Golden Years

Iconic actress and Harryhausen ambassador Caroline Munro chats with Marshall Julius about Ray and the making of 1973's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

From Hammer and Harryhausen to Bond and beyond, model and actress Caroline Munro elevated Seventies' screens with a bewitching blend of beauty and charisma, a fresh, familiar face from that most delightful of decades who continues to melt many a fanboy's heart.

 

"It was an incredible period for British films," says Munro, to this day a staple of genre entertainment and a firm convention favourite. "I didn't make a lot of money, but I didn't care about that. I felt so lucky. I didn't stop working and met lots of amazing people."

Of the many incredible talents she collaborated with, none are dearer to Munro than stop-motion effects master Ray Harryhausen. "He took a chance on me," she remembers with evident affection. "A big chance. No one helped my career more and, still, when I go to festivals, making Sinbad and working with Ray is one of the main things everyone asks me about. After all, Ray was the greatest special effects person of his time. He raised the bar and changed cinema itself."

Back when Ray and his longtime producing partner Charles H. Schneer were seeking a female lead for their second Sinbad movie, "they were mostly meeting American ladies. They wanted someone with a name. Someone well known."

Trailer for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, 1973.

Regardless of who Ray and Charles thought they wanted, writer Brian Clements had other ideas. "Brian was a bit of a mentor for me," says Munro. "We'd just done Captain Kronos for Hammer, and he'd written the screenplay for Golden Voyage. He told them about me and showed them some footage. They agreed to meet me and though honestly, I didn't expect to get the part, I mainly went for the experience of meeting them.

"Ray did most of the talking. He had this wonderful, warm voice. Loud, but very beautiful. Charles was more businesslike and mostly observed. We had a nice and interesting chat and when it was over, I left with no expectations. Then lo and behold, I got it!

"We shot the film in Spain and though the budget was less than £1 million, which was middleish for the time, we seemed to have the best of everything. I stayed in a beautiful apartment and had my own driver. The catering was fantastic and I was looked after really well. The crew was amazing too. Great make-up people. Outstanding costume designers. Ted Moore was our D.P. - he'd won an Oscar for shooting A Man for All Seasons and a BAFTA for From Russia With Love - and his work was extraordinary. I don't think I was ever better lit."

As with all Harryhausen productions, every penny spent ended up on the screen. Salaries weren't high but no-one felt hard done by. And while the budgets for most fantasy epics would ultimately bloat to enlist hundreds, if not thousands of designers and effects folk, Ray's films needed only one: him. From concept and design to production and, of course, his remarkable stop-motion effects work, Ray was the single engine that powered these colossal endeavours.

"When the time came to shoot a scene that would eventually involve one of Ray's creatures, Gordon Hessler, our director, would step away, and then Ray would tell us exactly what to do. He always knew precisely what he wanted from us. How we should be feeling. How we should react. And to make sure we looked precisely where we needed to. Say for the Centaur scene, Ray held up a big cardboard eye on a stick. To my mind, after all his wonderful prep, I could really see the creature! Ray made it come alive. He was fascinating."

When the shoot was over and the crew disbanded, for Ray at least, that's when the work really began. "He did it all from his studio in London, upstairs at the top of his house. Just Ray and his models, almost always alone, painstakingly animating them one frame at a time. Just Ray, the Centaur, little Margiana and the rest, for a year or more."

For Ray and Caroline, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship. "I loved him," says Munro, "his wife Diana, and their daughter Vanessa, who was tiny when I first met her. She went to school with my step-daughter Tami, and they're still very close friends.

"Of course, Ray's films were like his babies too, so I'm always happy to look in on them, and talk about them. I'm so happy that fans and filmmakers today appreciate and love them too. His creations, they had the human touch, I think. It elevated them above normal effects."

Ray Harryhausen, Golden Voyage of Sinbad; Centaur and Gryphon fight key drawing, about 1971, © The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation
Ray Harryhausen, Golden Voyage of Sinbad; The Fountain of Destiny scene key drawing, about 1971, © The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

"Ray may not have invented the process of the stop-motion, but he elevated it into something special. Something higher than art, even. His creatures lived and breathed. They had character. Ray put so much love into his characters, and the stories that they were a part of, they became timeless. I know he was thrilled that years after his films were shown in the cinema, people still watched them and loved them and were inspired by them. Whenever I meet his fans at screenings or conventions, they bring their children, their grandchildren... They're movies that span generations."

5 October 2021