Having recently watched and reviewed the Sinbad Trilogy—“The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958),” “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974),” and “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)”—I’ve become of fan of both Charles H. Schneer and Ray Harryhausen, the main producer and special-effects master of the trio of films, respectively (although Harryhausen also produced to a lesser extent).
Hungry for more of the filmmaking dynamic duo, I set my sights on 1963’s “Jason and the Argonauts,” a movie that featured more of the men’s expansive imagination and visionary genius, only this time set against the backdrop of the legendary Greek myth. Twenty-five-year-old actor Todd Armstrong stepped into the sandals of the mythological hero Jason, and we follow him on his quest to restore a kingdom in turmoil.
An Epic Journey
A scheming character named Pelias (Douglas Wilmer) is intent on taking over all of Thessaly, a Greek kingdom, instead of ruling over a mere port city within it. To do so, he plans to kill Thessaly’s King Aristo and take his place on the throne. But when he consults his oracle about his dreams of conquest, the oracle warns him of opposition in the form of Aristo’s three children, which includes Jason and his two sisters.
Pelias does indeed accomplish his goal of taking over Thessaly and, although he manages to kill King Aristo and the king’s two daughters, Jason, still an infant, is carried away by one of Aristo’s men.
Importantly, one of Aristo’s daughters seeks sanctuary in a temple dedicated to the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman), but Pelias shows up and murders her. Because the murder desecrates Hera’s holy ground, the goddess decides thereafter to watch over Jason. She appears before Pelias and tells him that he will eventually see Jason again, who will appear before him wearing one sandal, but she warns him that if he chooses to kill Jason, Pelias will also be killing himself.
A couple of decades later, Pelias does not recognize Jason when he saves the king’s life. During the daring rescue (Jason saves the villain from drowning), Jason loses one of his sandals. Pelias then recognizes the young man as Jason and shrewdly offers his rescuer the hospitality of his camp.
There, Jason reveals how he intends to embark on a quest to a far-off land in order to obtain the Golden Fleece, a mythic item that he hopes will help him overthrow Pelias (he doesn’t recognize the man he saved as the villain) and take his father’s throne back as its rightful ruler. Pelias spurs on Jason in his efforts, since Pelias intends to have his equally evil son Acastus (Gary Raymond) tag along to ensure that Jason doesn’t make it back home alive.
Through the Greek god Hermes, Jason is transported to Mount Olympus, where he is offered help by Zeus himself. Jason cordially declines the offer; he intends to hold a grand series of games to bring forward the strongest men of Greece.
The winners of these contests form Jason’s crew, and he hires a master shipwright named Argus to construct the mighty ship, called the Argos. Jason and his legendary Argonauts are finally formed. Together, they embark on their mythic voyage to the mysterious land of Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece, but many deadly obstacles stand in their way.
Retelling Greek Myths
After watching this fantastic film, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how similar it was to the “Sinbad” trio of films: A righteous hero overcomes some initial adversities and learns of some mystical treasure located somewhere off in a faraway, mysterious land. Then my mind went back further, to a macroscale, and I remembered just how many movies (and books) are basically retellings of classic Greek myths.
The film’s acting is generally good, but the real attractions here are both the outstanding sets and, of course, the incredible special effects, the latter the courtesy of Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen is in top form here and we are treated to all kinds of mythical stop-motion animated monsters, including deadly flying creatures called harpies, skeleton warriors, and a gigantic living bronze statue named Talos.
What’s also great about this film is that, if you’re watching it with young kids, you don’t have to worry about them seeing people get tortured to death, buckets of blood spurting all over the place, or creatures devouring folks, as with many of today’s offerings. The fun is there, just not all of the unnecessary violence and hanky-panky.
“Jason and the Argonauts” is truly a classic of the adventure genre. Watching it is not only highly entertaining, but it’s also like looking through a lens at the original source of many inferior products that have come out since then. Although a financial failure at the box office dashed any plans of a sequel, over the years it has garnered critical acclaim and even achieved cult-film status.
‘Jason and the Argonauts’
Director: Don Chaffey
Starring: Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond
MPAA Rating: G
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Release Date: June 19, 1963
Rated: 4 stars out of 5