Alrighty. This whole exercise in “Moments of Coolness” is essentially to find snippets of movies, television shows, comics, books, etc. where I’ve experienced a sublime moment of coolness. Sometimes it’s from a very good movie, etc.–and sometimes not. Sometimes a mediocre or wretched piece of cinema or piece of art has a moment where they surpass everything else before or since within the piece. Everyone has these ‘moments’, I believe. Some are universally shared in pop culture and others are not.
To begin, I’ll share a moment from one of my favorite movies: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. This Ray Harryhausen gem is from 1974 when I was a mere 6 years old. I don’t believe I saw this one in the theater–but I might have. The memories are a tad dim.
Anyway, this is essentially a ‘B’ fantasy movie that gets almost everything right. John Phillip Law plays our title protagonist, Caroline Munro plays the love interest (and gets to constantly show off her impressive and well-oiled cleavage) and Tom Baker (yes, that Tom Baker!) is the villainous Koura. Apparently this role was what convinced the BBC to allow Tom to take over the role of the fourth incarnation of The Doctor on Doctor Who.
John Phillip Law had few other notable roles in his career and Caroline Munro was mostly known as a model and a Hammer Girl. So this movie is basically a bunch of unknowns or B-listers.
And it doesn’t matter in the slightest. It starts off grand and only gets grander. Few of the actors have much resemblance to Arabic sailors, mind you, but they try the accents as best they can. Hey, it was the seventies.
As much as I’d like to go on at length about the movie in general, my ‘moment’ comes near the end. Koura has been gloriously chewing scenery through the movie up to this point. Koura and his man-servant have been looking for the movie’s MacGuffin (three magic golden tablets) in competition with Sinbad and company. They’ve reached the lost land of Lemuria in search for the last tablet and gotten ahead of Sinbad through some alchemical skullduggery. They’re captured by a bunch of green-painted (or maybe they were supposed to be green-skinned–not sure) natives who are getting ready to sacrifice them. Koura–nobody’s fool–smacks a stone statue of Kali with a vial of magical goodness and animates it. The natives grovel to this wonder as Kali dances at his whim. He eventually bores of this, commands it to stop and sends the natives away so he can search their shrine for the last tablet.
So Koura is tearing up the place, chewing scenery and generally acting like a good villain should act when Sinbad and company catch up with him–apparently alone. Sinbad has a bit of a bone to pick with him since he had tried to murder him a couple of times. But, being a good guy, he tosses Koura a sword and announces: “To the death!”
Koura agrees and tosses the sword to Kali, who catches it and proceeds to spring identical swords from each of her six hands! Yikes!
The situation instantly changes. Sinbad thought he had Koura exactly where he wanted, only to find he was facing a giant, homicidal, fantasy-equivalent of a Cuisinart.
Now the really cool part. Nobody says a word. Sinbad and Kali circle one another while the rest of Sinbad’s crew looks on in horror. Sinbad doesn’t look frightened or panicked as he faces this death machine. They pace back and forth . . . the music builds . . . is he crazy enough to fight this thing? The music reaches a crescendo, Sinbad reaches a decision and the fight begins!
I won’t try to describe the rest of the fight–as cool as it is–but that one moment was just an electric moment as a child. Because damn, that thing looked mean! And the method used in the scene was something you rarely see today. The director just let the tension build with zero dialogue. Everyone knows what the score is. There’s no need for dialogue for those moments. He lets it ride. And it works beautifully.
I’d like to see a modern director do something as cool.
Anyway, for those of you who’ve never seen this movie, I can’t recommend it highly enough, for Harryhausen’s effects and Tom Baker’s over-the-top villainy if nothing else.