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Chu Chin Chow (1934)

Passed  -  Action | Adventure | Comedy  -  21 September 1934 (USA)
6.2
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Ratings: 6.2/10 from 93 users  
Reviews: 8 user | 2 critic

Musical retelling of the "Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves" Arabian Nights tale.

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(play), (screenplay), 2 more credits »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
George Robey ...
Fritz Kortner ...
...
Zahrat
John Garrick ...
Nur-al-din Baba
Pearl Argyle ...
Marjanah, servant girl
Malcolm 'Mr. Jetsam' McEachern ...
Abdullah, Kassim's major-domo (as Jetsam)
Dennis Hoey ...
Rakham, chief henchman
Sydney Fairbrother ...
Mahbubah Baba, Ali's wife
Laurence Hanray ...
Kasim Baba
Frank Cochrane ...
Mustafa
Thelma Tuson ...
Alcolom Baba, Kassim's wife
Francis L. Sullivan ...
The Caliph (as Francis Sullivan)
Gibb McLaughlin ...
The Caliph's Vizier
Kiyoshi Takase ...
Entertainer at Feast (as Kyoshi Takase)
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Storyline

Ali Baba discovers the treasure cave of robber-baron Abu Hasan, and tells his greedy brother, Kasim Baba, who is posing as a Chinese merchant and entertaining Hasan, where the cache is hidden. Zahrat, acting as a spy for Hasan, is blamed when the robber is almost caught, and Kasim is killed. Zahrat then decides to join Ali and his son, Nor-al-din, who is in love with the slave-girl, Marjanal. During a party, she kills the disguised Hasan, and his men are boiled in oil. Written by Les Adams <longhorn1939@suddenlink.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

brother | cave | violence | chinese | spy | See All (52) »

Taglines:

See Ali Baba and His Forthy Thieves Plunder for Gold and Women! (USA re-release poster) See more »


Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

21 September 1934 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Ali Baba Nights  »

Box Office

Budget:

$500,000 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

(reissue) (re-edited)

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Connections

Remake of Chu-Chin-Chow (1923) See more »

Soundtracks

Selections
from "Chu Chin Chow"
Music by Frederick Norton
Lyrics by Oscar Asche
Additional Lyrics by Sidney Gilliat
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User Reviews

 
CHU-CHIN-CHOW (Walter Forde, 1934) ***; ALI BABA NIGHTS {Re-Edited U.S. Version} **1/2
3 January 2008 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

I knew of this Oriental musical adventure (produced by the pioneering Michael Balcon and already filmed as a Silent), but wasn't aware that it was directly inspired by the Arabian Nights fable of Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves (in spite of its being retitled ALI BABA NIGHTS; more on this later). The current title is rather misleading, as it gives one the impression of being set in China – and especially since the character of Chu-Chin-Chow himself, a Chinese merchant, is only a minor one. Besides, being a British film from the early Talkie era, I fully expected it to be a stodgy affair – merely "a curiosity", as Leslie Halliwell called it. However, I found it an enthralling and highly enjoyable piece of work – and still pretty much a unique entertainment after all these years.

Incidentally, prior to viewing the film I re-read DVD Savant's review (if anything to ascertain myself that it was fitting Christmas fare) – I was quite intrigued by Glenn Erickson's comments (sharing his view of the ornate sets as being a particular standout), but also ended up disagreeing with his opinion about the static quality of the cinematography…as I actually felt that Max Greene's camera was reasonably mobile throughout. Being undeniably archaic by today's standards, the songs, Busby Berkeley-ish dance numbers, and the comedy and romance elements are all a matter of taste – in fact, they constitute the film's main source of longueurs, if still intrinsically charming ingredients of the whole package. On the other hand, it turned out to be surprisingly bloodthirsty for what was essentially popular entertainment! The plot has been opened up from the traditional story, while also making Ali Baba a coward – but this is the still the most satisfying version I've watched, certainly the most fascinating (for various reasons).

The villain is played by Fritz Kortner (looking like a flabbier, less handsome version of Douglas Fairbanks at times and a Wallace Beery-lookalike at others, but with a voice sounding uncannily like that of Otto Preminger!), gives an entertainingly ripe performance – witness his orgasmic thirsting for Ali Baba's blood as he lays out his plans for the final assault (he's even made to don a number of clever disguises throughout). The formidable Anna May Wong has a relatively small role but is quite impressive nonetheless. George Robey's Ali Baba, then, is accompanied by a comically somnolent theme tune every time he appears; I'd only seen his brief performance in Laurence Olivier's Shakespearian adaptation of HENRY V (1944), but I can see how the actor's amiable brand of fooling would be lapped up by audiences of the time – incidentally, I need to pick up his DON QUIXOTE (1933) on DVD, a film directed by German émigré G.W. Pabst (with whom Kortner himself had made the seminal PANDORA'S BOX [1929]). Lovely Pearl Argyle isn't the typically bland damsel-in-distress, but rather a resourceful heroine; Dennis Hoey (Inspector Lestrade of the modernized Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes series) is Kortner's second-in-command; Francis L. Sullivan is very amusing as the perennially bored Caliph, who's then overjoyed when Abu Hasan's plans are foiled in his presence – thinking that it was all part of the evening's entertainment as prepared by Ali Baba!; Malcolm McEachern – billed simply as Jetsam! – is the burly majordomo with a baritone voice who acts as Chorus throughout.

Curiously enough, a full 19 years later it was re-issued in the U.S. by Robert Lippert in a much shorter version (reduced from 102 minutes to 76!) retitled ALI BABA NIGHTS – this version is available on Disc 2 of VCI's surprising 3-Disc Set of CHU-CHIN-CHOW, and accompanied by the Popeye ALI BABA short I viewed recently. Ironically, this re-edit is presented in a better-looking print than the 'original' – but the image has been zoomed-in somewhat; many of the songs have been dropped (making the few that remain feel somewhat incongruous), though not the various dances; the romantic subplots are diminished, and so is the role of Robey's elderly wife and plump lover; ditto the allusion during the final banquet to The Caliph's vindictive treatment of disappointing hosts; some of the edits, however, are clumsily done – especially the death scene of Robey's brother, which is interrupted half-way through!

One last word: Fritz Kortner followed this with another exotic melodrama, the even better-regarded ABDUL THE DAMNED (1935) – which has been thoughtfully included by VCI in this set (see below for my comments about that film).


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