Monday, November 26, 2007


Arabian Nights flicks were all the escapist rage in the war years; this one, produced in Technicolor, comes close to being a parody except it's not quite funny or sharp enough. In fact, the only consistent element of humor here is the character played by Phil Silvers; the rest is taken a bit too seriously to be making fun of the genre, but not seriously enough to be a solid adventure fantasy. Cornel Wilde is Aladdin, a singer of love ballads who has the ladies swooning, but his object of love is a princess (Adele Jergens) to whom access by commoners is forbidden. Still, he risks life and limb to woo her. Just as she warms to him, he and his goofy pal, petty thief Silvers, are thrown in jail. They escape and find the magic cave of the sorcerer Kofir (Richard Hale). He conjures up visions of Jergens in a large crystal and tells them that they can save the Princess from a villainous plot if they can retrieve a magic lamp guarded by a giant (Rex Ingram, the giant genie from the 1940 THIEF OF BAGDAD, in what amounts to a wordless cameo). Of course, Hale assumes they will fail, but Wilde escapes the giant, finds the lamp, and discovers it houses a lovely genie named Babs (Evelyn Keyes) who has to do his bidding. She pimps his ride, so to speak, by turning him into a wealthy prince with an entourage so he can more properly romance Jergens and save her from the evil Dennis Hoey, who has a dual role as Jergens' father, the Sultan, and his nasty look-alike, who has the Sultan imprisoned and takes over his identity. Keyes can do wonders for Wilde, but she's also jealous of Jergens, and when the lamp winds up in Hale's hands, it proves to be Wilde's undoing, at least temporarily until the obligatory happy ending. Clearly, the plot's not the point here. The points are: 1) Jergens’s knockout figure; 2) the spectacular color--and there are some striking colors here, most notably Jergens' hazy purple gown; and 3) the clowning of Phil Silvers. I don't like Silvers at all, but his anachronistic jokes and puns are fun here, as he references everything from hipster slang of the era ("groovy," "slip me some skin") to Lana Turner to The Man Who Came to Dinner to Serutan (a laxative widely advertised as being "natures" spelled backward). In the last scene, he even gets a wish from the genie and finds himself able to sing like Frank Sinatra. A lovely actress named Dusty Anderson steals a couple of scenes as Jergens' handmaiden. The film was nominated for two Oscars, color art direction and special effects. [TCM]

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