Monday, February 10, 2014

KISMET (1944)

This Arabian Nights story, based on a play from 1911 and remade as a musical in the 50s, has elements in common with the better-known THIEF OF BAGHDAD—including being set in Baghdad—but is not as interesting as that Korda movie. Here, Ronald Colman is the self-proclaimed King of Beggars in Baghdad who is also a magician and a single father, raising a lovely daughter (Joy Page) whom he thinks the world of. At night, Colman disguises himself as a prince and enjoys a dalliance with Marlene Dietrich, who, unknown to him, is married to the cruel, oppressive Grand Vizier (Edward Arnold). There is one more masquerader in the mix: the young and handsome Caliph (James Craig) who wants to be a reformer and strolls the streets at night as the son of the royal gardener. In order to give his daughter a shot at a place in court, Colman pretends to be a visiting prince and makes friends with Arnold, who is about to have Craig assassinated for his meddling; meanwhile, Craig meets and falls for Page. As the plot thickens, narrative coherence plays second fiddle to colorful sets and costumes, comic relief, an occasional song, and the sexy Dietrich doing a writhing dance, her legs painted gold.

This MGM movie looks great and Dietrich is fabulous, but overall it's a sluggish affair, mostly because of leading man Ronald Colman (pictured at right with Dietrich) who sleepwalks through his role, the film's central one, as though it was beneath him. Craig (above) is charming, though Page, his romantic counterpart, is drab—it might have been fun to let Craig and Dietrich pair off and juice up the proceedings with their energy. Much of the dialogue is padded out in Hollywood/Arabian Nights style with long strings of adjectives and flowery description, and this adds to Colman's problem, as in his mouth, that baroque dialogue falls especially flat. Other supporting players include Harry Davenport, Florence Bates, and Hugh Herbert. It's a bit disappointing that there is little fantasy here, unlike in THIEF OF BAGHDAD, though some of Colman's magic tricks are indeed magical and require special effects to carry off. Not a bomb, but not as light and fizzy as it should have been, not as wondrous or adventurous as THIEF. [TCM]

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