Movie review: “Clash of the Titans” (1981)


I’m not sure why I didn’t see “Clash of the Titans” when it came out in 1981.  I certainly remember the advertisements!  They were everywhere.  I seem to recall that it sounded a little foolish; sword-and-sandals seemed like a 1960s thing.



I finally caught the movie on TCM a while ago, and I am now officially a big fan of this movie, and I understand perfectly why they remade it.



Ray Harryhausen’s effects are lovely.  They’re certainly not CGI – they look stiff and artificial, compared to today’s effects – but I was very sufficiently alarmed when Perseus (Harry Hamlin with an Olivia Newton-John hairstyle) faced off against the slimy Kraken, and the snaky Medusa, and the brutish Calibos.



There’s also a darling little mechanical owl named Bubo, a gift to Perseus from Athene and Hephaestus. Bubo chirps and tweets like the spawn of a slide-whistle and an early Macintosh computer; he is a very silly addition to the story, and he is perfectly adorable, and I wish I had a little mechanical owl just like him.  (Hephaestus, by the way, is played by a big brawny actor named Pat Roach, a former wrestler who also played the German who beats up Indiana Jones, and gets chopped up by the plane’s propellers. He does not get to say one wordin “Clash of the Titans,” but does get to squint meaningfullyinto the camera).



How did they assemble this cast?  Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Claire Bloom as Hera, Maggie Smith as Thetis, Ursula Andress as Aphrodite (though I don’t think she says more than three words in the movie), Burgess Meredith as Perseus’s chum / mentor Ammon, Sian Phillips as Cassiopeia.  It’s high camp, but they all have fun with it; the scenes on Mount Olympus are all just standing around and looking noble anyway, and Meredith is a good enough character actor to do pretty much anything.  (Only a few years later, Sian Phillips would turn in one of the great camp performances of all time, as Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam in “Dune.”  You may also remember her as the Emperor Augustus’s wife Livia in “I, Claudius.”  Such a nice lady!)  Flora Robson of glorious memory is in there too, as one of the Stygian witches, though I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one.



Myth can tolerate any amount of stretching and alteration, and somehow it still holds true.  The Calibos character isn’t in the original myth; I assume, from his name, that he’s a reminiscence of Caliban from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.  Bubo the mechanical owl is pure invention, and I don’t remember anything in the myth about Medusa being a champion archer.  But who cares?  The story still works.  Perseus still kills the Gorgon, and he still rescues Andromeda.



This is good clean fun, exciting and suspenseful.  (Funny that you can still feel suspense even though you know the end of the story.)



And we were all so much younger in 1981.



Now: release the kraken!



About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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