As a teenager, I became fascinated by Greek mythology. Of the main heroes, Theseus, Perseus, Hercules, my favorite was always Jason. To me, Jason’s tale was the most exciting, like an action movie hurdling from one obstacle to the next. Finally, I’ve seen the movie that brought the myth into Hollywood, 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts
For those unfamiliar with the tale of Jason, he is a boy destined to claim his rightful place as ruler of Thessaly, after Pelias (Douglas Wilmer) killed his father and took the throne. But King Pelias is tipped off to know who will be the one to end him, a man wearing one sandal. When the one-sandaled man (Jason, portrayed by Todd Armstrong) arrives, King Pelias does not reveal himself and buys himself time by advising Jason to find the Golden Fleece before taking back his kingdom. Jason then musters a fitting crew and takes on the task. Along the way are adventures and misfortunes that hinder the crew and even send the legendary Hercules (Nigel Green) astray. While Zeus (Niall MacGinnis) is plotting against him, Hera (Honor Blackman) has been allowed to help him five times. Jason has been informed and knows to ask for help wisely.
For those who are more familiar with the myth, you may find a few inaccuracies. Why a hydra is guarding the fleece is beyond me, but makes for very good moment to show off the effects. And the fact that *SPOILER ALERT* the film ends without Jason fulfilling his prophecy of reclaiming his kingdom, but rather fighting skeletons to keep the fleece is a bit odd. However, the skeleton fight scene is so wonderful that I didn’t even notice the myth had gone unfinished until days later! Perhaps director Don Chaffey and his team were hoping for a sequel.
What most people remember this film for are the effects and the stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen. Without his amazing talents this film would have fallen flat. He brings the magic that makes a giant bronze statue of Talos move so menacingly, that makes a canyon quiver and smash unsuspecting ships and Poseidon rise from the sea. His best moment is saved for the end, where Jason and his men have to battle skeleton warriors. The months of work Harryhausen put in to get the movements of the skeletons timed just right with that of their human opponents was well worth it and became an iconic image of classic film effects.
I caught Jason and the Argonauts on TCM’s Essentials Junior. I can’t think of a better category to put this in! This film is wonderful for school aged children; no language, not too violent and a wonderful way to introduce the mythology. And for young aspiring film makers it is especially essential to introduce them to the early special effects and how well things can be done outside the realm of CGI. I know babies aren’t supposed to watch television, but I couldn’t help but hold my son and let him gaze upon a few key scenes as I narrated it for him. Don’t worry, I only let him watch great movies.
“Rise up, you dead, slain of the hydra. Rise from your graves and avenge us. Those who steal the Golden Fleece must die.”