Kerwin Mathews, Judi Meredith, and Torin Thatcher in Jack the Giant Killer (1962)


(director/writer: Nathan Juran; screenwriter: Orville H. Hampton; cinematographer: David S. Horsley; editor: Grant Whytock; music: Paul Sawtell/Bert Shefter; cast: Kerwin Mathews (Jack), Judi Meredith (Princess Elaine), Torin Thatcher (Pendragon), Walter Burke (Garna), Don Beddoe (Diablotin), Barry Kelley (Sigurd), Roger Mobley (Boy, Peter), Dayton Lummis (King Mark), Anna Lee (Lady Constance), Robert Gist (McFadden the Scottish Captain); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Robert E. Kent/Edward Small; United Arists; 1962)

“In spite of its obvious flaws (inferior animations), Jack the Giant Killer is movie magic that’s rife with rich fantasy and winsome playfulness.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A decent children’s fantasy tale for the older children, but I think there’s too much violence for the younger ones; it’s about the good guys battling evil animated creatures. It’s produced by Edward Small, who wished to recreate the smash hit Columbia had with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Animation maven Ray Harryhausen first offered it to Small, who turned it down to his regret. For this project Small reunites the director Nathan Juran (“20 Million Miles to Earth”/”Siege of the Saxons”/ “East of Sudan”) and actors Kerwin Matthews and Torin Thatcher from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and keeps the same basic plot. The ‘Harryhausen’ special effects were created by Project Unlimited (Tim Barr, Wah Chang and Gene Warren) and Jim Danforth, who was a student under Harryhausen. Though the demonic creatures, hobgoblins, a griffin and an octopedic sea monster are not as well created as a Harryhausen project, the scene of the witches attacking the ship to abduct the princess is in stop-motion and is effective and so is the rescue scene of the princess in the sorcerer’s castle.

In the film’s prologue, “The legend of Jack the Giant Killer is spelled out and we learn that the tale was born over a thousand years ago in Cornwall, England near Land’s End. There was a time when the Kingdom of Cornwall lived in fear and trembling of the Black Prince Pendragon – master of witches, giants and hobgoblins – who ravished the land…” But he was given the boot by Herla the Wizard and was exiled to another island.

The evil magician Pendragon (Torin Thatcher) returns to Cornwall unrecognized on the birthday of Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) and devises a mad scheme to abduct her so he can gain control of Cornwall from her father, King Mark (Dayton Lummis). His birthday present of a living doll in a music box turns into a giant when the princess opens the box and it abducts her from the palace. The princess is rescued from the animated giant, a Cyclops-like creature named Cormoran, and an evil dwarf named Garna (Walter Burke), by an earnest farmer, Jack (Kerwin Mathews), who uses his wits to slay the giant as the dwarf escapes by boat. The grateful king christens him Sir Jack and hires him to be Elaine’s protector, which means he accompanies her secretly by boat to the safety of a convent in Normandy. But Lady Constance (Anna Lee) was a victim of Pendragon’s black magic and gave away the plan to the demon when possessed. Pendragon thereby launches an attack by his magical witches to abduct her and thereby force the king to abdicate to save her. It’s now up to Jack, the late captain’s young boy Peter (Roger Mobley), a Viking (Barry Kelly) and a tricky leprechaun-like imp (Don Beddoe) in a bottle who speaks only in rhymes to repel the black magician and his created monsters, especially the two-headed giant, so he can rescue the bewitched princess. The imp brings up, like a genie, a many-tentacled sea monster, who kills the giant in a fierce battle and Jack slays Pendragon who transformed himself into a flying dragon. With that the evil curse is broken and Jack and the princess live happily ever after, while the imp is free from his bottle and goes home to Ireland.

This film had no box-office success, and Columbia sued Small for plot similarity holding up its release for a long time until settled. When it was released it got poor reviews from the adult critics (the kids seemed to like it) and parents who thought it was too scary for their children. It later was re-dubbed into an awful musical, a version that should be avoided.

Though most of the performances were stiff, Kerwin Matthews makes for a dashing hero; Torin Thatcher is diabolically chilling as the cartoonish villain; and Walter Burke is precious as the pesty dwarf.

In spite of its obvious flaws (inferior animations), Jack the Giant Killer is movie magic that’s rife with rich fantasy and winsome playfulness.