(director: William Dieterle; screenwriter: from a play by Edward Knoblock /John Meehan; cinematographer: Charles Rosher; editor: Ben Lewis; cast: Ronald Colman (Hafiz, King of Beggars), Marlene Dietrich (Jamilla), Joy Page (Marsinah, Hafiz’s daughter), Edward Arnold (Mansur, Grand Vizier), James Craig (Caliph), Hugh Herbert (Feisal), Harry Davenport (Agha), Florence Bates (Karsha); Runtime: 100; MGM; 1944)
“A very entertaining kitsch film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A very entertaining kitsch film with great costumes, a fine sense of adventure, and an ample sprinkling of comedy. This Technicolor MGM film is a remake from the 1920 and 1930 films, that were based on a play by Edward Knoblock. The sets are lavish and fun to look at; the bouncy acting fits the playfulness of the fantasy story. The indoor studio sets of ancient Baghdad come alive with color and dazzle; while, the energetic Arabian Nights-type story of a beggar’s daughter marrying a king, overcomes a stilted performance by Joy Page as Marsinah, the beggar’s daughter, and a so-so performance by Ronald Colman as Hafiz, King of the beggars. He was limited by his middle-age appearance and inability to sparkle in romance with the wickedly sexual Marlene Dietrich. Marlene is wonderful as Jamilla, the Queen of the Harem, who steals the film with her silliness, dancing a harem dance with her legs lacquered in gold while costumed in Art Deco gaudiness and being referred to as the ‘Lady of the Moonlight.’
Hafiz has been a beggar all his life in Baghdad, working his thievery through his ability to perform magic. He dresses up as a fictional prince and roams the city’s haunts as a womanizer at night having stolen Jamilla’s heart with his ability to lie, secretly courting her even though she is married to the meanest man in town — Mansur, The Grand Vizier (Edward Arnold). Mansur is hated by the people for his ruthlessness, his corruption, and for collecting high taxes, which he uses to support a lavish lifestyle.
The new caliph, like the king of the beggars, also likes to wear disguises, posing as a gardener’s son as he roams the night looking for the truth about the city he rules over. James Craig handsomely plays this role. The caliph meets Hafiz in his disguise as a fake prince and laughs at his obvious deceits. He’s induced to scale a high wall and meets the woman he falls in love with, Marsinah (Joy Page). He does not know it is the beggar’s daughter who is kept there by her father to keep the cruel outside world away from her. The beggar father promised his daughter that he raised her to marry a prince and not some camel boy, and he will do anything to keep that promise to her.
But Marsinah falls madly in love with the gardener’s son, who unbeknownst to her is really the caliph and who makes plans to marry her. Meanwhile, Hafiz learns the Mansur unsuccessfully tried to get the caliph killed because he was being arrested for corruption. Hafiz, thereby, sees this as an opportunity to get in good with Mansur as he poses as a prince from a remote part of the Arabian empire and plans to outwit the tyrant. He steals some princely clothes from the merchants to act the part and has an audience with Mansur, where he promises him his daughter in marriage and in his part of the bargain he will get close enough to the caliph to kill him.
The mix-ups are devilishly funny and how the film gets resolved is fun to watch. There are magic tricks that are performed and songs that are so bad that they are good; and, a host of cast members come in and out of the story so seamlessly adding their stamp of delightful bemusement to a very diverting and effortlessly done film. This makes for some lightweight entertainment and some not so bad viewing from purely an entertainment standpoint.
REVIEWED ON 9/16/2000 GRADE: B- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/