The Story of King Midas (1953)

11 min.; English; stop motion model animation

Produced by Ray Harryhausen

After participating in World War II, the legendary special-effects master Ray Harryhausen returned to the US and began work on a series of short stop-motion films based on fairy tales, mainly Mother Goose, but also this retelling of the ancient Greek story of King Midas.

In this version, set not in ancient but in medieval times, the king (who looks a lot like a depressed King Friday) broods over his wealth and desires ever more. He even neglects his radiant daughter Marigold who picks him beautiful yellow flowers everyday. (This inclusion of a flower-loving daughter who is turned to gold is inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s retelling of the story in  A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys from 1852).

As Midas greedily guards his gold in his storehouse, a mysterious alien-like “stranger” in a vampire cape magically appears and grants him his longed-for powers. This figure was apparently based on Max Schreck’s makeup for the 1922 German film “Nosferatu,” directed by F. W. Murnau. He takes the place of the satyr Silenus in the ancient version of the myth and stands out as an anomaly in this otherwise fairly traditional telling.

Of course, the curse of the golden touch quickly reveals itself, and after Midas turns Marigold to gold, the stranger again appears and informs Midas that he can undo his powers by bathing in the river and sprinkling his daughter with its water. And with that, the pair live happily ever after.

Harryhausen referred to this and his other fairy tale productions, which also include a version of The Tortoise and the Hare that was begun in 1952 but left unfinished until 2002, as his “teething rings.” Of course he would go on thereafter to create some of the most memorable monsters and mythical creatures on film in blockbuster productions like “Jason and the Argonauts” and “Clash of the Titans.”



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