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Oh, Those Arabian Nights Fantasies . . .


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  • 3 months later...

I just viewed for the first time in years BAGDAD (1949).

 

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This was Maureen O'Hara's first Technicolor adventure of the decidedly unsophisticated school made for Universal International. The film has stunning colour and, as with the other films of this nature, is a constant visual pleasure to compensate for the banal story line and often grade school dialogue.

 

The plot has O'Hara as an English educated Bedouin princess who returns to Bagdad for the first time in years to find that her father has been murdered by the "Black Robes." She sets out to find the leader of the band of cutthroats to get justice for her father and to . . . Oh, what the heck, do we really care about the story line anyway?

 

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Her leading man is Errol Flynn-handsome but bland and forgettable Paul Christian, all the easier for Miss O'Hara to shine against. Vincent Price plays the Turkish pasha in charge of Bagdad, and you could say that when dealing with this kind of silly material, Vinny wasn't going to give one of his more subtle performances. He spends the entire film with one eye closed, almost like a permanent wink at the audience.

 

O'Hara has three song numbers in this film and, assuming that the voice we hear really is the lady's (I know she liked to sing and later sold an album or two of her Irish songs) she had a clear, strong singing voice, and was really quite impressive. That is particularly the case in the first of her numbers, sung in a café, a number called, appropriately, "Bagdad."

 

I like O'Hara for never seeming to look down on the material that she's handed as she plays her ridiculous role. She was carrying on the tradition of Maria Montez at the same studio, of course, Montez having departed for Europe by the time that this production was made.

 

The musical score of Bagdad, heard under the opening titles, is, in fact, Frank Skinner's original score for Arabian Nights, the first of the Montez epics filmed seven years before.

 

O'Hara was, of course, a vastly superior actress to Montez. However, Montez's exotic look and halting English delivery somehow made her seem like perfect casting in these kind of cheesy "epics." When Montez did it for a few years (with Jon Hall as co-star) there was an endearing quality about the productions. Like Bagdad, they were silly but handsomely pleasing in lush Technicolor.

 

But it wasn't always just "B" stars that appeared in these Arabian Nights fantasies. Do you remember when Marlene Dietrich, looking a little long in the tooth for this kind of stuff, had her legs painted gold and did an "erotic" dance in MGM's lavish Kismet?

 

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Curious how a big "A" production like that, complete with major stars like Dietrich and Ronald Colman, didn't somehow quite work as an entertainment. Yet smaller (but handsome) productions like the Montez or O'Hara films, grade school as they were in sophistication, stand up today as rather more fun.

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Whenever I see this thread I want to watch ALADDIN.

 

 

It's been years since I saw Disney's ALADDIN but I recall finding it most enjoyable. Robin Williams's brilliant improvisational comic voice performance as the Genie anchors the film, supplemented by the wonderful animation of his character, as well as that for the entire film, in general.

 

But, unlike some of the Arabian Nights films to which the film owes a debt, the Disney film is "hep" in its presentation. It doesn't take any of the material seriously, so that the filmmakers are "in" on the laugh, along with the audience which is there for a ride.

 

This is a contrast to, for example, producer Alexander Korda's lush THIEF OF BAGDAD, released in 1940 after a three year production. There's a full hearted belief in the fantasy world that this film presents. Unlike the Disney film (perhaps wise that a modern audience might have difficulty taking this kind of stuff seriously, just as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise of films kid pirate movies), Korda's production asks its audience to sincerely accept a land of flying carpets and laughing genies as a fantasy escape.

 

Among other things, the villain in the Disney film is a direct homage (or steal, depending upon your viewpoint) to Conrad Veidt's memorable turn in Thief. Their names are, essentially, the same, Jaffar in Thief, Jafar (one "f" only) in Aladdin.

 

Even their appearance is largely the same.

 

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Both films are wonderful entertainments, in my opinion, both reflections of the times in which they were produced. Audiences in 1940 were quicker to suspend disbelief in accepting an Arabian Nights fantasy than were those of the more jaded and "hip" '90s.

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It's been years since I saw Disney's ALADDIN but I recall finding it most enjoyable. Robin Williams's brilliant improvisational comic voice performance as the Genie anchors the film, supplemented by the wonderful animation of his character, as well as that for the entire film, in general.

 

But, unlike some of the Arabian Nights films to which the film owes a debt, the Disney film is "hep" in its presentation. It doesn't take any of the material seriously, so that the filmmakers are "in" on the laugh, along with the audience which is there for a ride.

 

This is a contrast to, for example, producer Alexander Korda's lush THIEF OF BAGDAD, released in 1940 after a three year production. There's a full hearted belief in the fantasy world that this film presents. Unlike the Disney film (perhaps wise that a modern audience might have difficulty taking this kind of stuff seriously, just as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise of films kid pirate movies), Korda's production asks its audience to sincerely accept a land of flying carpets and laughing genies as a fantasy escape.

 

Among other things, the villain in the Disney film is a direct homage (or steal, depending upon your viewpoint) to Conrad Veidt's memorable turn in Thief. Their names are, essentially, the same, Jaffar in Thief, Jafar (one "f" only) in Aladdin.

 

Even their appearance is largely the same.

 

23a17292-19d5-4b2e-8dae-6ae03b7f8f1a_zps

 

hqdefault1_zps53iw8btt.jpg

 

Both films are wonderful entertainments, in my opinion, both reflections of the times in which they were produced. Audiences in 1940 were quicker to suspend disbelief in accepting an Arabian Nights fantasy than were those of the more jaded and "hip" '90s.

 

Yes, Disney's ALADDIN owes a lot to Korda's THIEF OF BAGDAD.

I like both movies.

ALADDIN is one that I enjoy watching again and again.

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TomJH said: It's been years since I saw Disney's ALADDIN but I recall finding it most enjoyable. Robin Williams's brilliant improvisational comic voice performance as the Genie anchors the film, supplemented by the wonderful animation of his character, as well as that for the entire film, in general.

 

I love that movies can strike people differently.

 

I saw Disney's ALADDIN only once when it first came out at the theater....I was so excited they had made an animated film! I walked out hating it, which is why I've never revisited it. I hated it mostly for the Robin Williams' portrayal of the genie, and I'm a Williams fan!

 

The genie wasn't all bad, it was the incessant jokes that seemed too topical for the day. I thought to myself, "someone seeing this movie 20 years from now is not going to 'get' these jokes." And one thing I always love about Disney classic cartoons-they are timeless.

 

Guess it's time to get this out of the library to judge myself: see if I was overreacting....or still feel the same way.

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I just viewed for the first time in years BAGDAD (1949).

 

8341cee1-8bcf-430f-9d50-6126b8eff69f_zps

 

This was Maureen O'Hara's first Technicolor adventure of the decidedly unsophisticated school made for Universal International. The film has stunning colour and, as with the other films of this nature, is a constant visual pleasure to compensate for the banal story line and often grade school dialogue.

 

The plot has O'Hara as an English educated Bedouin princess who returns to Bagdad for the first time in years to find that her father has been murdered by the "Black Robes." She sets out to find the leader of the band of cutthroats to get justice for her father and to . . . Oh, what the heck, do we really care about the story line anyway?

 

29d8467e-b105-4c05-885f-0e424d5e6875_zps

 

Her leading man is Errol Flynn-handsome but bland and forgettable Paul Christian, all the easier for Miss O'Hara to shine against. Vincent Price plays the Turkish pasha in charge of Bagdad, and you could say that when dealing with this kind of silly material, Vinny wasn't going to give one of his more subtle performances. He spends the entire film with one eye closed, almost like a permanent wink at the audience.

 

O'Hara has three song numbers in this film and, assuming that the voice we hear really is the lady's (I know she liked to sing and later sold an album or two of her Irish songs) she had a clear, strong singing voice, and was really quite impressive. That is particularly the case in the first of her numbers, sung in a café, a number called, appropriately, "Bagdad."

 

I like O'Hara for never seeming to look down on the material that she's handed as she plays her ridiculous role. She was carrying on the tradition of Maria Montez at the same studio, of course, Montez having departed for Europe by the time that this production was made.

 

The musical score of Bagdad, heard under the opening titles, is, in fact, Frank Skinner's original score for Arabian Nights, the first of the Montez epics filmed seven years before.

 

O'Hara was, of course, a vastly superior actress to Montez. However, Montez's exotic look and halting English delivery somehow made her seem like perfect casting in these kind of cheesy "epics." When Montez did it for a few years (with Jon Hall as co-star) there was an endearing quality about the productions. Like Bagdad, they were silly but handsomely pleasing in lush Technicolor.

 

But it wasn't always just "B" stars that appeared in these Arabian Nights fantasies. Do you remember when Marlene Dietrich, looking a little long in the tooth for this kind of stuff, had her legs painted gold and did an "erotic" dance in MGM's lavish Kismet?

 

c506dba2-4b6a-4f6a-940c-77a3de6c42dc_zps

 

Curious how a big "A" production like that, complete with major stars like Dietrich and Ronald Colman, didn't somehow quite work as an entertainment. Yet smaller (but handsome) productions like the Montez or O'Hara films, grade school as they were in sophistication, stand up today as rather more fun.

Tom, what a great write-up,.as.always. I wish more of these films were available on TCM. It would be awesome to feature one each Saturday morning, say after the the serials and series films they show; it would make it feel even more like the old Saturday matinees.

 

Just one minor quibble, which happens to be a pet peeve of mine. I would not consider these films "B" films, but programmers, "A" films typically on the lower A budget range, with little pretensions. And likewise, Maureen O'Hara, Maria Montez, and Yvonne De Carlo were not stars of "B" films, but of "A" films, whether programmers or not. "B" film stars that did do these films,.such as Adele.Jergens and Evelyn Keyes, were featured on A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, although this was not a "B".

 

Another example.of an unequivocably "A" star in one of these fanatasies, is Merle Oberon in A NIGHT IN PARADISE, made during a mulit-pic deal at Universal, and by all rights should have gone to one of that studio's resident exotics, Montez or De Carlo. I think that KISMET was a spoof of the genre that didn't quite work, possibly due to the rather absurd casting.

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Tom, what a great write-up,.as.always. I wish more of these films were available on TCM. It would be awesome to feature one each Saturday morning, say after the the serials and series films they show; it would make it feel even more like the old Saturday matinees.

 

Just one minor quibble, which happens to be a pet peeve of mine. I would not consider these films "B" films, but programmers, "A" films typically on the lower A budget range, with little pretensions. And likewise, Maureen O'Hara, Maria Montez, and Yvonne De Carlo were not stars of "B" films, but of "A" films, whether programmers or not. "B" film stars that did do these films,.such as Adele.Jergens and Evelyn Keyes, were featured on A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, although this was not a "B".

 

Another example.of an unequivocably "A" star in one of these fanatasies, is Merle Oberon in A NIGHT IN PARADISE, made during a mulit-pic deal at Universal, and by all rights should have gone to one of that studio's resident exotics, Montez or De Carlo. I think that KISMET was a spoof of the genre that didn't quite work, possibly due to the rather absurd casting.

Thanks, Arturo. And you're quite correct. My Bagdad writeup did refer to the O'Hara and Montez productions as "B"s. I bow to your expertise on this matter that they were, in fact, "A" programmers, as opposed to a prestige "A" such as Kismet. 

 

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Now THAT was a big production, thus my big reproduction of some of the publicity that went with it at the Astor Theatre.

 

I recall how much I looked forward to finally seeing this film, especially since I am a fan of both Colman and Dietrich, and how disappointed I was by it, especially with both its stars looking rather middle aged and a little foolish in it (though Colman still had that wondrous speaking voice to enhance his delivery of flowery dialogue). Dietrich's much hyped "erotic" dance of the seven veils was clearly the film's kitschy highlight.

 

That lavish MGM production didn't have nearly the energy or charm of some of those sand and sex epics made at little Universal. No one will ever call the likes of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Arabian Nights, Flame of Araby or Bagdad works of art but those unpretentious actioners, blatantly selling the sex appeal of their female stars amidst their lush Technicolor settings, certainly satisfy as entertainments.

 

I applaud your suggestion, Arturo, of TCM showing some of these films as a sort of Saturday Afternoon at the Bijou kind of series.

 

The only other two films of the Arabian Nights genre that come to mind that were spectacular prestige "A" productions (both of them infinitely superior to Kismet, of course) were the 1924 Fairbanks silent version of THE THIEF OF BAGADAD, and, of course, the visually stunning 1940 Korda production of same. The latter was Sabu's finest hour in the movies, in my opinion.

 

I did see A Night in Paradise, to which you made reference, but it failed to make much of an impression upon me at the time. I should take another look at it sometime to see if I was perhaps a little harsh on it. I recall that Turhan Bey was the film's leading man during that very brief period in which he was getting some promotion. 

 

How I resented Bey in Sudan (1945), the last of the films to co-star Maria Montez with Jon Hall. Not that Bey was a bad performer in the film, but I resented the script having him be the one to ride off at the end with the lovely Maria. That was a switch since it had always previously been heroic Jon Hall that won her in his series of films with the lady. And just who did Hall wind up with in the film? Andy Devine! Not quite the same thing.

 

Hall, at least, later found a brief spurt of popularity again in the early to mid '50s when he was starred as Ramar of the Jungle on television. He did better than Montez, whose "star" rapidly fizzled after the war. It must have been particularly grating for the actress when her husband, Jean Pierre Aumont, was co-starred at Universal with Yvonne de Carlo in Song of Scheherazade. That was the kind of role that would have naturally been cast with Montez only a couple of years before. De Carlo, however, was now getting the hype at the studio in these kinds of films which had once been Montez's. Maria was finding out how quickly you can become old news in a town only interested in today's hits.

 

Montez and Aumont teamed for what was her last film made in America, Siren of Atlantis. This was the kind of material that had made Montez a star (with Montez as the Queen of a desert kingdom, something of a variation on Rider Haggard's "She"). Unfortunately the film lacked the polish (and Technicolor) of her Universal productions, and died a quick death at the box office. Montez's final years were in Europe, making French and Italian productions (the translation of one title, The Thief of Venice, sounds like it was clearly inspired by some Hollywood productions). Poor Maria, dead at age 39 in Paris, drowning in her bath water after suffering a heart attack.

 

But she'll always be a Technicolor Queen to me of Arabian Nights fantasies, gypsy campfire sites and south seas islands where a "cobra woman" may rule.

 

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TomJH said: It's been years since I saw Disney's ALADDIN but I recall finding it most enjoyable. Robin Williams's brilliant improvisational comic voice performance as the Genie anchors the film, supplemented by the wonderful animation of his character, as well as that for the entire film, in general.

 

I love that movies can strike people differently.

 

I saw Disney's ALADDIN only once when it first came out at the theater....I was so excited they had made an animated film! I walked out hating it, which is why I've never revisited it. I hated it mostly for the Robin Williams' portrayal of the genie, and I'm a Williams fan!

 

The genie wasn't all bad, it was the incessant jokes that seemed too topical for the day. I thought to myself, "someone seeing this movie 20 years from now is not going to 'get' these jokes." And one thing I always love about Disney classic cartoons-they are timeless.

 

Guess it's time to get this out of the library to judge myself: see if I was overreacting....or still feel the same way.

 

While I love Disney's ALADDIN, I see your point about some of the early 1990s jokes made by the Genie that might not be completely understood by today's audience as well as by future audiences.

My 10-year-old nephew liked the movie, but I'm sure he missed some the Genie's references.

 

The Genie that is seen in the movie is not the one that was originally conceived in the script, but was largely the creation of Robin Williams, who wrote a lot if the Genie's jokes himself, some of them extemporaneously during the recording sessions.

When ALADDIN was adapted for the Broadway stage recently, the original concept of the Genie was used.

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[...]Among other things, the villain in the Disney film is a direct homage (or steal, depending upon your viewpoint) to Conrad Veidt's memorable turn in Thief. Their names are, essentially, the same, Jaffar in Thief, Jafar (one "f" only) in Aladdin.[...]

 

Hah- they didn't change Abu's name, but they changed something...

 

+Thief+of+Bagdad+12.jpg

 

disney_movies_aladdin_abu.jpg

 

Disney, you're one class act.

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With the recent showing of Abbott and Costello, it heartens me in that TCM may have access to more Universal films in the future. It would be great if they could show Maria Montez films, as well as Yvonne DeCarlo films and others, showing this type of exotic entertainment. I loved them as a child, and would enjoy seeing them again

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In the Broadway stage adaptation of Disney's ALADDIN, Abu is replaced by three (human) friends of Aladdin. 

 

I saw Aladdin on stage with the original Broadway cast.

It was a really good show.

Aladdin's 3 friends were dumber than dirt.

 

"Proud Of Your Boy" is a beautiful song that was not used in the movie but was incorporated into the stage production.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHpophUh0NA

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Heh!

 

I know a guy( and I seem to know TOO MANY of these "guys") who always thought(and likely still does) that "The Arabian Nights" and the "Kama Sutra" were sort of the same things.

 

Now, I'd pay GOOD MONEY to see a film adaptation of the KAMA SUTRA!   :P

 

But, as far as Disney's ALADDIN goes, I found it quite enjoyable.  I knew right off that most of the kiddies wouldn't "get" William's comic referrences, and many of the jokes, but the kids would usually just be dazzled by the animation, maybe the songs, and adore the little monkey.  But as many PARENTS are/were stuck having to sit though another Disney cartoon with the kids, Robin William's mostly adult leveled humor made the duration of the movie more enjoyable for them.  I noticed the same thing with SESAME STREET.

 

When the MUPPETS were on during the show, I'd find myself laughing at a LOT of stuff they were saying, that I noticed my KIDS looking at me oddly.  Like I was laughing at stuff THEY didn't realize was SUPPOSED to be funny.  I KNEW Henson and crew threw a lot of that in so parents, maybe housewives stuck in the house with the kids, would find entertainment while trying to tune the show out while doing the housework.  Or SOMEthing like that.  

 

 

Sepiatone

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Heh!

 

I know a guy( and I seem to know TOO MANY of these "guys") who always thought(and likely still does) that "The Arabian Nights" and the "Kama Sutra" were sort of the same things.

 

Now, I'd pay GOOD MONEY to see a film adaptation of the KAMA SUTRA!   :P

 

 

Sepiatone

Mira Nair's Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996).  I'll leave it up to you to determine if it is any good, or not.

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  • 1 month later...

Just finished watching A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS (1945) and loved it. This is my favorite fantasy genre.

 

Phil Silvers was a bit over the top as comic relief, but it helped dullard Cornel Wilde in scenes. I can't believe they gave Wilde that voice...he can't really be a singer, was he? (I often mix up Cornel Wilde & Victor Mature face wise)

 

The stand out was Evelyn Keys as the genie. She was remarkably pretty and witty as a comedienne. I find it interesting this production took as many chances with casting as it has.

 

Also the Technicolor, sets and ESPECIALLY the costumes made this movie a visual feast. The desert never looked so good. 

(not a speck of dust, like mentioned earlier!)

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