Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

"The epic story that was destined to stand as a colossus of adventure!"

I worked hard in my pre-teen years mowing and doing other lawn work, running errands and doing odd jobs. I paid close attention to how I spent my hard earned dollars. I believe this film was the first for which I bought theater tickets with money I earned myself. I've always liked both fantasy and science fiction. Based on Greek mythology and an ancient tale, Jason and the Argonauts belongs in the fantasy category. At the time of its release it reached the pinnacle of achievement in special effects. About twenty years later, Ray Harryhausen made Clash of the Titans with another Greek legend, big name performers and a far larger budget, but I still prefer this film with its occasionally “cheesy” acting.

Politics and the lengths to which it drives mortal men, in this case assassination and murder, begin the story. In his battle camp Pelias (Douglas Wilmer) has his soothsayer (Michael Gwynn) read the future. The seer speaks of a golden fleece in a great tree at the end of the world. Pelias, who wishes to be King of Thessaly, demands to know of the more immediate future: that night. The seer foretells that Pelias will defeat the present King in battle, kill him and become King of Thessaly, because Zeus commands it.

However, the soothsayer also foretells that one of the former King's children will later retake the throne. Pelias aims to kill all the King's children to prevent this. Meaning to escape, the current King's oldest daughter prays to the goddess Hera for protection in Hera's temple. Pelias finds her and questions her. Before the King's daughter can answer, a figure that Pelias believes a priestess of the temple silences his questions, saying that the daughter prays to Hera. When told that the goddess has heard the girl's prayer Pelias runs the daughter through with his broad sword. The figure in the shadows, actually the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman), now tells Pelias that the gods have abandoned him. “A one sandaled man shall come and no god shall protect you from him.”

Back on Olympus Hera speaks to her husband Zeus (Niall MacGinnis) about the profanation of her temple by murder and also her desire to help Jason defeat the profaner Pelias. Zeus grants Hera five interventions on Jason's behalf.

An instant later on Olympus, but 20 years later back in ancient Greece, Pelias' horse throws him in the water, where Jason (Todd Armstrong) rescues him from drowning. In the process of rescuing Pelias, Jason loses one of his sandals. Pelias, recognizing the instrument of his downfall, does not tell Jason his true identity, but instead welcomes him as his rescuer to receive the hospitality of his camp. There -- in company with dancing girls, musicians and the soothsayer -- Jason meets Acastus (Gary Raymond): Pelias' son. Jason tells of his desire to heal the damage to Thessaly wrought by Pelias in his time as King. He hopes to inspire the people by bringing them a treasure from the ends of the world: the Golden Fleece. Pelias encourages Jason to pursue his idea: build a ship, recruit a crew and bring the Golden Fleece to Thessaly, before revealing himself to his foe. After Jason has left the scene, Acastus asks his father why he lets Jason live and why he encourages Jason to pursue the treasure. Pelias plans for Acastus to accompany Jason.

Later at a temple ruins near a fallen statue of the god Hermes, the seer plays his lute as Jason approaches. The seer asks Jason if he has come to the temple area to pray. As the seer drops hints about his true identity, he also asks Jason if he will ask the gods how to find the treasure he seeks. Jason replies that he doesn't believe the gods would help one who does not believe in them.

Hermes brings Jason to visit Olympus, where Jason announces that he will accomplish his plan without Zeus' help. However, Hera tells Jason that she will be his protector but can help him only a limited number of times. Jason tells the gods that he will hold competitive games and choose only the best athletes for the crew of his great ship. Argos (Laurence Naismith) has made that ship: the Argo. Hercules (Nigel Green), Hylas (John Cairney), Acastus and others make up the crew of the Argo and figure prominently in adventures on their voyage to the land of Colchis, home of Medea (Nancy Kovack) where they will find the Golden Fleece.

It might seem that I've said too much, but I've only summarized the high points of first fifth of this movie. Most of the wonderful adventures with their excellent special effects lie beyond the background information I've provided in introducing most of the main characters and outlining the start of the story. Parts of Bernard Herrmann's score from this movie, along with some of his work from several other films, have been combined on an audio CD. The music lends to the spirit of myth and adventure. Many believe this movie to be Ray Harryhausen's best work. I count myself in that group, but enjoy all his films to some degree. If you like fantasy, adventure or mythic tales, I think you will enjoy Jason and the Argonauts.

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