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Jason and the Argonauts (1963 film)

Jason and the Argonauts
File:Jason and the argounauts.jpg
Theatrical release film poster by Howard Terpning
Directed by Don Chaffey
Produced by Charles H. Schneer
Written by Apollonios Rhodios
Screenplay by Beverley Cross
Jan Read
Based on The Argonautica
Starring Todd Armstrong
Nancy Kovack
Honor Blackman
Gary Raymond
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Wilkie Cooper
Edited by Maurice Rootes
Morningside Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
June 19, 1963
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $1 million
Box office $2,100,000 (US/ Canada)[1]
File:Building Argo BM TerrD603.jpg
Athena helps build the Argo, Roman moulded terracotta plaque, first century AD
Jason and the Argonauts is a 1963 British Columbia Pictures fantasy Greek Mythology feature film starring Todd Armstrong as the titular mythical Greek hero in a story about his quest for the Golden Fleece. Directed by Don Chaffey in collaboration with stop motion animation expert Ray Harryhausen, the film is noted for its stop-motion creatures, and particularly the iconic fight with the skeletons. The score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, who also worked on other fantasy films with Harryhausen, such as Mysterious Island and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The working title was Jason and the Golden Fleece.


Pelias (Douglas Wilmer), under the protection of the god Zeus (Niall MacGinnis), usurps the throne of Thessaly by storming the palace of King Aristo and killing him; but learns a prophecy that he will be overthrown by a child of Aristo wearing one sandal. In an attempt to thwart the prophecy, Pelias kills one of Aristo's daughters, Briseis (Davinia Taylor), which angers the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman) because the murder profaned her temple. Before Briseis is killed, she places the infant daughter of Aristo, Philomela--her fate left unknown--into the arms of the statue of Hera. Meanwhile, the infant Jason has been rescued by a soldier of Aristo's to be raised to manhood to fulfill the prophecy. Zeus, angered by Pelias' attempt to confound his designs, determines that Pelias shall fall and the infant son of Aristo shall be his instrument.

Twenty years later ("but an instant of time on Olympus"), Jason (Todd Armstrong), Aristo's son grown to manhood, saves Pelias from drowning during a "chance" encounter (orchestrated by Hera), but loses a sandal in the river so that Pelias recognises him. Upon learning that Jason means to obtain the legendary Golden Fleece, Pelias — concealing his identity — encourages him, hoping he will be killed in the attempt.

Jason is taken to Mount Olympus by the god Hermes (Michael Gwynn) to speak with Zeus and Hera. Hera wishes him well, but tells him that Zeus has decreed that he can only call upon her aid five times. She directs him to search for the Fleece in the land of Colchis. Zeus offers his direct aid to Jason, but Jason declares that he can organize the voyage, build the ship, and select a crew of the bravest and most able men in all of Greece by holding an Olympics. Zeus, observing that those most worthy of the aid of the gods are those who least call upon it, is pleased and sends Jason back to Earth.

Men from all over Greece compete for the honor of joining Jason; men who, because their ship is named the Argo after her builder Argus (Laurence Naismith), are dubbed the Argonauts. Among them are Hercules (Nigel Green), Hylas (John Cairney) and Acastus (Gary Raymond), the son of Pelias, sent by his father to sabotage the voyage.

When supplies run low, Hera guides Jason to the Isle of Bronze, but warns him to take nothing but provisions. While exploring the island, however, Hercules steals a brooch pin the size of a javelin from a treasure chamber surmounted by a statue of Talos, which comes to life and attacks the Argo. Jason again turns to Hera, who tells him to open a cylindrical plug on the back of Talos' heel, releasing his ichor. Talos falls to the ground, crushing Hylas and hiding his body. Feeling responsible, Hercules refuses to leave until he ascertains what happened to his friend. The other Argonauts refuse to abandon Hercules, so Jason calls on Hera again. She informs Jason this is the last time she can help him; she confirms that Hylas is dead and that Hercules is not fated to continue with the others.

She directs them to seek the blind soothsayer Phineas (Patrick Troughton), who is constantly tormented by two Harpies sent by Zeus to punish him for misusing his gift of prophecy; these winged females steal Phineas' food leaving him only scraps. In return for imprisoning the Harpies, Phineas gives Jason directions and presents him with an amulet. To reach Colchis, they must sail between the Clashing Rocks, which come together and crush any ship attempting to pass them. As they approach, they witness another ship coming the other way suffer just that fate. When Jason tries to row through, his ship becomes trapped in the violent sea. In despair, Jason throws Phineas' gift into the water, whereupon the god Triton rises from sea foam and holds the rocks apart long enough for the Argo to pass. They pick up three survivors of the other ship, among them Medea (Nancy Kovack).

At Colchis, Acastus and Jason disagree on how to approach the King of Colchis, and eventually fight. Disarmed, Acastus jumps into the sea to escape. Believing him dead, Jason and his men accept an invitation from King Aeëtes (Jack Gwillim) to a feast, where they are captured and imprisoned. Acastus has warned Aeëtes of Jason's quest. However, Medea, enamoured of Jason, helps him and his men escape.

Acastus tries to steal the Fleece himself, but is fatally wounded by its guardian, the Hydra. Jason kills the beast and takes the Fleece. Aeëtes, in pursuit, sows the Hydra's teeth after praying to the goddess Hecate, producing a skeletal warrior from each. When Medea is wounded by an arrow in the resulting battle, Jason uses the Fleece to heal her. He and two of his men hold off the skeletons to enable the others to reach the ship. When his two companions are killed, Jason jumps off a cliff into the sea. He, Medea, and the surviving Argonauts begin their return to Thessaly.[2] In Olympus, Zeus tells Hera that in due time he will call upon Jason again.


In credits order

Musical score

This is one of many mythically-themed fantasy films scored by Bernard Herrmann. Apart from being the composer's fourth collaboration with Ray Harryhausen (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Three Worlds of Gulliver and Mysterious Island, made in 1958, 1960, and 1961 respectively), Herrmann also wrote the music to Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Contrasting with Herrmann's all-string score for Psycho, the soundtrack to Jason and the Argonauts was made without a string section. This leaves the brass and percussion to perform the heroic fanfares, and the woodwinds along with additional instruments (such as the harp) to dominate in the more subtle and romantic parts.

In 1995, Intrada released a re-recording of the original score. The new version was conducted by American composer/conductor Bruce Broughton, and performed by the Sinfonia of London.

Differences from classical mythology

The film differs from the traditional telling in Greek mythology in several ways.

  • In mythology, the Argonauts encountered Talos on their return journey after they had obtained the Golden Fleece. He was defeated not by Jason, but by Medea casting a spell on Talos, causing him to remove the bronze nail from his ankle which kept the ichor inside. The mythological Talos guarded Crete, not the "Isle of Bronze", and was protecting not a treasure, but Queen Europa.
  • In the film, Hylas was killed when the crumbling remains of Talos crushed him. However, in mythology, Hylas was actually kidnapped by a water nymph who fell in love with him as he took a drink from a spring. When Hercules couldn't find him, he stayed behind on the island to search for him (this part was accurately portrayed in the film: when Hylas was crushed, Hercules believed him to still be alive, and stayed behind to look for him).
  • The harpies were not caught in a net or caged, but were chased away by the Boreads: Calaïs and Zetes (also Zethes)[3] Upon doing so, Iris (goddess of the rainbow), promised the Harpies would not bother Phineas anymore. Phineas told the Argonauts how to safely pass the clashing rocks by releasing a dove. If the bird makes it through, he tells them to row with all their might and, according to Apollonius, the goddess Athena gave the Argo the extra push needed to clear them, "the Argo darted from the rocks like a flying arrow", whereas in the film he gives Jason an amulet. Yet in Homer's Odyssey, Circe tells Odysseus, "One ship alone, one deep-sea craft sailed clear, the Argo, sung by the world, when heading home from Aeetes' shores. And she would have crashed against those giant rocks and sunk at once if Hera, for her love of Jason, had not sped her through."[4]
  • Jason was not betrayed by Acastus in the classical tale. Jason openly told King Aeëtes that he had come for the Fleece. The king promised Jason could have it if he performed three tasks, knowing full well they were impossible. However Jason was able to complete the tasks with the help of Medea. It was Jason himself who sowed the dragon's teeth in the ground, not Aeëtes. Jason defeated the skeleton army (the spartoi) by making them fight amongst themselves and destroy each other, rather than the Argonauts battling them.
  • One of the two Argonauts killed by the skeletons is Castor, who in Greek mythology would perish much later as the result of a feud with Idas and Lynceus. The other is Phalerus, who in mythology would also survive the adventures of the Argonauts.
  • Medea killing her own brother, Absyrtus, to help Jason and the Argonauts escape, is omitted from the film,[5] as are the episodes with Cyzicus and the Gegeines and the Argonauts' stay on the isle of Lemnos. Ancient mythology suggests King Aristo and Pelias were half brothers; each sharing a common mother, the beautiful Tyro, where the former is a son of her husband Cretheus and the latter, a son of the god Poseidon.
  • King Aeetes is Medea's own father and Jason does not kill his uncle Pelias, instead Medea uses her wit and powerful magic to accomplish the task.
  • The film ends on a high note with plotlines unresolved and ignores the tragedy and bloodshed which marks the end of the myth.


In April 2004, Empire magazine ranked Talos as the second best film monster of all time, after King Kong.[6]

At the 1992 Academy Awards actor Tom Hanks deemed Jason and the Argonauts to be "the greatest movie of all time".

Ray Harryhausen regarded this as his best film.[7][8] Previous Harryhausen films had been generally shown as part of double features in "B" theatres. Columbia was able to book this film as a single feature in many "A" theatres in the United States. The skeletons' shields are adorned with designs of other Harryhausen creatures, including an octopus and the head of the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth.

The film was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Fantasy Films list.[9] It currently holds a 96% fresh rating on film review site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 26 reviews.[10]


Columbia released the movie on Blu-ray Disc (regions A, B and C) on 6 July 2010. The disc's special features include two new audio commentaries, one by Peter Jackson and Randall William Cook, the other by Harryhausen in conversation with his biographer Tony Dalton.[11]

See also


  1. "Top Rental Features of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 71. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
  2. It took Ray Harryhausen, well over three months to animate the skeleton sequence of film.
  3. Argonautica, book II; Ovid XIII, 710; Virgil III, 211, 245
  4. Homer, The Odyssey, Book XII, lines 76 to 80, Translator Robert Fagles, Penguin Books, 1996
  5. In an Interview with John Landis, John said "I noticed you left out Medea"; Ray responded "We had to"
  6. "King Kong tops movie Monster poll". BBC. April 3, 2004. 
  7. Jason and the Argonauts. Culver City: Columbia TriStar Home Video, 1998.
  8. Ray Harryhausen bio
  9. AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  10. "Jason and the Argonauts". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  11. First Details! Jason and the Argonauts Hitting Blu-ray

External links