Jack the Giant Killer (1962)
Release Date: June 13th, 1962 MPAA Rating: G
Director: Nathan Juran Actors: Kerwin Mathews, Judi Meredith, Torin Thatcher, Walter Burke, Don Beddoe, Anna Lee
n the Kingdom of Cornwall in England, the evil Black Prince Pendragon (Torin Thatcher) is finally banished to the edges of the world by Herla the wizard. While in exile, Pendragon and all of his malevolent witches plot to once again overtake the city. Years later, he gets his chance during Princess Elaine’s (Judi Meredith, sounding like Dorothy, displeased with the mischievous denizens of Oz) birthday celebration, presenting her with a gift of a miniature, dancing purple jester. Disguised as the foreign Prince Eladoras, and accompanied by his shriveled, scarred, dwarfish henchman Garna (Walter Burke), he uses dark magic to summon the jester, which grows into a satyr-like horned giant, to kidnap the princess during the night.
As the monster treks through the countryside, grasping Elaine’s limp body, it crosses paths with farmer Jack (Kerwin Mathews), a young man unafraid to assist a lady in trouble. With a bit of luck and a lot of bravery, Jack slays the creature, minutes before the revered King Mark (Dayton Lummis) rides up to survey the situation and congratulate the noble deed. When they return to the castle, Jack is knighted and decorated with weaponry and jewels. After the king realizes that Pendragon is behind the kidnapping, he commands Jack to guide Elaine (both disguised as peasants) to a convent in Normandy. But Elaine’s servant Lady Constance (Anna Lee) secretly reports to the prince of the witches, with word of the travelers’ whereabouts and the ship they travel aboard.
The stop motion animation may not be legendary Ray Harryhausen’s work, but it’s still wholly amusing. The clay monstrosities wreak havoc on miniature sets, continually place damsels into distress, and demonstrate a mix of special effects creativity. Like a Disney animated feature, an oversized book’s pages are thumbed through to introduce the picture, which foreshadows not only the use of traditional animation for several shots, but also the dopier, less detailed, toyish look of the hellions. Each creature has a certain cuteness about it that separates it from the generally more hideous portraits of Harryhausen’s behemoths. But the standard makeup adorning Pendragon’s battalion of withered witches and hunched warlocks are of a compensatory design. Most use masks and heavy costumes to appear more ghoulish, which is a welcome addition for timeless visual appeal. It’s actually the color that is consistently poor, most notably during a day-for-night sequence aboard a boat, showing the film’s age and dated techniques.
Despite clumsy fight sequences, nonsensical curses that must be explained seconds before they’re broken, mediocre acting, and a singing, rhyming, dancing leprechaun (Don Beddoe), “Jack the Giant Killer” matches the lighthearted, breezy tone of the Sinbad films and “Jason and the Argonauts” with its blend of sorcery, swordplay, and mystical adventure. The plot itself is occasionally laughable, with protagonists blindly following advice from antagonists, or magic devices serving as simple solutions to dastardly schemes. But the biggest problem is that stop motion beasts don’t arrive regularly enough, leaving too much exposition and sluggish movements by the enemies to fill up the screen. Every time the hero escapes, it’s not due to skill, but rather because of the slowness in which evildoers react.
– Mike Massie