Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Film Review: JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963, Don Chaffey)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond, Jack Gwillim, Nigel Greene, Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore in GOLDFINGER). Effects by Ray Harryhausen. Music by Bernard Herrmann. Written by Jan Read (FIRST MEN IN THE MOON) and Beverley Cross (CLASH OF THE TITANS)- (who are actually both dudes).
Tag-line: "Greatest Odyssey Of The Ages - for the first time on the screen!" And here I thought THE ODYSSEY was the greatest odyssey of the ages.
Best one-liner: "If I had to punish every blasphemy, I would have no followers!"

Directed by Don Chaffey (C.H.O.M.P.S., CHARLES IN CHARGE) and starring Todd Armstrong (SCALPLOCK, KING RAT), it would seem that JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS was Ray Harryhausen's movie to steal- and steal it he does. And that's not to say that Chaffey or Armstrong drop the ball, by any means- it's just hard to compete with a slew of monsters that range from the adorable to the terrifying (or sometimes both). Harryhausen was the indomitable master of stop-motion, and JASON just might be his masterpiece (he counts it as a personal favorite among his films).

Viewers will likely not remember that Argos' man-boobs are really distracting:

There, on the left. Maybe put a shawl on or something?

Hera's wearing a debutante wig, Hercules looks like he works at a car wash, or that Medea was magically healed after getting wrapped in shiny, yellow shag carpet:

- instead they'll remember the UNCANNY ARMY OF SKELETONS, THE SEVEN-HEADED DRAGON-SERPENT, and the MURDERING EYELESS BRONZE TITAN. Basically, everyone who saw this as a kid stumbled away in an awestruck haze, jaws dropped and minds blown. That's the power of Harryhausen's effects.

The plot itself is surprisingly Hera-heavy- she might've been Zeus' missus, but she always gets the short end of the stick, especially in film adaptations. Here, she's pissed off cause Zeus was backing some douche who messed up her temple. There's all sorts of arbitrary rules, but she's allowed to help the temple-defiler's opponent, Jason, in a few vague ways.

Kinda like conflict by proxy in the Cold War, I guess, if you really want to read into the socio-political implications of a movie about skeletons with swords. Maybe that's what they were going for. But none of that really matters- this is all about Jason and his crew encountering exquisitely constructed stop-motion monsters.

Who can forget the bat-like harpies who pestered the blind Phineas until Jason and his compadres stuffed them in a cage? Talos, the hulking statue of bronze who comes to life when that dick Hercules steals one of the gods' brooch pins (I'm serious),

Hercules nicks the brooch pin of the gods. Are you there, Shit? You may commence hitting the fan.

then terrifies the Argonauts (and the audience) with his uncanny, squeaky movements and unblinking, rusty eye holes?

Or the Hydra, the seven-headed dragon-serpent who guards the golden fleece?

(And if there's one thing that Harryhausen perfected over the years, it was the unsettling death rattles of his little monsters!) And finally, the piece de resistance– the skeleton attack on Jason and his buddies.

Sure, they've got too many ribs, and, hey, they're kinda cute, but make no mistake- they're actually scary as hell.


Basically you'll be cackling like a little girl AND shivering in terror when they make their grand entrance. (Hopefully for a future DVD release, the cover of this film will read "'SCARY AS HELL' -Junta Juleil's Culture Shock." I think that would be my greatest achievement as a human being.)

Rounding it out is a score by Bernard Herrmann, whose work is often more mysterious and intriguing than the films which it inhabits. Here, there's frequent quoting of his scores to NORTH BY NORTHWEST and VERTIGO, which I feel must be intentional (?). Regardless, it's an excellent score, and is truly the icing on the cake which is... JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

I never tire of these films. Harryhausen is THE man when it comes stop-motion animation monsters! I just watched this film a few months ago and was still wowed by it and it still had the power to transport me back to a little kid and seeing this film for the first time. I'm just glad I got to see the original CLASH OF THE TITANS on the big screen. Medusa gave me nightmares for days afterwards!

Incidentally, in 3 days time Turner Classic Movies is running a Harryhausen marathon:


I know where I'm gonna be at 8pm...

Sean Gill said...

Excellent about the TCM marathon; I've long been meaning to revisit a whole slew of these which had mesmerized me in my youth- all 3 SINBADS, CLASH, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, GWANGI, et al. I'm even quite keen on the non-Harryhausen JACK THE GIANT KILLER, but I have to admit, it's been quite some time since I saw it. All fantastic stuff which puts CGI to shame.

J.D. said...

Agreed! TCM loves Harryhausen. They've had a few marathons of his, including one night where they showed a bunch of his short films. Very cool! Which reminds me I've been meaning to pick up Harryhausen's memoirs one of these days.

Daniel W. said...

Talking about uncanny...the skeletons blood-curdling screams. Where are their vocal chords?? Love that part.

Sean Gill said...


Definitely love those guys; collectively, they're one of my favorite movie monsters!