The upcoming remake of the 1981 film Clash of the Titans, due sometime this spring, reminded me that (a) Greenwich Library has the DVD of the original version -reserve it here-, and (b) that I hadn't seen it in a long time (think a decade or two)!
Produced by the team of Charles H. Schneer and special effects/stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen (see this previous post), and directed by Desmond Davis from a screenplay by Beverly Cross, Clash revolves around the adventures (taken, with a lot of changes, from the original Greek myth) of Perseus (Harry Hamlin, who later went on to the L.A. Law TV series), the mortal son of Zeus (Lawrence Olivier). The godess Thetis (Maggie Smith), ticked off at Zeus for his favoring Perseus over her son Calibos (whom Zeus had punished over various trangressions by transforming him into an ugly monster), sets up a series of events in motion that get Perseus involved with the people of the city Joppa and it's princess (and Calibos' former betroved) Andromeda (the luminous Judi Bowker), whom Perseus falls in love with. With the aid of playwright Ammon (Burgess Meredith), the flying horse Pegasus, and a (frankly annoying) mechanical owl, Bubo, Perseus battles Calibos, the giant two-headed dog creature Dioskios, equally giant scorpions, a snake-like, bow-and-arrow packing Medusa (in the film's most suspenseful sequence), and, in the exciting climax, the legendary Kraken, to prevent the loss of Andromeda's life. (Thetis, now really angry at this point, forces the people of Joppa to sacrifice Andromeda to the Kraken.)
Boy, what a great showcase for Harryhausen's animated creations! My favorites are Medusa and the scorpions, but Harryhausen's effects are much more sophisticated this time, thanks in part to a much larger budget than he'd previously worked with. For example, the meshing of stop motion animation and actor Neil McCarthy's performance in the close-ups create an actual, believable, nuanced Calibos, resulting in one of Harryhausen's best creatures. The bigger budget also gives Harryhausen more chances for spectacle; the film starts off with the complete destruction of the cities Acrisius and Argos, which sets up a tone of adventure and wonder for the rest of the film. And, for a change, most of the animated inserts aren't hampered by grainy photography that bring attention to themselves.
The cast is good. Hamlin and Bowker are likable, if a little bland, as leads. And while it's great to see the cailber of such actors as Olivier, Smith, Meredith, Claire Bloom, Susan Fleetwood, Jack Gwillim (as the gods) and Sian Phillips in a film like this, all of these old pros play their parts like they were doing a Shakespeare play (listen to their phrasing), which sometimes sounds "off" (but classy). Ursula Andress, who had a much-publicized affair with Hamlin at the time, is wasted as Aphrodite, though she looks great! Cross's screenplay isn't really profound; it's just a loose but fast moving chain of setpieces that takes Perseus from one great stop-motion sequence to the next. But that's fine. 1981's Clash of the Titans is an exciting adventure from start to finish and here's hoping the remake will be even half as good!