Wednesday, November 23, 2011


In order to find a new Sultan of Damascus, a contest is held in which whoever can bend the magical Ebony Bow to shoot the Golden Arrow will not only rule the city but have the hand of Princess Jamila. Several try but only the mysterious Prince of the Isle of Flames can shoot the arrow. When he claims his prize, it turns out that he is actually the handsome thief Hassan who, with his band of merry men, er… ragtag rogues, kidnaps Jamila and holds her for ransom. But then we discover via a magic birthmark that Hassan is actually the "chosen one" who should be Sultan anyway. Hassan and Jamila fall in love and he frees her, but the villainous Baktiar, who wants to be Sultan, jails Hassan. Jamila wishes on the stars for help and Three Stooges, er… three bumbling genies come from the sky to help out. They aid Hassan's escape but soon not only are Baktiar's men after him, so are his former buddies, the thieves who are pissed off about missing out on the ransom money. A variety of adventures follow: people are turned to stone, a cave queen lets loose men made of fire, Hassan astral-projects himself to make mischief with Baktiar, an elixir which can restore life is discovered, and a final battle—involving flying carpets, fiery catapults, and levitating objects—lets Hassan finally claim his rightful place as Sultan and husband to Jamila.

On one level, this is a colorful and delightful Arabian fantasy, done on a budget which is a notch or two above the average Italian import of the time (shot probably in Italy or Spain, with a mostly Italian cast and crew). The sets, both interiors and exteriors, are impressive and though the special effects are inconsistent, they're not bad. Had I seen this as a child when it came out, I would have loved it. But as an adult, I'm bothered by the incoherent plot which is simply stitched together from a bunch of Arabian Nights motifs, augmented by echoes of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Greek mythology. It could have been a rich stew, but the screenwriters can only achieve a watery broth. The acting is about average for this kind of film. Tab Hunter is at his blond, California beach-bum peak, and is a treat for the eye in his silky, body-clinging, pajama-like outfits (white in the first half, brown in the second), but he's not meaty or stoic enough to pull off the heroic "Thief of Bagdad" part effectively—and he's hurt by bad dubbing. Rossana Podesta (pictured above with Hunter) comes off OK as the lovely princess, though she really has little to do. The genies are totally ridiculous, clearly thrown in for the kiddie matinee crowd. The main musical theme keeps threatening to turn into "Misty." Fans of 60s fantasy will enjoy this. [TCM]

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