The villainous El Kerim (Pedro Armendáriz) uses magic and brute force to take control of the kingdom of Baristan. Hearing that Sindbad (Guy Williams) is sailing there to see his girlfriend, the Princess Jana (Heidi Brühl), El Kerim decides to rid himself of this potential thorn in his side by sending rocs to destroy the adventurer’s ship. Sindbad, however, is not going to be stopped so easily, but El Kerim will be hard to beat as he cannot be killed with normal weapons… because his heart has been magically removed from his body and is protected at the top of a seemingly unassailable tower.
Produced by the King Brothers, who also made GORGO (1961), and directed by Byron (WAR OF THE WORLDS) Haskin, this fantasy adventure was shot at the Bavaria Film Studios in Germany. Maybe being filmed in Munich is what gives this Arabian fantasy yarn the hint of a quirky European fairy tale vibe: the invincible villain keeping his heart guarded in a tall tower certainly has a Grimm’s fairy tale feel to it, as do moments like the belching wizard magically stretching his arm super-long in an attempt to steal the villain’s ring, and that same ring being used by El Kerim to comically twist the wizard’s head 360°!
The monster special effects aren’t a patch on what you’d see in a Ray Harryhausen Sinbad film, so CAPTAIN SINDBAD is always compared unfavourably to Harryhausen’s Dynamation adventures. It is definitely frustrating when, for instance, the rocs are shown flying high in the sky and it is obviously just some stock footage of seabirds, but where this production does score well is in its use of large sets with lots of extras. The movie features little location photography, with most of the film shot in colourful sound stages, helping to heighten the theatricality of the whole thing.
Some of the quirkier visuals, like the bumbling good wizard creating an indoor rain cloud to water a plant, also help to give this movie its own distinctive feel.
Monsters and creatures featured in this film include rocs (well, just close-ups of model bird legs holding boulders), a Firebird (a myna bird with a small crest added), an invisible arena monster and a multi-headed dragon-beast.
The arena scene is a good example, actually, of the pros and cons of this film compared to Harryhausen’s trilogy of Sinbad films. Where Harryhausen’s movies would’ve focused on a well-realised, well-designed stop-motion creature that is on screen for a decent amount of time, CAPTAIN SINDBAD features an invisible beast (so that it merely has to show big footprints in the sandy ground), but this film DOES boast a very impressive-looking arena set with a large amount of extras: something seldom seen in Harryhausen’s productions.
My favourite sequence in CAPTAIN SINDBAD involves Sindbad and his men making their way through a walled zone that surrounds the tower housing the villain’s heart: here they trudge through cool swamp & volcanic rock sets, encounter strangling vines, a killer sinkhole, (model) crocodiles and a (rather oddball but somehow still memorable) many-headed monster. I really like this glowing-eyed, hydra-type beast: sure, it has rubbery necks and you can see the wires holding up the heads, but it is a goofy-looking, fun critter that sticks in the mind (and clips of this creature were used years later in NATURAL BORN KILLERS).
In the centre of this walled zone Sindbad has to climb a giant bell rope to reach the detached heart… which is guarded by a giant glove! This whole sequence is really well done, with the interior of the base of the tower proving to be another nicely art directed set.
With an acrobatic spiderweb ballet dance, the princess threatened with a death-by-elephant-foot execution, a smoke-burping wizard, Guy Williams as the sword-wielding hero, a disembodied heart that is so stylised it looks about as real as a party balloon, and a mishmash of different costumes (at one point the villain seems to be dressed like a Cossack), this is a very entertaining film.
An escapist, quirky, colourful action-adventure tale: give it a go!