Jason and the Argonauts (1963) dir. Don Chaffey
Starring: Todd Armstrong, Niall MacGinnis, Jack Gwillim, Nancy Kovack
By Alan Bacchus
It’s difficult to enjoy ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ beyond its influence on some of today’s action/sci-fi/horror filmmakers. I can appreciate a good b-movie, but even within this pastiche context it’s a pretty awful film.
The famous Greek myth of Jason hero who intrepidly leads an army of warriors in search of the Golden fleece serves only to showcase the special effect of the great stop motion artist Ray Harryhausen and for most its running time we have to wait labouriously for these glorious moments.
Unfortunately Harryhausen’s matting and blue-screen process effects extend longer than his reach and look just plain awful, especially under super crisp high definition. But its his legendary stop motion creatures which are the showcase of this film and still awe-inspiring to this day,
Take for instance the giant statue set piece at the top of the film. As Jason and his bunch land at the beach on the isle of Bronze, one of his soldiers steals a scared pin and unleashes a statue who suddenly becomes animate. The attack of the statue on the Argonauts is choreographed and composed with truly awesome epic value and scope. The statue’s attack on the Argo ship straddling to edges of a channel is a glorious moment.
There's also the rock landslide scene, which has Jason's ship saved by the merman who provides a barrier to the rocks which allows it to pass. There’s also Jason’s toil with the multi-headed hydro snake which guards the fleece; and for cinephiles, the key set piece we sit and wait for, the film’s most famous scene, the skeleton sword fight at the end – a scene Sam Raimi famously reworked into ‘Army of Darkness’.
Like Harryhausen's last film 'Clash of the Titans’, as the heroes on earth battle the beasts the Gods in the clouds watch below and control the action like chess pieces on a board. Zeus in this film is played unmemorably by Niall MacGinnis, Dr. No Bond villain Honor ("Pussy Galore") Blackman shows up on Olympus though as the lovely Hera.
Somehow the producers had a relationship with the great Bernard Herrman who along with composing some of the greatest scores ever in the 50’s and 60’s for Hitchcock, did a number of these b-action monster movies. Scour through Herrman’s filmography and you’ll see a scattering of high profile hits and disposable b-movies. Unfortunately Herrman’s score can only bring the picture up a notch or so, as it’s a largely unmemorable music and not his best work.
So, unfortunately 'Jason and the Argonauts' hasn’t aged well, the acting atrocious and most of the process effects glaringly poor, but Ray Harryhausen’s set pieces still reign supreme and is at least worthy of fast-forwarding to.