Thursday, January 12, 2012

#514. Jack the Giant Killer (1962)

Directed By: Nathan Juran

Starring: Kerwin Mathews, Judi Meredith, Torin Thatcher

Tag line: "Now...the fable of the ages is here for all to see!"

Trivia:  Producer Edward Small re-released this film as a musical

Released in 1962, Jack the Giant Killer may not be the most impressive fantasy film ever made, but it does have a certain appeal.

Pendragon (Torin Thatcher), an evil sorcerer who was banished by the King of Cornwall (Dayton Lummis), plans to abduct the King's daughter, Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith), and force her to marry him, thus securing the throne for himself. Posing as a nobleman, Pendragon delivers a special gift to the Princess on her birthday: a doll that, by all appearances, is very much alive. Later that night, this doll transforms into an enormous giant, and carries the Princess off.  But before the creature can escape, it's killed by a simple farmboy named Jack (Kerwin Mathews). In gratitude for rescuing his beloved daughter, the King makes Jack a knight, and entrusts him with the task of guarding the Princess during her upcoming voyage to a remote island convent, where she's to be kept safe until Pendragon is finally defeated. But the sorcerer isn't foiled yet. He sends his assistants, a coven of witches, to intercept the ship and kidnap the Princess, leaving Jack with little choice but to storm Pendragon's fortress and rescue the Princess all over again. 

Jack the Giant Killer is an ambitious film, one that sets out to reach the same lofty heights as other fantasy movies (like the Sinbad series) prevalent at the time.  Ultimately, it falls a bit short of the mark, which is not to say Jack the Giant Killer is without its moments. The scene where the Princess's doll grows into a giant, breaking through her bedroom ceiling in the process, was impressive, as was the ensuing battle to defeat it (the monster is attacked on all sides by the King's guards, whose spears have little effect on the gargantuan creature). This giant, which closely resembles the Cyclops from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, is brought to life by way of stop-motion animation, which is adequate, but lacks the finesse of Ray Harryhausen's creations, not only physically (the movements are a bit jerky in places); but in personality as well (I was never able to get past the artifice of it all, or believe, for a single moment, I was watching a living creature). The real actors don't fare much better, and are no more authentic then their clay counterparts. Even the sorcerer, Pendragon, is one-dimensional, and never comes across as much of a threat. 

Still, minor fantasy, even if coupled with sub-par animation, can be hard to resist, and while Jack the Giant Killer won’t stay with you very long after it’s over, it's pleasant enough while it lasts to keep you entertained.

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