Monday, June 05, 2017


In 1865, a Russian naval ship is stuck in 116 degree heat in the becalmed waters of the Mediterranean, so the captain (Brian Donlevy) gives his men shore leave in Morocco. One of the men is Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Jean-Pierre Aumont), an aspiring composer whose constant work on his opera irritates the captain. In town, Nicky and his buddy, the ship's doctor, see a piano in the villa of Madame de Talavera (Eve Arden) and Nicky can't resist entering the room and playing. That evening, after enduring teasing from the sailors, particularly the obnoxious upper-class Prince Mischetsky (Phillip Reed), he goes to a club to work on his music but begs the lovely dancing girl Cara (Yvonne De Carlo) to pretend that they are on a date. As they chat, she mentions that she seems to be always telling men stories from her life that she never finishes, which puts them in mind of the Arabian Nights story of Scheherazade. After Nicky leaves, we find out that Cara is the daughter of Madame de Talavera; the family has fallen on hard times and, unknown to her mother, Cara is dancing at night to make money. Cara's family winds up entwined with the sailors: as Nicky starts to fall for her, Mischetsky also gets interested; Madame finds herself the unwitting object of the affections of a very young sailor (Terry Kilburn) who wants desert the navy to elope with her; even the captain is not immune to the forceful personality of Madame. What will happen when the weather improves and the navy has to return to Russia?

In theory, this is another musician biopic in an era when that genre was popular, but it makes less of an effort than most to tell a convincing story. Other than the fact that Rimsky-Korsakov was, as a young man, in the Russian navy, little else about this has even the slightest feel of truth. The fluffy story that has been concocted must have sounded fun in outline, but it hasn't been especially well fleshed out. The pleasures here are in the bright Technicolor settings and some of the performances. Aumont is fine, if low-key, as the composer; Donlevly sleepwalks through a thankless role; but De Carlo is good and Arden brings the movie to life with her witty, snarky delivery. When her daughter pretends that she's been taking night classes, Arden replies, "In my day, girls made love at night." We hear "Flight of the Bumblebee" and "Song of India" and music from Scheherazade, and De Carlo gets to do a couple of nice (though not dazzling) dance numbers—the bland choreography is often focused on by the film's critics. Not quite an A-budget film, this is still entertaining for the undemanding viewer, and more rewarding for fans of Eve Arden (pictured above with Aumont). [DVD]

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