(director: Vincente Minnelli; screenwriters: Charles Lederer/Luther Davis/based on a play by Edward Knoblock (story) and the book by Luther Davis & Charles Lederer; cinematographer: Joseph Rutterberg; editor: Adrienne Fazan; music: Alexander Borodin/Robert Wright and George Forrest; cast: Howard Keel (The Poet/Hajj), Ann Blyth (Marsinah), Dolores Gray (Lalume), Vic Damone (The Caliph), Monty Woolley (Omar), Sebastian Cabot (Wazir), Jay C. Flippen (Jawan), Jack Elam (Hassan-Ben), Mike Mazurki (Chief Policeman),Reiko Sato (1st Princess of Ababu), Patricia Dunn (2nd Princess of Ababu), Wonci Lui (3rd Princess of Ababu); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Freed; WB Home Video; 1955)
“The heavy-handed glittering Arabian Nights musical is a great watch visually, but unfortunately the storytelling is uninspiring.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The fourth film version of the Broadway play by Edward Knoblock is helmed by the talented Vincente Minnelli (“Meet Me in St. Louis”/”The Clock”/”The Pirate”), who felt indifferent to the project but was coerced into directing by the studio producers Arthur Freed and Dore Scharyon the promise of directing Lust for Life, a pic he really wanted to do, if he agrees to do this pic. Since Minnelli’s heart was not into it, the pic never caught fire despite the MGM studio’s lush sets (filmed in the studio), colorful costumes and the fine stage music from Alexander Borodin fashioned by Robert Wright and George Forrest into such songs as “Stranger in Paradise” and Baubles, Bangles and Beads.
The escapist lavish musical follows one exciting day in the life of a struggling Baghdad beggar-poet (Howard Keel) and his beloved prim daughterMarsinah (Ann Blyth). At the bazaar, the poet can’t sell his poems and he turns accidentally to begging when he unknowingly sits in the spot reserved for the beggar Hajj and starts receiving alms. Omar (Monty Woolley, his last major movie role), the adviser to the Caliph (Vic Damone), only gives him alms because he’s impressed by his poems. Before he can enjoy his good fortune, the poet is abducted by the minions of the wanted ruthless bandit Jawal (Jay C. Flippen) when mistaken for the Hajj, but talks his way out of being sold as a slave when he convinces the bandit he has the power to remove a curse that Hajj placed on him some fifteen years ago that caused his beloved son Ali to go missing. Given 100 pieces of gold to remove the curse which will enable Jawal to thereby find his son in Baghdad, where the thief is a wanted man and afraid to enter until now. With his new wealth the poet buys a beautiful house in Baghdad. Meanwhile Marsinah wanders the marketplace, while the Caliph also wanders there incognito with Omar. The Caliph falls in love with Marsinah at first sight when seeing her in the marketplace and follows her home, where he introduces himself to her in the garden as the gardener and makes plans to visit her that night (not telling her that he is the Caliph and plans to marry her). But complications arise when the poet is arrested for possessing Jawal’s stolen money and the powerful Wazir (Sebastian Cabot) threatens to chop off his hands. But the poet is spared when Jawal is also arrested while in Baghdad searching for his son and recognizes the Wazir as his long lost son. This relationship doesn’t help the thief from being executed, but it does show the poet is a magician with great power. The Wazir’s bored wife, Lalume (Dolores Gray), convinces her ruthless but stupid hubby to employ the ladies man poet and make use of his magical powers, even though she knows he’s a fake. It seems she has plans to be the poet’s lover. With the poet now elevated to nobility, he moves his daughter into the Wazir’s mansion. After a few more scary adventures and misunderstandings, Marsinah and the Caliph meet again and marry. This thwarts the corrupt Wazir’s plan to have the Caliph marry the three princesses from Ababu, whose sheik father offered a bribe for the Wazir to arrange their marriage to the Caliph. The Wazir doesn’t fare that well in the end, which leaves the opportunity for the poet to run away with the wealthy Lalume (with the Caliph’s approval) and live happily ever after in the desert.
The heavy-handed glittering Arabian Nights musical is a great watch visually, but unfortunately the storytelling is uninspiring, too many cast members are miscast and the fantasy pic is let down by Minnelli’s indifferent direction. It should have been more magical and lighthearted, especially considering the fairy tale setting and all the romantic intrigues uncovered.
REVIEWED ON 7/25/2011 GRADE: B-