Charles H. Schneer was the producer on some of the most celebrated fantasy films of the 1950s and 1960s, including The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963), two movies he made during a long association with the gifted animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen. They worked together for more than a quarter of a century, helping to shape the cinema of that period.
Harryhausen was one of the greatest exponents of stop-motion animation in which models are minutely moved between each frame. The same technique has been used more recently for Postman Pat and Wallace and Gromit, but Harryhausen went much farther, mixing animation and live action. In The 7th Voyage of Sinbad Kerwin Mathews was confronted by a huge Cyclops, a dragon and most memorably a sword-wielding skeleton.
Schneer first worked with Harryhausen at Columbia Pictures on the low-budget horror film It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). Harryhausen was in charge of visual effects and created a giant octopus that attacks the Golden Gate Bridge. However, the director, Robert Gordon, was not impressed and tried to fire him. It took Schneer’s intervention to keep Harryhausen on the picture.
The film was a hit and over the next 26 years Schneer helped to guide Harryhausen through a further 11 films. In the 1960s Schneer moved to London where he produced several films with Harryhausen, and also the Tommy Steele musical Half a Sixpence (1967).
Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1920, Charles Hirsh Schneer served in the US Army Signal Corps during the Second World War. He was assigned to a unit making training films and continued to work in the movies after the war. He produced a diverse range of films for Columbia, including Hellcats of the Navy (1957), which starred a future President and First Lady, Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis.
Schneer contributed creative ideas as well as financial and management skills. Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956) was inspired by newspaper reports that he had read. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was his fourth film with Harryhausen. By this time Harryhausen had established himself at the forefront of his field but was reluctant to move into colour. Schneer persuaded him that they should do so and the film was a significant hit.
The two went on to new heights with Jason and the Argonauts, in which several real-life actors fence with a troop of skeleton soldiers. It was a breathtaking technical achievement in a time before computer-generated images. Tom Hanks described it as the best film of all time, although it did disappointing business on initial release.
Jason and the Argonauts was a Columbia film, but shot at Shepperton and on location in Italy. There was a spate of westerns being made in Spain at the time, but The Valley of Gwangi (1969) was one of the most unusual, pitting cowboys against dinosaurs in a lost valley. Harryhausen was passionate about the project, which he had developed for Columbia, but the studio refused to back it. The pair were independent by this point and Schneer set up a deal with Warner Bros.
Back at Columbia the duo revived Sinbad in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). MGM backed them on their final film together, the big-budget Clash of the Titans (1981), with Laurence Olivier as Zeus and Ursula Andress as Aphrodite. But the Star Wars series was under way, tastes had changed and techniques had moved on.
Schneer retired to Florida. He is survived by Shirley, his wife of 68 years, and two daughters.
Charles H. Schneer, film producer, was born on May 5, 1920. He died on January 21, 2009, aged 88