ALI BABA GOES TO TOWN (director: David Butler; screenwriters: Harry Tugend/Jack Yellen/story by Gene Towne, Graham Baker, and Gene Fowler; cinematographer: Ernest Palmer; editor: Irene Morra; music: Raymond Scott/songs by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel; cast: Eddie Cantor (Ali Baba/Al Babson), Tony Martin (Yusuf/Himself), Roland Young (Sultan), June Lang (Princess Miriam), Louise Hovick aka Gypsy Rose Lee (Sultana), John Carradine (Ishak/Broderick), Virginia Field (Dinah/Deenah), Alan Dinehart (Boland), Douglas Dumbrille (Prince Musah), Maurice Cass (Omar the Rug Maker); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Laurence Schwab; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1937)
“Hollywood pats itself on the back for bringing low-brow entertainment to the masses.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Vaudeville entertainer Eddie Cantor goes from black-face when dancing with African musicians and singing “There’s Going to Be a Harlem” and “Swing Is Here to Stay”to playfully mocking Arabs in this lively fantasy musical comedy, where Hollywood pats itself on the back for bringing low-brow entertainment to the masses. Director David Butler (“The Little Rebel”/”Road to Morocco”/”Calamity Jane”) follows the winning box office formula of the time of ridiculing Arabs (Cantor rolls his eyes as Muslims pray and only white man Cantor is deemed fit to lead the Arabs; and there are many familiar Arabian cliches such as harem girls, a sultan with over three hundred wives, an evil prince, and a flying carpet). It’s based on the story by Gene Towne, Graham Baker, and Gene Fowler (a reworking of Mark Twain’s novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) and is written by Harry Tugend and Jack Yellen.The writers fill the pic with lame satirical political jokes on FDR’s New Deal, suggesting just as Republicans in modern times do, that the New Deal is a useless program that taxes the rich to support the idle poor.
Al Babson (Eddie Cantor) travels hobo-style in a box-car, as he ventures to Hollywood to get autographs of the stars. When Al falls off the train while singing “Laugh Your Way Through Life”, he falls onto a movie set and talks his way into being an extra in an Ali Baba picture. After overdosing on too many prescription sleeping pills, Al falls asleep and dreams he’s in the Baghdad of 937. When the evil Prince Musah (Douglass Dumbrille), plotting to overthrow the ruling sultan (Roland Young), stabs Al with his movie extra prop knife after accused by him of being a traitor and Al lives, the stranger is mistaken for the son of Ali Baba and treated as a hero by the Arab mob. To help soothe the angry poor masses, Ali advises the sultan to feed them and disband the army. To help the sultan’s daughter, Princess Miriam (June Lang), marry the one she loves, commoner sheepherder Yusuf (Tony Martin) instead of the scheming Prince Musah, Ali talks the sultan into giving up the monarchy to run for president and thereby his daughter doesn’t have to marry someone of royal blood.
When Ali wins the election, even though he campaigns for the sultan, he’s accused of treason and runs away to hide from being boiled alive in oil. Ali escapes on a magic carpet that soars in space with the command of “inflation.” The dreamer fights the pursuing Prince Musah on a burning rope, but wakes up and finds he dozed off on the movie set and is fired by the director (Alan Dinehart). At the movie’s premiere in Hollywood, Al collects autographs in front of the theater and sees stars such as Sonja Henie, Tyrone Power, Shirley Temple, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and the real Eddie Cantor make their way into the theater.
The actress who plays Sultana, the sultan’s scheming wife and sister of Prince Musah, uses her real name on the credits as Louise Hovick. The studio didn’t want her to use her recognizable stripper stage name of Gypsy Rose Lee.
Other songs include “Twilight in Turkey,” “I’ve Got My Heart Set on You,” “Vote for Honest Abe” and “Arabiana.”
REVIEWED ON 7/15/2011 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ