Once upon a time, Jack the Giant Killer was something of a staple of Christmas mornings and Boxing Day afternoons on the BBC. Nathan H Juran’s fantasy film is generally dismissed as a rip-off off the producer’s own The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and ended up in a legal nightmare when Columbia successfully sued for plagiarism. On reflection, that award seems harsh; while Juran’s film certainly reworks familiar elements from the first film, from cast members to situations, it has a vibe of it’s own; this spanking new print on Amazon’s streaming service makes it well worth another look.
Anyone who has visited the south westerly area of Britain known as Cornwall will instantly recognise the world of witches, hob-goblins and evil creatures, many of which still populate the area to this day. Kerwin Matthews plays Jack, who kicks things quickly into gear by killing a giant attempting to abduct Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) at the behest of sorcerer Pendragon (Torin Thatcher, never knowingly underselling a scene). Pendragon wants to take over the area, but Jack sets out to stop him with the help of a caged leprechaun who desires nothing more than his freedom and a pot of gold.
The big miss here is obviously the effects which the inimitable Ray Harryhausen brought to the first film, but Jim Danforth’s Project Unlimited, who had just won an Oscar for The Time Machine, did a nice job on the stop-motion for various giants and demons. English fairy-tales, Breton lays and such ancient narratives are rarely filmed, but this Americanised version has a certain cheeky verve around it; it’s fun watching Pendragon ripping stone teeth from his castle’s statues and flinging them at Jack, only to them to turn into advancing warriors.
I think I first saw this film when I was seven years old, and it seemed to have a musty charm even then. The process shots are a mixed bag to be sure, but there’s a few cracking imaginative moments to enjoy here, as well as an unfamiliar narrative source. Jack the Giant Killer apparently had songs added to avoid copyright claims, but this streaming version skips the musical interludes; it’s a boisterous entertainment that comes up fresh despite a muddled pedigree.