12/20/06

505 The Magic Voyage of Sinbad

(1953, Fantasy-Fairy Tale, color)

This doesn’t look like Persia, and I bet that’s not Sinbad.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

A Russian folk hero voyages in search of the magical bird of happiness.

Summary:

Sinbad sails from Persia to India by way of Scandinavia.Blond and bearded Sinbad (a.k.a. Sadko) returns after many magic voyages to his home city, with nothing but his harp and the furs on his back. He sees the downtrodden poverty of the city’s denizens and expresses his disgust by trading his fur hat for a slave. Later, he breaks into a party of wealthy merchants, interrupting a lot of enthusiastic jesters. He demands that they all give him all their wealth so that he can go trading in foreign lands while searching for the legendary bird of happiness. The outraged merchants discuss the merits of this nonargument amongst themselves for a while, and then throw him out.

Disheartened by the failure of his shrill, confrontational negotiating tactics, Sinbad climbs onto a rock by the sea and plays his harp. The daughter of Neptune comes and promises him some golden fish if he’ll shut up. Sinbad smooches her and rings the town bells in the middle of the night to give the townsfolk the news. The sleepy and surly merchants make a bet with him: If he catches the golden fish, they’ll give him all their wealth and goods. If he can’t, they get to chop of his head and be rid of his party-crashing, late-night-bell-ringing ways forever.

Sinbad chooses a crew for his still-unbuilt fleet of ships, narrowing the field of large bearded hopefuls by seeing which of them can take a punch after a shot of strong liquor. He makes two exceptions. One guy gets in by wrestling a bear, and a little withered old guy reminds him he needs brains as well as brawn.

Once the crew has been chosen, he goes fishing. After a few unsuccessful casts, the daughter of Neptune herds some golden fish into his net. The triumphant Sinbad has his crew carry his boat through town on his shoulders, where he opens the merchants’ warehouses and gives all their goods to the poor, who throw a rockin’ party. Sinbad’s feeling pretty good about himself until the smart wizened crewmember points out that he forgot to save enough money to make his fleet of ships. Fortunately, Neptune’s daughter comes through again by turning the golden fish into gold nuggets.

Meanwhile, Sinbad has found a blond girlfriend who promises to be true while he sails away to search for the bird of happiness. She promises to send him the birds of love every day. (I think they’re seagulls, though some of them are pigeons.) Sinbad builds his ships and sail away.

Their first stop is Viking country. The treacherous Vikings reject them and then attack when their backs are turned. Sinbad’s lusty crew defeats them easily by whipping them with furs, and takes the Viking leader’s magic white horse as a prize. The second stop is India, where the prince keeps a magic phoenix with the head of a woman. Sinbad wins it from the prince in a game of chess, but it’s not the bird they’re looking for; it’s an evil creature that sings its audience into the sleep of death. Sinbad defeats it with his harp, and then defeats the prince’s army by turning the bird on them.

In Egypt, he asks the sphinx about the bird of happiness. The Sphinx shows him a vision of his blond girlfriend at home. Sinbad rushes back to his home city, but gets caught in a terrible storm on the way. Apparently, he forgot to sacrifice to Neptune before he left. He throws himself overboard so that his ships may survive.

At the bottom of the sea he meets Neptune, his shrewish wife Neptuna, and their menagerie of fishy hand puppets. Sinbad plays them a peppy tune on his harp, but when his girlfriend’s bird of love finds him by flying underwater, he deliberately breaks a string and begs them to let him go home to buy new ones. Neptune and Neptuna smell a trick, so they make him marry one of their daughters so that he’ll come back. He chooses the daughter who’s been helping him all along. She only pretends to marry him and helps him flee on a seahorse. Neptune gives chase in his prawn-drawn chariot. Sinbad makes it to shore and runs to greet his ladylove.

The ships return to port, mourning the loss of Sinbad, but he turns up and announces that there is no bird of happiness—true happiness is found within. Everyone swallows this old line and parties down.

Introduction:

Joel and the 'Bots take orders from King Sinatra.Gypsy and Crow are presenters for the SOL-tie awards, and deliver canned patter while they announce the nominees for “Best Performance by a Robot Shaped Kind of Like a Gumball Machine.” Everyone but Gypsy and Cambot was nominated (Cambot pans aimlessly when Magic Voice’s name is announced), and Crow wins.

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank have found a new area of the body to be ashamed of—the chin. They wear Chinderwear to cover their shame. Joel has created the Rat Pack chess set, complete with a talking Frank Sinatra King. Dr. Forrester sends them the movie while Frank discovers that his chin is an erogenous zone. Joel and the ‘Bots can’t go into the theater until King Sinatra says they can.

Host Segment Two:

Joel and the ‘Bots form the Junior Jester Club. They dress in clownish clothes and prance madly about while clownish footage from the merchants’ party plays in the background. Eventually they collapse, unable to keep up with the professionals in the film. Quoth Tom, “That cavorting really takes it out of you.” They try to schedule their next meeting, but have trouble finding time around all of the other movie-based clubs they’ve formed.

Host Segment Three:

Joel and the ‘Bots don long fake beards and discuss the “Sinbad problem.” Tom requests action to stop his constant disruption of city affairs, while Crow continually insists that he’s not really Sinbad. They finally agree to defer Tom’s request until they can learn “Sinbad’s” true identity.

Host Segment Four:

Crow jettisons himself out an airlock to go on a lifelong quest for…something or other. He immediately loses control of his thrusters and whizzes around the exterior of the ship, bouncing off the hull. Joel unlocks the airlocks for him and goes back into the theater.

Host Segment Five:

Joel brings out a catfish hand puppet and uses it to greet the ‘Bots. Tom and Crow can’t figure out what it is or how it moves. Gypsy tries to eat it. When Joel takes it off to read a letter, they all assumed that it died. Down in Deep 13, Frank tries to point out that it was a puppet, but runs into Fistie—Dr. Forrester’s fist with eyes painted on it. Dr. Forrester knocks out Frank and pushes the button while talking to his own hand.

Stinger:

The magical white horse laughs maniacally.

Thoughts:

Sinbad is one of those rare blond Persians.As should be obvious to anyone even remotely familiar with the Arabian Nights, this movie is not about Sinbad. The domed city is not Persian. The blond, bearded, and fur-clad men depicted are not Arabic. If you sail from Persia to India, you will not pass Scandinavia on the way. Neptune is not Persian either. Nor is he Russian, for that matter.

Actually, the movie’s original eponymous hero is Sadko, a figure of Russian folklore with whom I am not familiar. I would have liked to know about him, but the people who localized the movie figured I’d be more comfortable if they dubbed the picture with the name and adventures of a famous fictional Arabian pirate, no matter how incongruous it might be with the action on the screen. In their defense, this movie was made in the fifties, and an obviously Russian fantasy about the forcible redistribution of wealth would probably have suffered an ignominious death at the American box-office.

The host segments are good. I enjoyed the SOL-tie awards, even though (or because) quite clearly the wrong ‘Bot won. The Junior Jester Club is fun; those Russo-Finnish clowns have almost Mr. B-ish levels of annoying energy. The bearded town council sketch perfectly parodies the growling merchants of Sinbad’s city. Crow’s lifelong quest is a little pointless, but Joel’s catfish puppet is exactly like the one in the film, and the ‘Bots’ reaction to it is hilarious.

The film is bizarre and hard to follow, mostly because of the strange localization. The dirty, bearded men dancing in the street lead Tom to remark, “Looks like Sturgis before motorcycles.” The Kremlinesque domes of Sinbad’s home city lead Joel to say, “I never knew Persia was so Russian.” When they find the woman-headed phoenix, Joel says, “They also have a dog in there with Alan Alda’s head.” The odd dubbing and the superimposed Sinbad plot make it hard to understand sometimes, so it’s not as good as the other Russo-Finnish films in the MST3K canon (The Day the Earth Froze, The Sword and the Dragon, and Jack Frost) but it’s still well worth viewing.