Tuesday, June 25, 2013


An old bearded man reads a story about half-brothers from the Arabian Nights to a gaggle of buxom harem girls. Haroun (Jon Hall) is the rightful Caliph of Baghdad, but his half-brother Kamar (Leif Erickson) has tried to overthrow him and failed, so now Kamar has been hanging by his arms for seven days in what is called the Slow Death. On the seventh night, with Kamar seemingly on the edge of death, his band of rebels attacks, freeing him. In fierce hand-to-hand fighting, Haroun receives a life-threatening wound and passes out. An impish circus acrobat named Ali (Sabu) sees the attack while he's balanced upside-down on a tower of strong men and rushes to Haroun's aid. Knowing the danger Haroun is in, Ali takes the Caliph's Ring off his hand and puts it on the dead body of a rebel whose face has been smashed by a rock beyond recognition, so Kamar will assume that Haroun is dead. Ali takes Haroun in, shaves his beard so he won't be recognized, and helps his recover with some help from renowned dancing girl Scheherazade (Maria Montez). But Scheherazade is being sought by Kamar—she promised to marry him if he ever gained the title of Caliph—so the circus winds up on the run, not just from Kamar's men but also from slave traders and from a rogue member of Kamar's group who would be happy to see both brothers dead.

This is the colorful adventure film which introduced the popular pairing of Hall and Montez, who went on to do five more films together. Made during the first year of WWII, there were wartime restrictions placed on film budgets, but the studio, Universal, the producer, Walter Wanger, and the director, John Rawlins, managed to create a movie that looked spectacular, not just with bright Technicolor hues but with effective sets and lovely backgrounds. The beefy Hall and exotic Montez are not the greatest actors, but there is some chemistry there, and the supporting cast is fun. Billy Gilbert does a variation on his usual sputtering doofus as the head of the circus—in action scenes when he belly-butts someone, a distinct "boinnng" is heard on the soundtrack; John Qualen and Shemp Howard have some fun playing older versions of Aladdin (still on the search for another magic lamp) and Sinbad (always trying to tell tales of his glory days). The chief pleasure I got out of this was the look of the movie: gorgeous colors, remarkable backdrops, and even some real sand dunes—shot on location in Utah, not Iraq. [DVD]

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