Jack the Giant Killer (1962)

Jack the Giant Killer (1962)

A pretty princess. An evil sorcerer. A hero for the ages.

When the evil wizard Pendragon was exiled by the King of Cornwall, he vowed to reclaim the throne. He attempts to kidnap the Princess Elaine so that he can bargain with the King but his plans are thwarted when Jack, a local farmer, successfully rescues her from the clutches of a giant. Jack is then entrusted with a secret mission to escort the Princess to a convent in France where she will be hidden from Pendragon’s clutches. However on the journey there, Pendragon manages to abduct her. Jack then travels to Pendragon’s island castle where he must battle all manner of witches, giants and Pendragon himself to rescue her.

 

Clearly a deliberate attempt to recreate the success of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jack the Giant Killer reunites director Nathan Juran with actors Kerin Matthews and Torin Thatcher to lesser effect. There are attempts to recreate success and there’s blatantly plagiarising and this film is guilty of the latter. It’s almost a re-run of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad with Matthews and Thatcher playing opposite each other again, similar monsters and even an annoying leprechaun-in-a-bottle, no doubt substituting for the annoying genie-in-the-lamp. The key missing ingredient is the lack of Ray Harryhausen in the special effects department but more on that later.

Jack the Giant Killer is like a fairytale come to life. The film opens with the story of Jack being read from a book before one of the pictures comes to life and we’re transported into the magical world full of all of the classic ingredients of a fairytale: the princess, the dashing hero, a king and a castle, an evil wizard, witches, dwarves, dragons and much more. But the actual script isn’t up to much and simply provides a route for the hero to go from one challenge to the next. And when the monsters aren’t around, the film suffers from a general lack of purpose. This is more than evident during the first fifteen minutes as the film begins with a rip-roaring couple of action set pieces as a giant is unleashed in the castle, captures the princess and heads off to deliver her to Pendragon, only to be fooled by farm boy Jack.

Once this is out of the way, the film never really picks up full steam again until Jack reaches Pendragon’s island, another good thirty minutes or so into the film (witches scene aside, which provides some mid-film scares). At least the final half of the film involves a couple of decent set pieces as Jack and Pendragon finally square off. Kerwin Matthews must have been born to play a dashing hero in this sort of film because he does make a believable action man. Ray Harryhausen once stated that Matthews had an uncanny ability to interact with the monsters he’s fighting and it shows again here. Torin Thatcher puts in another fine performance as Pendragon, full of his usual cartoony evil ways. The two work well off each other although here the performances are more of the pantomime kind, especially from Thatcher. Judi Meredith plays the token female and looks cute but she’s there to be rescued and that’s it.

The main reason that the film doesn’t work as well as it should be is easy to see: there’s no Ray Harryhausen. Jim Danforth’s variety of fantasy creatures don’t look as fluent or realistic as Harryhausen’s and the difference in class is easy to spot. These creatures look like rushed special effects, not like labours of love that have been meticulously animated. They lack characteristics and personalities and they don’t seem to interact with the actors very well. Not only that but they look like the plasticine models that they are with some awful, shiny textured skin and they’re clear rip-offs from Harryhausen’s work. Both Cormorant at the beginning of the film and the two-headed giant towards the end have the same look as the cyclops from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. It’s a shame because the Cormorant scenes have potential and there’s some entertaining moments as it escapes from the castle and heads to Jack’s farm. These are also the only times when Jack truly gets to be a ‘giant killer’ as he spends the rest of the film using his leprechaun friend to get him out of trouble instead of using his brains and brawn. The climatic fight between the two-headed giant and a giant octopus would probably have worked in black-and-white back in the 30s but in full colour, it looks really cheap.

Its this poor animation really harms the impact of these fantasy creatures as there are some good moments with them, it’s just a pity they look ridiculous at times. It’s the non-stop motion special effects which are far more effective here including the haunting witch attack scene aboard the ship. The scene is saturated with an eerie purple/red glow and the witches themselves are outlined with a ghastly white colour to conjure up a really spectral image. It’s quite a freaky and rather scary sequence and one which may alarm some younger children.

 

Jack the Giant Killer lacks the killer special effects which were the main reason that Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad were so enjoyable but it’s still a damned fine fantasy film which seems to be overlooked a lot more than it deserves to be.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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