A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Magic Voyage of Sinbad

March 29, 2011

The Magic Voyage of Sinbad

We own a couple of these Russian fantasy films from the fifties which we discovered through MST3K. I’m quite proud that our copy of Morozko is in the original Russian with English subtitles, but the three Aleksandr Ptushko films we own are all severely edited and dubbed into English. Perhaps someday we will get the films the way they were meant to be seen, but for now this is what we have. We already reviewed The Day the Earth Froze, which is based on the Kalevala, but until today I’ve always wondered what this movie was based on, because it is clearly not Sinbad.

A little quick internet research reveals that it is actually the Russian epic of Sadko. It’s a little difficult to figure out what’s going on much of the time while watching the “Sinbad” version of the movie as interpreted by Roger Corman. We know that Sadko finds himself in a vast city full of oppressed masses and that he wants only to liberate them. At first he tries to help the downtrodden masses by tricking the moneyed ruling class into distributing their wealth to the people. (He does this by betting his life that he can catch a golden fish, which miraculous feat he accomplishes with the help of a daughter of Neptune he has befriended using his harp.)

This fails to help all the people though, so Sadko sets out to sea in search of some other way to help his people. He gathers a hearty band of heroes including a young boy, an old sage, and a big slow dumb muscle man. They do battle with trident-bearing savages, match wits with a nasally voiced Indian horse fancier, and defeat a mystical blue harpy that tries to bore them to sleep. Ultimately they do not find whatever it is they’re seeking and turn back for home.

On the way home, however, they are beset by storms because Sadko has failed to pay propper homage to Neptune. In order to save his crew he must sacrifce himself, diving into the depths to confront Neptune himself. After some underwater hijinks he eventually escapes Neptune’s kingdom (with the help once again of one of Neptune’s daughters) and returns to land. He still hasn’t found anything to help the people of his home, but they don’t seem to mind much and everybody’s just so happy to see him again. The end.

I’m betting that most of the reason the movie feels so odd and disjointed is that the translation tries so hard to make it something that it is not. We’re told that Sinbad is seeking the bluebird of happiness, but I strongly suspect that this is an invention of the translators. So I have to admit I simply don’t know what’s going on for most of this movie, and yet I still enjoy it.

I enjoy it because Aleksandr Ptushko makes grand, sweeping, beautiful films. Even when they seem non-sensical as in this case they are still visually stunning. What this movie most reminds me of is the Douglas Fairbanks silent version of The Thief of Bagdad. It has the same scale to it, with it’s huge cast and colossal sets. It even has an interesting dry-for-wet underwater scene as part of its hero’s quest. (Although Neptune’s kingdom in this movie is played mostly for laughs. It’s a fairly goofy place full of puppets and dancing.)

As it stands in the version of this film that we own it is a fairly strange production. The plot makes little sense. The magical fantasy adventure descends at times into the laughably silly. Our hero is so clearly not Sinbad. But visually the movie still intrigues me. I long now to obtain the full-length and unedited Sadko with the original dialog. I’d really love to see this movie the way that Ptushko intended for it to be seen.

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March 29, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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