Obituary: Charles H. Schneer, producer of 7th Voyage of Sinbad

7th Voyage of Sinbad, produced by Charles H. Schneer

7th Voyage of Sinbad, produced by Charles H. Schneer

Charles H. Schneer – the producer of 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and numerous other science fiction and fantasy films – passed away on January 21, at the age of 88.

Schneer’s filmography includes over twenty-five titles, but he will be most remembered for the twelve movies he produced for stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen, including EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, and their last and biggest collaboration, CLASH OF THE TITANS.

The Schneer-Harryhausen collaboration began in the 1950s, during the era of cinematic sci-fi devoted to alien invasions, giant bugs, mutated monsters, and radioactive dinosaurs. Harryhausen had apprenticed under effects pioneer Willis O’Brien (KING KONG) on 1948’s MIGHTY JOE YOUNG at a time when stop-motion effects (a time-consuming process) were the province of big-budget studio pictures. When the bottom dropped out of the market after the relatively poor showing of MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, Harryhausen adapted his techniques for low-budget films, starting with THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) for producer Jack Deitz.

Schneer, who was developing IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1954) at Columbia, hired Harryhausen to supply the film’s giant octopus – which, famously, had only six tentacles, due to budget reasons. The success of that film led to two subsequent black-and-white sci-fi films, including 1957’s 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (about a creature from Venus that hitches a ride to Earth on a space probe) .

Schneer convinced Harryhausen to work his movie magic in color. Shifting from sci-fi to fantasy, Schneer and Harryhausen created 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD, one of the most beloved fantasy films ever. This led to subsequent efforts like 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, the latter being one of their most highly regarded efforts. Eventually, two SINBAD sequels were produced, 1974’s GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and 1977’s SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER.

An allosaurs is roped like a steer.

The allosaurs in VALLEY OF GWANGI.

Along the way, Schneer and Harryhausen returned to a contemporary setting one last time for THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969), about a dinosaur discovered alive in an isolated valley. The storyline had been developed years earlier by Harryhausen’s mentor, O’Brien, but like many of O’Brien’s dream projects, it never came to life. Thanks to Schneer’s efforts as a producer, Harryhausen was able to succeed where O’Brien had not.

The films that Schneer produced for Harryhausen were modestly budgeted, peopled with reliable character actors rather than big name stars. Critics complained that the scripts short-changed plot and characterization in favor of monster set-pieces, but many of the films stand up better than expected on subsequent viewings, thanks to the light-hearted family-friendly tone that makes the monster-mayhem enjoyable fun instead of terrifyingly traumatic.

CLASH OF THE TITANS (which, like JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, was based on Greek mythology) was the one opportunity for Schneer and Harryhausen to work with an A-list cast, including Laurence Olivier. Rather more elaborate than their earlier efforts, CLASH suffered somewhat from being released in the post-STAR WARS era when special effects and audience sophistication had shifted. Nevertheless, the film was a grand affair that did solid box office, providing a perfect coda for their long collaboration.

Harryausen is the figure beloved by fans, because he supplied the amazing movie monsters that were the films’ true stars, but Schneerwas responsible for getting the films made. During an era when fantasy and science fiction were low-budget affairs that typically relied on man-in-a-suit effects, when studios were loath to finance Harryhausen’s more intricate stop-motion magic, Schneer produced a series of stop-motion films whose colorful effects and lovely location work often overcame their limited resources, turning them into mini-classics.

Schneer’s importance to the genre is perhaps best illustrated by comparing Harryhausen with his mentor O’Brien, whose career after MIGHTY JOE YOUNG consisted of providing effects for a handful of low-budget titles (e.g. THE BLACK SCORPION, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH). Harryhausen could easily have devolved down a similar path – a technician for hire, supplying special effects for other people’s movies. Instead; instead, Schneer turned Harryhausen into a virtual star, enabling him to develop his own projects, specifically designed to showcase his unique brand of movie magic. 

For that, all fans with a Sense of Wonder should be truly grateful.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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