It’s hard to watch a blockbuster without the influence of Ray Harryhausen. In The Golden Voyage of Sinbad alone, you see premonitions of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean – all inspired by Harryhausen, the only visual effects artist to be considered an auteur.
Actor Caroline Munroe, Sam Clemens (the son of screenwriter Brian Clemens), Harryhausen’s daughter Vanessa, and filmmaker John Walsh attended a 45th anniversary screening of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad at Regent Street Cinema in London. They participated in a Q&A afterwards discussing experiences on-set, details from behind the scenes, and costume malfunctions.
Caroline, you were the only woman in that film. Tell us a little bit about it.
Caroline Munroe: I suppose I was one of the early women on the set. Obviously, we have Kali [a Harryhausen creature] in all her glory. But I felt very looked after, I felt comfortable, and I loved the crew. We did have women on the crew. We were all equal.
Vanessa, you were only eight when this film was made. You were in and out of the set, running about. Can you tell us one of your memorable experiences?
Vanessa Harryhausen: It was the encounter with one of the green men [natives of the lost continent of Lemuria]. When there was a break, we went behind the scenes and were just walking around. Suddenly, he just appeared in front of me and gave me the beejeebers! He thought I was gonna cry because my face said it all.
Caroline, I wondered how you first got involved with this particular film. What was your way in?
CM: My encounter with Ray [Harryhausen]. I’m sure I wasn’t pinned or earmarked for the role of Margiana. I’d worked with Brian Clemens in a film called Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter. He was the one who showed Ray and Charles Schneer [producer] the footage, and they were looking for somebody to play the role. But they thought of big American names – I think they wanted Raquel Welch. He heavily lobbied for [me] and showed them the footage, and that’s how I won the role. I’ve had such an amazing journey with Sinbad – talk about a Golden Voyage! Seeing it now in all its beautiful glory, it looks so pristine and we look so young! It’s a pure, beautiful fairytale – which is what Ray always wanted.
Sam Clemens: This is the first time I’ve seen it on the big screen. There’s loads of imagery that Dad wrote that has bled into this. Whilst working with Ray, they would sit down and have a conversation about what the film was going to be. They would discuss what the monsters were going to be, and, based on those ideas, would create the story together. We discovered Dad had a little book when he was about 13, and there is imagery of Kali in it. There was a character that’s not called Sinbad, but looked exactly like Sinbad.
Caroline, did you keep a souvenir?
CM: I actually didn’t. I have it here and here [points to heart and head].
If you could’ve done, what would you have kept?
CM: Golly, I don’t know…
CM: I don’t what I would’ve done with it now, it’s very tiny. They were beautiful costumes. We had a slight malfunction with my costume, apparently. There’s a scene where we come up in the boat and John Philip Law [who played Sinbad] very gallantly lifted me off the boat, and apparently there was quite a big wardrobe malfunction and something had… come adrift. I think they quickly cut to an outtake or something and then cut to a close-up.
Vanessa, you were very young at the time. You would’ve been surrounded by the artwork and the models. Could you share some of the memories of that time?
VH: You make the most of the creatures at home. I used to get quite upset because [Ray] used to kill off all my favourite ones. I loved the Griffin, and I actually felt sorry for the Homunculus.
You grew quite fond of them. They were your playmates?
VH: Yeah, they were! I used to see them every day.
You didn’t have a teddy, did you?
VH: No, I had a dinosaur.
How long did it take to make the film?
John Walsh: Principal photography was about four months. Post-production was another 12 months. There were gaps between that because there was some friction [with] Charles Schneer because he was promised an 80-piece orchestra and didn’t get that. Bernard Hermann was originally in mind to do this, but it wasn’t to be. So, it was the best part of two years to make the film. When it came out, it was enormously unexpected. It cost $900,000 to make and, by today’s inflation rates, it made the equivalent of $80 million.
JW: What’s fascinating is that since Ray retired, he’s become more popular. All those young people who saw his films in cinemas are now making films, like Peter Jackson. And when Ray left us in 2013, George Lucas said that without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars. His place in the world of film and special effects is unrivalled.
Dinosaurs, Harryhausen, and me – an exhibition of Ray Harryhausen models – will take place at the Valence House Museum in London from 10th March – 30th June 2018.