Special-effects icon Ray Harryhausen gets 100th-birthday tribute from TCM

TCM devotes a night to saluting movie legend’s 100th birthday

Ray Harryhausen

The name Ray Harryhausen is revered by anyone who knows their fantasy films.

Deeply inspired by the original version of “King Kong,” he became a titan of special effects himself. A recipient of an honorary Oscar — as well as an honorary BAFTA Award in England, where he lived for the last half of his life — the Los Angeles-born Harryhausen died in 2013. Turner Classic Movies marks what would have been his 100th birthday with a night of films boasting his work Monday, June 29.

The evening starts with one of his most celebrated pictures, “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958), for which he experimented extensively with color film to make sure his stop-motion-animation technique (named “Dynamation”) would look realistic enough. Harryhausen had worked in black-and-white previously, but his color creations including a cyclops pose challenges to sailor Sinbad (played by Kerwin Mathews) during his quest to restore the suddenly shrunken princess he loves (Kathryn Grant, who had just married Bing Crosby) to full size.

The TCM evening then backs up to 1956 and “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,” in which said interstellar vessels invade Washington, D.C. Some of the movie’s most memorable, Harryhausen-animated scenes show the spaceships falling from the sky and crashing into immediately recognizable landmarks of America’s capital.

Then comes “Mysterious Island” (1961), based on Jules Verne’s novel about escaped Civil War prisoners who must fight to survive giant mutant birds, bees and the like generated by Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom). “Mighty Joe Young” (1949) runs next, from the makers of “King Kong” and offering some of Harryhausen’s earliest work.

Fittingly, the TCM tribute concludes with the last film on which Harryhausen actively participated, “Clash of the Titans” (1981). He and his longtime production partner Charles H. Schneer had the budget to recruit such acting talent as Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith, but with computer-generated effects coming into their own at that time, the sun was setting on Harryhausen’s still-cherished brand.

Ray Harryhausen guaranteed fantastic visuals that couldn’t be seen elsewhere, and TCM’s 100th-birthday remembrance of him also celebrates a type of showmanship that’s recalled fondly.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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