Wednesday, July 25, 2012


In 560 B.C., the famed storyteller Aesop, aged and stooped, arrives in the land of Lydia days before the wedding of King Croesus to the lovely Princess Delarai. The king's counselor Leonides warns him that Queen Attosa, whom he was supposed to marry but didn't, and cheated out of a treasure of gold to boot, will use sorcery against him. Attosa has indeed called on the gods for help with her revenge, and she appears as a ghostly vision to pester Croesus. The king asks Aesop for help, but Aesop has his own problems: Attosa is haunting him, trying to get him in on her plans, and he finds himself falling in love with Delarai. It turns out that Aesop's appearance is a disguise—he says, "The world will only accept wisdom in the cloak of age and suffering"—and in reality he is a handsome youth. Without old-age makeup and under the name of Jason, he begins to secretly woo the princess. 

This is a later entry in Universal's series of exotic fantasies, most of which featured B-stars Jon Hall and Maria Montez. The two are missed here—instead we have Turhan Bey (pictured), who is OK but very low-key as Aesop, and Merle Oberon, a former A-list star who seems to have slipped a bit; she looks the part but doesn't put much effort into her acting, perhaps sensing that, with a mediocre script and a drab leading man, the film couldn't be saved. Thomas Gomez is one-note as the King, leaving Ray Collins (Leonides) and Gale Sondergaard (Attosa) to steal the show in their relatively small roles. The Technicolor sets look good (though the print shown on TCM was a bit on the dark and faded side), and there is some fun to be had with the thread of bawdy humor that runs through the film. Early on, when a slave is polishing a huge statue of Aphrodite and is caught in its cleavage, someone remarks, "That's as close to Paradise as he’ll ever get." Later, there are some puns on people being entwined and enmeshed, as in lovemaking. Look fast and you'll see supporting players Jerome Cowan, Ernest Truex, and John Litel, and supposedly the singer Julie London appears in the background as a palace maiden. Finally, there seems to be virtually no reason for the hero being Aesop—his colorless character could be any young fellow looking for romance and adventure.  [TCM]

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