BR: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

January 23, 2014 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / S

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Film: Very Good/ BR Transfer: Excellent/ BR Extras: Good

Label: Twilight Time / Region: All / Released: December 13, 2013

Genre: Action / Fantasy / Ray Harryhausen

Synopsis:  Sinbad & Co. must reach a sacred cave in the far North to return a Prince from baboon to human, and save Arabia from an evil scheming mother and her idiot son Rafi.

Special Features:

Isolated stereo music track / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / 1958 “This is Dynamation” featurette (3:25) / Theatrical trailer / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

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Review:

Ray Harryhausen’s last poke at the Sinbad character is a lesser effort, reworking the basic story of the prior Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) – the seaman (this time it’s Patrick Wayne in a turban), his team, and a princess (Jane Seymour, fresh from another exotic role in Live and Let Die) must travel to remote pockets of the ancient world to reach a hallowed cavern and transform a prince (Twins of Evil’s Damien Thomas) back to his human form before an evil witch (Margaret Whitting) and her greedy son (Kurt Christian) can claim his kingdom – but amid the familiar scenes that take the Arabian hero and Co. to a remote, cavernous location for a final battle, there are some stellar creature effects.

The metallic Minoton crafted by super-witch Zenobia (Whitting) is memorable for its chilly obedience, right down to a rather shocking act of self-sacrifice; the prince, transformed by Zenobia into a baboon, is an empathetic character due to Harryhausen’s knack for realistic movements and facial gestures; and a one-eyed Neanderthal is a fairly compelling foe-turned-friend who aides Sinbad & Co. gain entry to a hidden city in search of another magical transformative shrine – a key set piece in Golden’s finale.

James Bond and Golden cinematographer Ted Moore captured exotic locales and fills the screen with saturated colours of the desert, caves, and labyrinthine caves, and Roy Budd’s score offers an elegant balance of orchestral exotica – a rare treat from a composer better known for hard action and adventure scores.

Shape-shifting Zenobia is a female variant of Golden’s scheming Koura (Tom Baker), and director Sam Wanamaker follows the same pattern in exploiting her gaping eyes whenever she’s conjuring another malevolent creation. As shrill as Zenobia may be, she’s also an intensely devoted mother, determined to elevate her idiot son Rafi as supreme ruler, and perhaps the most chilling moment occurs when an effort to return to human form is only partially successful, resulting in a condition not dissimilar from the arrogant heroine in Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932).

Compared to Golden, Eye of the Tiger seems to have been made for less money (apparently it was a bigger production), but there are seams which reveal unfortunate cost-saving measures. The heavier use of process shots often have the main actors clearly standing in front of a blue screen in a studio, and wide shots make use of stand-ins who sometimes don’t hold up even from a distance. (Body doubles for the women during Sinbad’s trek to an ancient temple – the city of Petra, Jordan – have slightly different hair than counterparts Seymour and Taryn Power, and one wears a different coloured dress.)

There’s also Harryhausen’s core formula in which a journey is regularly interrupted by a giant ‘prehistoric’ monster which helps whittle down the cast to its core stars and co-stars; it’s a ploy that  get rich when there’s no anthropological connection between the creature – man, beats, or hybrid – and its environment. The conceit is simply that in Harryhausen’s fantasy world, these ‘lost creatures from an ancient time’ still survive in minute populations (or perhaps as lone male survivors channeling their sexual rage towards interloping humans).

The C.V. of Harryhausen’s latest choice of director – veteran character actor Sam Wanamaker (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) – was largely rooted in TV. Tiger still has an epic scope – the group travel from a fictional Arab kingdom to a rocky island, and finally the North Pole – but Wanamaker’s editorial style is very strange: cuts are faster in order to hasten the pacing, but the selection of angles and edit points are often jarring.

Additionally, the coronation footage that bookends the film seems to have been cut as straight sequences, but perhaps due to some cost-saving / time-saving measures, the Main & End Credits were overlaid, resulting in a messy montage where the character intros are obfuscated, and viewers are distracted by colour-shifting text. As Main Title sequences go, this one’s a disaster.

Wanamaker has one dilemma that’s specifically rooted in Beverley Cross’ screenplay: most of the action in the film’s middle isn’t led or directly affected by Sinbad himself: he often acts in concert or sits & listens to soothsayer Melanthius (The Omen’s piked priest, Patrick Troughton). Star Wayne’s often just standing and sitting by the sidelines, reacting to other people’s decisions and functioning as a kind of site manager for the group – a radical departure from the ever-busy John Phillip Law in Golden who’s clearly in control, and takes the lead when offered a suggestion by his team. When Sinbad finally gets pro-active, it’s in the end fight with a saber-toothed tiger.

By keeping Wayne on the sidelines, Wanamaker also robs audiences of the actor’s inherent assets – a buffed physique – and it’s a problem that also extends to actresses Power and Seymour. With the exception of a backside nude scene for Melanthius’ daughter Dione (top-billed Taryn Power) and Princess Farah (Seymour), Wanamaker doesn’t exploit the sporty costumes and sleek female physiques in the same way Golden director Gordon Hessler recognized the value in regularly flattering Caroline Munro by repeatedly cut back & forth to the actress. Wanamaker (or perhaps Harryhausen) made a conscious decision to play down the teasing imagery and keep the camera focused on the elder Melanthius, the group’s decision maker and guide.

The real hero of Tiger isn’t Sinbad but Melanthius, and his decision to accept the challenge and save the Prince from baboonhood is enacted in a scene that’s typical of the film’s wonky logic: after fiddling with a series of lights and coloured glass filters that are never explained (and are glaringly nonsensical to any viewer), Melanthius suddenly becomes excited by blinky-blinky lights – and quickly agrees to join the trek. It’s literally the equivalent of holding a shiny bauble in front of the audience as a distraction for the lack of a convincing impetus to get a batch of characters together and back on the open sea.

Tiger is a lesser work, but it is superior to Harryhausen and Cross’ finale effort, Clash of the Titans (1981), which suffered from some grievous dialogue and weaker effects (the Medusa sequence excepted).

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a gorgeous transfer, and Roy Budd’s score is happily isolated in crisp stereo – a welcome treat for one of Britain’s more underrated yet busy composers of the seventies. Another nice surprise is its completeness: like Miklos Rosza’s Golden score, Budd’s music actually begins with the Columbia Pictures logo, but in the final film mix it doesn’t start until after a fireworks montage.

The new 5.1 mix makes great use of the crisp stereo stems, but like Golden, Sony’s apparently decided not to license the film’s original mono mix, which seems to be the studio’s mandate now: retiring mono mixes as fans supposedly prefer 5.1, when in actuality we prefer both.

Other extras include Julie Kirgo’s booklet essay, trailer, and the “This is Dynamation” featurette designed to hype The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in 1958. Pity none of the surviving cast & crew were ever interviewed for a home video release; it seems as though within his C.V., alongside The Valley of Gwangi (1969), this one’s often (and wrongly) pegged as a dud.

Although Harryhausen stacked his headlining stars with the children of famous stars, Patrick Wayne (son of John) more or less returned to TV and the odd B-movie. Taryn Power (daughter of Tyrone) had made small inroads in Pupi Avati’s House of Please for Women (1976) and Henry Jaglom’s Tracks (1977) prior to Tiger, but she would appear in just a handful of TV and film projects before retiring – notably supporting roles in Armando de Ossorio’s Serpiente de mar (1984) and Jagloms’s Eating (1990).

Jane Seymour, however, would continue her unofficial reign as the ‘Queen of the TV mini-series’ having appeared in a string of productions prior to Tiger, such as Frankenstein: The True Story (1973) and Captains and the Kings (1976). Her subsequent successes include The Four Feathers (1978), East of Eden (1981), and the epic mini-series War and Remembrance (1989).

Sam Wanamaker’s theatrical directorial efforts include The Legend of Custer (1968), The File of the Golden Goose (1969), The Executioner (1970), Catlow (1971), and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977).

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© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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