invited me to his house and I was stunned to meet many of the creatures that had populated Ray's films and my imagination. A few months later, I was showing the final film to both the film school and to audiences at the newly opened Greenwich Cinema. Ray came along and was interviewed on stage by sci fi writer and broadcaster Richard Hollis. Before Ray died, I had the film scanned in high definition and fully restored. My documentary, which was narrated by Tom Baker, is now part of the Foundation’s archive and is shown at public speaking events we hold throughout the world.

Café:  When was the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation established and what are its goals?

Trog from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.
John Walsh:  If you think you know all the films and have seen the creature collection at museums and know the full story, then think again. We have over 50,000 items in the collection, making it the largest of its kind outside of the Disney Studios. Ray set up the Foundation in 1986 and he intended that future generations should enjoy his work and also learn about the craft of filmmaking. I am delighted that audiences want to visit the artifacts on display, but what many fans of Ray's work perhaps do not know is that for every film that made it to the cinema screen, there were two or three from the same period that didn't.

Café:  Who else is on the Board of Trustees with you?

John Walsh:  Ray's daughter Vanessa and the family lawyer Simon Mackintosh make up the small, but efficient, board of trustees. Our solitary, but hard working, member of staff is Connor Heaney, our Collections Manager.

Café:  What are the Foundation’s plans for #Harryhausen100, a celebration of Ray’s centenary in 2020?

John Walsh:  There will be a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland, along with screenings and some major announcements to come later in the year.

A storyboard from Mysterious Island (1961).
Café:  Of the 50,000+ objects in Ray Harryhausen’s collection, what are some of your favorites?

The Kraken from Clash
of the Titans.
John Walsh:  I am fascinated by all the creatures that are, in themselves, real movie stars: The Kraken, Medusa, and the Seven-Headed Hydra. The big stars are the ones that get the attention and the visitor numbers at the exhibitions. Perhaps the ones that I have become fonder of are those smaller intricate figures that sometimes get overlooked. The tiny human creatures that fall into the clutches of Ray's beautiful creatures are being restored. Ray only worked with one person during these delicate and precise conservations, Alan Friswell. Alan’s work has been on display around the world this year. Despite the age of the collection, we are keen for fans to see the characters from the films as they remembered them from their childhoods. Thanks to professional photographer Andy Johnson, we have an extensive catalogue of photography of each piece as a record of their various states of decay. This will inform those who work on the collection in the future.

Café:  Has there been any discussion of building a Ray Harryhausen museum to display his collection?

John Walsh:  I have talked for many years about the possibility of a Harryhausen Museum. The road to this is one paved with a significant cash investment. Last year, I announced a new deal with Morningside Productions to revive the unmade follow-up (although not a direct sequel) to Clash of the Titans entitled Force of the Trojans. We have materials from the archive which show what Ray would have created and a screenplay, which acts as a blueprint for a new screenplay I have started to write. It would take a successful film such as this to create the capital needed for a permanent Harryhausen home. I am both hopeful and confident this can be achieved.

Café:  We’re going to put you on the spot with the next two questions. First, what is your favorite Harryhausen movie and why?

John Walsh:  For me, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is the best use of the technique with a thrilling story. The use of lighting, as well as music, played a significant role in creating an atmospheric black magic approach. Technically, this has some of the best live action and model integration. The film stock used worked well and does not betray the secrets of the technique of interacting live actors with the animations.
The six-armed statue in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.
Café:  What is your favorite stop-motion creature created by Ray Harryhausen?

The Homunculus in Golden Voyage.
John Walsh:  The rebirth of the Homunculus in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is one of my all-time favourite sequences. The delicate animation and interaction with Tom Baker still make this a magical sequence.

Café:  Are there any upcoming Harryhausen-related events that you’d like to share with our readers?

John Walsh:  In September of this year Titan Books will release Harryhausen: The Lost Movies, which I have spent the last two years writing. It has been a fascinating journey into the vast Harryhausen archive. In the last few years with Ray, I asked him why he hadn't recorded commentaries for most of his films. His reply was surprising and blunt. He hadn't been asked. I set about to remedy this and we made digital audio and video recordings of his commentaries in the lounge of his house. This was more comfortable than a sterile sound booth in a post-production house, and as a filmmaker, I knew that the more comfortable a subject can be the more likely we were to get a few gold nuggets from his recollections. We decided to work backwards from Clash of the Titans. We even had some special guests sit in with us, such as director John Landis, who would always take the time to visit with Ray any time he was in London. Sadly, when we got to Ray's first solo film, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, he fell ill and died.  Despite his advancing years--Ray was in his early 90s by then--he thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and remembered many details that did not appear in any publications. Audio extract from these can be heard in our award-nominated podcast series, The Ray Harryhausen Podcast on both Soundcloud and iTunes. Surprisingly, up until these last few years, Ray didn't have a presence at ComicCon. I have spoken at both London and last year's San Diego ComicCon. This was filmed and cut together by Connor Heaney and can be viewed on Vimeo.
Ray Harryhausen, John Walsh, and John Landis in 2012.
For more information on The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, you can check out its website or follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.