This wonderful 1962 fantasy film is based on the old English tale of “Jack the Giant Killer” with a few added twists. The story takes place during the Medieval period, when the ruling king of Cornwall was named Mark (Dayton Lummis). A birthday celebration is held in the honor of the princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) when she comes of age to receive the crown from her father. At the celebration, many princes from all over England come to offer courting gifts to her. One particular prince, Selidororous, gives her a rather unusual gift: a large jeweled box with a dancing “doll” inside dressed up in a court jester costume. The doll is really a giant shrunken through magic by the prince who is really Pendragon in disguise. The evil prince’s goal is to kidnap the prince so he can gain control of the throne of Cornwall and eventually become the king of England. Pendragon’s plan fails when a young farmer named Jack (Kerwin Mathews) slays the giant who has been restored to its real size, and rescues Elaine from Pendragon’s right hand man, Garna. Garna escapes and returns to Pendragon’s island with the bad news, prompting Pendragon to come up with another scheme to abduct the princess once again.
Back at the royal palace in Cornwall, Jack becomes titled Sir Jack by the king and is assigned to take Elaine away to a convent where she can be kept safe. Unbeknownst to the king and Elaine, there is a leak in security: Lady Constance, portrayed by the fine British actress Anna Lee, has already been transformed into a witch by Pendragon and sends a raven with a message to Pendragon telling him exactly where the Princess will be headed the next morning. Pendragon sends out his crew of witches to overtake the small ship Elaine and Jack are on and succeed in abducting Elaine this time. With the ship captain dead courtesy of the witches, the captain’s son Peter, and Jack, wind up overboard after a successful mutiny by the crew takes place.
This is one of several times Jack falls into the ocean in the movie, and on the first time, he drifts with Peter until they come to a small boat with a Viking on board. The Viking, Sigurd (Barry Kelley), is willing to help Jack and is familiar with Pendragon’s head witch, Tubo, who he has apparently seen elsewhere during his travels in the North Atlantic ocean. Sigurd has an imp (Don Beddoe) in a bottle who was imprisoned by a more powerful imp for making golden boots, and is searching for an honest man he can aid; just like a genie, the imp grants Jack, the honest man in the story, three wishes, which will help him rescue Elaine from Pendragon.
Jack, Sigurd, and Peter arrive at Pendragon’s island castle to attempt to rescue Elaine. Jack has to battle guardian dragon men who are dressed in steel costumes, Pendragon’s evil magic, and the captured Sigurd and Peter, who are in a cage and end up being transformed by Pendragon into a dog and chimpanzee, respectively. By this time, however, the bottle with the imp is lost and floating somewhere in the ocean until Jack breaks free and rescues his friends and the princess and leaves the castle, never to return. Pendragon doesn’t give up so easily, and eventually challenges Jack with the fight of his life: Pendragon is no longer a man in form but a large, evil flying dragon who thinks he can still capture the princess and carry out his evil plans for England.
While “Jack the Giant Killer” shares many common characteristics and themes with the 1958 film “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad”, also starring Torin and Kerwin and directed by Nathan Juran, it lacks the stop-motion animation brilliancy of Ray Harryhausen who did the work in the latter film. Jim Danforth did the stop-motion animation for “Jack the Giant Killer” and is not as perfected as Ray’s work is. On the plus side, the animations are quite impressive, particularly in the scene where Pendragon transforms Elaine into a witch, as well as the animations of the witches on the boat Jack and Elaine are on, headed for a secluded spot. The animations for Pendragon’s transformation into the dragon are particularly impressive in this film, a feature not used in “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.”
Torin Thatcher, a Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts graduate, gives Pendragon a Shakespearean flair in his performance. A master when it comes to using body language and his voice, he mugs for the camera that takes advantage of his sharp features and somewhat Cheshire Cat-like grin, especially when he visits King Mark and tells the king exactly what he plans to do once he seizes the throne of Cornwall. Kerwin Mathews is the young handsome actor who complements the lovely Judi Meredith who is the princess of Cornwall. “Jack the Giant Killer”, stop motion flaws aside, is still entertaining fantasy to watch. This family film is available on DVD by MGM.