Jason and the Argonauts (1963 film)

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Jason and the Argonauts
Jason and the argounauts.jpg
Directed by Don Chaffey
Produced by Charles H. Schneer
Written by Apollonios Rhodios
Screenplay by Beverley Cross
Jan Read
Based on The Argonautica
3rd century BC 
by Apollonius Rhodius
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]
Athena helps build the Argo, Roman moulded terracotta plaque, first century AD

Jason and the Argonauts (working title Jason and the Golden Fleece) is an independently made 1963 British fantasy film distributed by Columbia Pictures, produced by Charles H. Schneer, directed by Don Chaffey, and starring Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Honor Blackman, and Gary Raymond. The film was made in collaboration with stop motion animation expert Ray Harryhausen and is noted for its various fantasy creatures, notably the iconic fight scene featuring multiple warrior skeletons. The score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, who also worked with Harryhausen on the fantasy films The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Mysterious Island (1961).


Pelias (Douglas Wilmer), misinterpreting the prophecy given to him by the god Zeus (Niall MacGinnis), usurps the throne of Thessaly by killing King Aristo and most of his family. The infant Jason is spirited out by one of Aristo's soldiers. Pelias encounters one of the king's daughters, Briseis (Davina Taylor), seeking sanctuary in the temple of the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman) and slays her. Because the murder has profaned her temple, the angry Hera becomes Jason's protector. She, disguised as the high Priestess, warns Pelias to beware of a man wearing one sandal.

Twenty years later, Jason (Todd Armstrong) saves Pelias from drowning during a "chance" encounter (orchestrated by Hera), but loses a sandal in the river so that Pelias recognizes him. Upon learning that Jason intends 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 Zeus has decreed 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, but Jason declares he can organize the voyage, build the ship, and collect a crew of the bravest men in all Greece.

Men from all over Greece compete for the honor of joining Jason. Because their ship is named the Argo after her builder, Argus (Laurence Naismith), the crew 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, however, Hercules steals a brooch pin the size of a javelin from a treasure chamber surmounted by a gigantic statue of Talos, which comes to life and attacks the Argonauts. Jason again turns to Hera, who tells him to open a circular 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 the fate of his friend. The other Argonauts refuse to abandon Hercules, so Jason calls on Hera again. She informs them that Hylas is dead and Hercules is not fated to continue on the quest.

She directs them to seek the blind soothsayer Phineas (Patrick Troughton), who is constantly tormented by two flying Harpies sent by Zeus to punish him for misusing his gift of prophecy. In return for capturing the Harpies, Phineas gives Jason directions and presents him with an amulet. To reach Colchis, the Argonauts must sail between the Clashing Rocks, which destroy any ship attempting to traverse the narrow channel. As they watch, another ship coming the other way suffers that fate. When Jason tries to row through, his ship appears doomed. In despair, Jason throws Phineas' amulet into the water. The sea god Triton rises up and holds the rocks apart long enough for the Argo to pass. They rescue a survivor from the other ship: Medea (Nancy Kovack), high priestess of Colchis.

Challenging Jason's authority, Acastus engages him in a duel. Disarmed, Acastus jumps into the sea and disappears. Believing him dead, Jason and his men land in Colchis and accept an invitation from King Aeëtes (Jack Gwillim) to a feast. Unknown to them, Acastus has survived and warned Aeëtes of Jason's quest. Wanting to keep the Golden Fleece, Aeëtes has the unwary Argonauts imprisoned. However, Medea, enamoured of Jason, helps him and his men escape.

Meanwhile, Acastus tries to steal the Fleece himself, but is dispatched by its guardian, the Hydra. Moments later, Jason encounters and kills the beast. Aeëtes, in pursuit, sows the Hydra's teeth after praying to the goddess Hecate, producing a skeletal warrior from each. Jason, together with Phalerus and Castor, hold them off while the remainder flee to the ship. After a prolonged battle in which his companions are killed, Jason jumps from a cliff into the sea.[2] He, Medea, and the surviving Argonauts begin the return to Thessaly. In Olympus, Zeus tells Hera that in due time he will call upon Jason again.


In credits order

Musical score[edit]

This is one of the 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 scored the science fiction films The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959).

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[edit]

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)[4]
  • In the film, the god Triton saved the Argo from destruction passing through the Clashing Rocks, but according to 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 Aeëtes 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. [5]
  • 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,[6] as are the episodes with Cyzicus and the Gegeines and the Argonauts' stay on the isle of Lemnos.


It was shot in Eastman Color.

Reception and Legacy[edit]

Jason and the Argonauts received acclaim and is considered a cult classic. It currently holds a 93% fresh rating on film review site Rotten Tomatoes.[7] In April 2004, Empire magazine ranked Talos as the second best film monster of all time, after King Kong.[8]

At the 1992 Academy Awards, in honoring Ray Harryhausen with a lifetime-achievement award, actor Tom Hanks remarked "Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane. I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made."

Ray Harryhausen regarded this as his best film.[9][10] 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.[11]


Columbia released the film on Blu-ray (for 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.[12]

See also[edit]


  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.
  3. ^ Jason and the Argonauts at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ Argonautica, book II; Ovid XIII, 710; Virgil III, 211, 245
  5. ^ The Odyssey, Book XII, 80
  6. ^ In an Interview with John Landis, John said "I noticed you left out Medea"; Ray responded "We had to"
  7. ^ "Jason and the Argonauts". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  8. ^ "King Kong tops movie Monster poll". BBC. April 3, 2004. 
  9. ^ Jason and the Argonauts. Culver City: Columbia TriStar Home Video, 1998.
  10. ^ Ray Harryhausen bio
  11. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  12. ^ First Details! Jason and the Argonauts Hitting Blu-ray

External links[edit]