IN THE SHADOWS: TORIN THATCHER

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torin-thatcher

Torin Thatcher as the evil magician Sokurah in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958).

Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at the career of character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Today IN THE SHADOWS it’s Torin Thatcher, a character actor known mostly for his villainous roles.  I remember him most for his outstanding portrayal of the evil magician Sokurah in the classic fantasy film THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) which also features some of Ray Harryhausen’s best stop-motion special effects.

And when you watch a movie featuring Ray Harryhausen’s special effects, it’s usually those effects that you remember, not the actors in the film.  This is true with THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, with the exception of Torin Thatcher.  His work in 7TH VOYAGE is so strong you remember the magician Sokurah just as vividly as you do Harryhausen’s fantastic creatures.

Before he become an actor, Torin Thatcher was a school teacher.  How cool would that have been?  To have Sokurah the Magician as your teacher.  But seriously, I can only imagine how powerfully effective he must have been standing in a classroom teaching students.

Here now is a partial list of Torin Thatcher’s 150 film and TV credits:

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1927) – Solanio – Torin Thatcher’s first movie credit as Solanio in this silent short adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.

NORAH O’NEALE (1934) – Dr. Hackey – Thatcher’s first screen credit in a feature-length movie.  Early drama starring Lester Matthews, known to horror fans for his work in WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) and the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi classic THE RAVEN (1935).

SABOTEUR (1942) – uncredited appearance in this classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946) – Bentley Drummle – small role in the classic David Lean version of the Charles Dickens tale starring John Mills, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson who played Elizabeth in the Boris Karloff classic THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and future Hammer Films stars from THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) Martita Hunt and Freda Jackson.

THE FALLEN IDOL (1948) – Policeman – Plays a policeman in this classic mystery from director Carol Reed (Oliver Reed’s uncle) with a script by Graham Greene.

THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952) – Humble Bellows – Swashbuckling pirate adventure starring Burt Lancaster and directed by Robert Siodmak, the director of SON OF DRACULA (1943).  Also memorable for featuring a young Christopher Lee in a supporting role.

THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO (1952) – Johnson – classic drama starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, and Leo G. Carroll.

THE DESERT RATS (1953) – Col. Barney White – Robert Wise-directed war movie starring Richard Burton and James Mason.

THE ROBE (1953) – Sen. Gallio – Biblical tale  of Roman tribune with a conscience starring Richard Burton and Michael Rennie.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957) – Mr. Myers – Billy Wilder-directed Agatha Christie tale starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, and the Bride of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester.  Also features veteran character actor Una O’Connor, also from THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933).

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) – Sokurah the Magician – My favorite all-time Torin Thatcher role.  This classic fantasy adventures features some of Ray Harryhausen’s best special effects ever.  Who can ever forget his giant Cyclops?  In addition, it also features a rousing Bernard Herrmann score, one of my favorites.  The third outstanding element of this movie is Torin Thatcher’s performance as Sokurah.  It’s a rare occurrence indeed in a Ray Harryhausen movie for anything to be as memorable as his creature effects, but Torin Thatcher achieves this feat.  He’s just as memorable in this film as Harryhausen’s effects.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1957-59) – Constable Johnson – “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole” (1957)/ Felix Edward Manbridge – “Relative Value” – appearances in two episodes of the classic Alfred Hitchcock TV series.

THRILLER (1961) – Jeremy Teal – “Well of Doom” – appearance in the classic horror anthology TV show hosted by Boris Karloff.

JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962) – Pendragon – Once again playing the villain in a fantasy adventure.  Thatcher is reunited with 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD director Nathan Juran and lead actor Kerwin Matthews who played Sinbad in 7TH VOYAGE and plays Jack here, but missing this time around is Ray Harryhausen and his fantastic creatures, resulting in inferior special effects.

GET SMART (1966) – Dr. Braam – “All In the Mind” (1966) – appearance in the classic Mel Brooks TV series starring Don Adams as Secret Agent Maxwell Smart and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99.

LOST IN SPACE (1966) – The Space Trader- “The Space Trader” (1966)- plays a villain in this Season 1 episode of the Irwin Allen science fiction adventure TV show.  Trades with the Robinson family, takes advantage of Dr. Smith’s greed and makes him his slave, only to be eventually outsmarted by the Robinson Robot.  Way to go, bubble headed booby!

STAR TREK (1967) – Marplon- “The Return of the Archons” (1967) – appearance in this Season 1 episode of the classic TV series chronicling the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy aboard the starship Enterprise.

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1968) – Sir John Turnbull – TV movie version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale, produced by Dan Curtis, the man behind DARK SHADOWS and THE NIGHT STALKER (1971).  Starring Jack Palance as a very sinister Mr. Hyde.

LAND OF THE GIANTS (1970) – Dr. Berger – “Nightmare” (1970) – appearance in this Irwin Allen fantasy TV show.

NIGHT GALLERY ( 1971) – Captain of the Lusitania – “Lone Survivor” (1971) – appearance in the horror anthology series by Rod Serling.

BRENDA STARR ( 1976) – Lassiter- Torin Thatcher’s last screen credit is in this TV movie adventure involving extortion, voodoo, and the supernatural.  Starring Jill St. John.

Thatcher passed away on March 4, 1981 at the age of 76 from cancer.

Torin Thatcher – January 15, 1905 – March 4, 1981.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of IN THE SHADOWS.  Join me next time when we look at the career of another classic character actor.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD – The Quintessential Ray Harryhausen Movie

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7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD posterIn memory of Ray Harryhausen, here’s a reprint of my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), one of Harryhausen’s best and my personal favorite.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

Forgive me for never having grown up.

I love movie monsters.  From the classics to the films of today, I can’t get enough of them.

In horror movie history, one name stands above the rest when it comes to making movie monsters, Ray Harryhausen.  In a career that spanned 30 years, from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) to CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), Ray Harryhausen provided us with some of the best stop-motion animated special effects ever put on film, and while there have been many classics thanks to Harryhausen, the quintessential Harryhausen movie has to be THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958).

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is a beautiful production shot in Technicolor with picture perfect pizzazz by director Nathan Juran, who also directed Ray Harryhausen’s 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), as well as other genre films such as THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957).

In THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) must travel to the far ends of the earth to the Island of Colossus on a mission to save his beloved princess (Kathryn Grant).  The princess is doing her best “incredible shrinking woman” impression, shrunk down in size by the evil magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher).  Along the way, Sinbad must square off against giant birds, a dragon, a sword wielding skeleton, and more than one giant Cyclops.

While there are many enduring images from this movie, there’s probably none stronger than Harryhausen’s creation of the giant Cyclops.  Once seen, you will not forget it.  From its muscular body, cloven hands and feet, and grotesque face, for the horror fan, he’s a keeper!  (“Hey, mom, look who I brought home!”).

The script by Kenneth Kolb is OK, not memorable by any means, but it does its job in setting up a rip-roaring adventure that is fun to watch.  The acting is also OK, with Torin Thatcher leading the way, delivering by far the best performance in the movie as Sokurah, the evil magician.  Thatcher, who died in 1981, is most memorable here because he’s the one player in this movie who makes you forget about Harryhausen’s creatures while he’s on screen, and that’s saying something.  His Sokurah is one of my favorite genre movie villains.

Bernard Herrmann wrote the memorable music score, one of his best other than PSYCHO (1960).  It’s a rousing piece of film music that you’ll be humming to yourself long after you’ve seen the movie.

But the true star of THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is Ray Harryhausen.  His creatures here look fantastic, and we are treated to all sorts of spectacular scenes, including an exciting battle between one of the Cyclops and the giant dragon.  There’s also a memorable duel between Sinbad and a sword wielding skeleton, a scene improved upon five years later by Harryhausen in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), where the choreographed fight involved a bunch of skeletons.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD boasts some of the best stop-motion animated special effects in motion picture history, and is right up there with the work of Willis O’Brien in the all-time best, KING KONG (1933).  It’s also among the best of the Sinbad movies, though it’s hard to crown it king because Harryhausen struck gold again nearly twenty years later with his follow-up feature, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) which is every bit as good as THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

So, this summer, go ahead and be a kid again, and enjoy THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.  Just don’t let me catch you playing with that Cyclops toy you picked up on eBay last month!

(July 2008)

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You can read all my SPOOKLIGHT columns in the IN THE SPOOKLIGHT EBook now available from NECON EBooks at www.neconebooks.com.

—Michael