OMAR KHAYYAM (aka: The Life, Loves and Adventures of Omar Khayyam)

(director: William Dieterle; screenwriter: Barre Lyndon; cinematographer: Ernest Laszlo; editor: Everett Douglas; music: Victor Young; cast: Cornel Wilde (Omar Khayyam), Michael Rennie (Hasani Sabah), Debra Paget (Sharain), John Derek (Young Prince Malik), Raymond Massey (The Shah), Yma Sumac (Karina), Margaret Hayes (Queen Zarada), Joan Taylor (Yaffa), Sebastian Cabot (The Nizam); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frank Freeman Jr.; Paramount; 1957)

“What I liked about it, is that it stunk but its smell wasn’t that bad.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This lush period costume epic is an Arabian Nights fantasy film that lacks imagination, a good script and its juvenile humor is not funny even if it’s campy. What I liked about it, is that it stunk but its smell wasn’t that bad. The film’s worst moment was also its best, as Yma Sumac loudly sings the pop song “The Loves of Omar Khayyam” that is rendered so poorly it’s actually strangely appealing (the lyrics are by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans).

Director William Dieterle (“The Last Flight”/Juarez”/”Fog Over Frisco”) keeps it lively and fast moving. It’s set in medieval Persia. The screenplay by Barre Lyndon probably gives you more misinformation than actual information on Persia’s greatest poet, respected mathematician, lover, court adviser and Renaissance man, as it invents a bio for the legendary heroic figure (the details of Khayyam’s life are not known, but I doubt very much if this is his story).

The action includes 11th-century warfare between the Persian and Byzantine empires; Omar Khayyam (Cornel Wilde) romancing Sharain (Debra Paget), who happens to be one of the wives in the harem of the ruling Shah (Raymond Massey); some court intrigue, that includes a plot by the Assassins to murder the royal family that’s foiled by Omar; and a climactic battle with Omar and the Shah’s son Prince Malik (John Derek) leading the charge up the mountain against the ruthless mysterious Eastern cult of Assassins and their leader Hasani (Michael Rennie). Throughout the film are various recitations from the quatrains of Omar’s Rubaiyat, which gives one the false impression that this is classy Hollywood stuff being dished out. In one such outburst Omar declares his feelings for Sharain by breaking out in verse to utter: “Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire/ To grasp the sorry Scheme of Things entire.” It’s poetry and a movie made for the taste of the popcorn crowd.

Debra Paget and Cornel Wilde in Omar Khayyam (1957)