Saturday, March 5, 2016

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver ( 1960 )

Producer Charles Schneer and special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen teamed up in the late 1950s and early 1960s to create a series of adventure films mixing live-action with stop-motion animation. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad ( 1958 ), Jason and the Argonauts ( 1964 ), and First Men in the Moon ( 1964 ) were some of their most popular titles. 

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was a huge box-office success upon its initial theatrical release and so Charles Schneer and Ray Harryhausen wanted to select another story, as famous as the Sinbad tales, to ride on the heels of its success. They wanted a plot-line that would also have a fantasy element and offer possibilities in the story for stop-motion animation. They chose Jonathon Swift's 1726 novel "Gulliver's Travels".....a great idea. 

Kerwin Mathews, the star of Sinbad, was cast as Lemuel Gulliver, a doctor who is tired of collecting chickens and vegetables as his fee and decides to set off on an ocean voyage to find his fortune and make a name for himself. His fiancee Elizabeth ( June Thorburn ) is not pleased with this idea but nevertheless sneaks aboard ship to be near him. During a storm at sea, they wash overboard and become separated. Gulliver lands first on the island of Lilliput, inhabited by tiny people, and then on an island of giants where he reunites with Elizabeth. 

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver was geared towards a juvenile audience, much like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, but unlike that film, it fails to entertain adults as well. The New York Times film critic Eugene Archer praised the stop-motion animation of The 3 World of Gulliver but noted that "adults will find it all too mechanical to really capture the imagination, and may resent the unclear ending that seems certain to provoke some youthful queries." We couldn't agree more. The opening sequence and the Lilliputian segment are very enjoyable, however, once Gulliver and his sweetheart find themselves among the giants of Brobdingnag, the story condensends to a child's level with especially over-the-top performances from the King ( Gregoire Aslan ) and Queen ( Mary Ellis ). 

"I stop wars, put out fires, feed people, give them hope and peace and prosperity - how can I be a traitor?"

Gulliver and Elizabeth manage to escape the Brobdingnag's by the end of the film and they once again find themselves washed upon a shore...but this time they are back in England. Their final dialogue seems to suggest that what happened to them was all a dream ( two people dreaming the same dream? ). And Gulliver's final explanation of the transformations that occurred to them made little sense. 

Jonathan Swift's novel originally had Gulliver travelling to four different lands, with each land providing an opportunity for Swift to make ironic commentary on human nature. The film version limits Gulliver's encounters to two worlds ( the third world being England ), and retains some of the satire of the novel but in a much more family-oriented manner. 

Kerwin Mathews is very entertaining as Dr. Gulliver, and the always lovely British actress June Thorborn is excellent as well. Also in the cast are Jo Morrow, Lee Patterson, Basil Sydney, Martin Benson, and Sherri Alberoni ( as the big little Glumdalclitch ). 

Today The 3 Worlds of Gulliver is not counted as one of the most beloved films among Harryhausen's filmography most likely due to its overly juvenile enactment and its lack of creatures. Aside from the squirrel and the giant lizard attack near the end of the film, Gulliver does not encounter any beasts during his multiple maroonings. However, the optical illusions that Harryhausen created for the film are extremely well done.

For their next project, Charles Schneer and Ray Harryhausen returned to entertaining adults and children alike with their adaptation of Jules Verne's Mysterious Island ( 1961 )....and that picture was a smashing success.


  1. I think you're right on the mark in noting that it's probably not as popularity due to the lack of fantastic Harryhausen creatures. Still, it's an entertaining movie and Nathews is solid as always. When I saw it as a kid, the title puzzled me. It took me awhile to figure out that the third world was the "normal" one!

    1. I too was wondering when Gulliver would be launched into outer space....because I thought space had to be the third world : he was small, he was big, what else was left? It never happened...they just landed back in England. Darn.

  2. Warts and all, I still prefer this to stuff like The Magic Sword or Jack the Giant Killer which were pretty ambitious affairs hampered by not enough time in the oven. Both tried too hard to be like the Schneer/Harryhausen flicks and ended up lacking on all fronts (although one did get Jim Danforth's career launched). They do make for great unintentional comedies though (and kids who aren't jaded by CGI may enjoy them).

    1. Yes, Jack and the Giant Killer and The Magic Sword fall pretty flat compared to Gulliver!