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Josef von Sternberg
Edward Everett Horton
Hafiz, a rascally beggar on the periphery of the court of Baghdad, schemes to marry his daughter to royalty and to win the heart of the queen of the castle himself. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Marlene Dietrich's dance was so erotic that it was cut from the movie when it aired on television and was only restored very recently. See more »
[Referring to Hafiz's daughter, Marsinah]
You think she's going to wither away waiting for your fairy tales to come true?
She's waiting for her fate in all its splendor.
The fate for a beggar's daughter is a camel boy.
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Yet another example of Mr. Maltin's poor judgement in slavishly trying to follow the zeitgeist... "Kismet" is remarkable for many reasons, very little having to do with Marlene Dietrich's gold-painted legs.
First, it was a conscious homage to the successful "Thief of Bagdad" (1940)'s depiction of legendary Bagdad. (The original play was set in Tunis.) Nothing was spared in the way of costumes, colour, sets, general allure, melodies (Arlen and Harburg), dance, exoticism and total dedication to fantasy. The director was a veteran of screen magic and a disciple of Murnau (William Dieterle). Despite the story's late-Victorian trappings (a very different story, all told, from the musical version), every plot element is drenched in a kind of dreamy yet very adult eroticism and the actors are required to stretch their usual devices in rather surprising situations that can only come from a brilliant stage play, where the exits are just as important as the entrances. For once, Marlene Dietrich is funny, Ronald Colman is heroic as well as soulful, Edward Arnold is lusty and the Caliph (James Craig) has real gonads. The attention to and respect for details of Muslim life is also staggering for a film of that era. Finally, Herbert Stothart - with an assist from orchestrator Murray Cutter - uses his facility at pastiching any musical genre to channel Richard Strauss (Salome's dance) as well as French Orientalism and Miklos Rozsa to create a vibrant film score that infuses the whole work from start to finish and delivers the kind of "composed film" Powell and Pressburger were still dreaming about. A class act, Mr. Maltin, a class act all the way! Thank you TCM for showing a spotless colour classic that hasn't made it to DVD yet in Region 1 for some unfathomable reason.
About James Craig's suitability for the role of the Caliph:
James Craig was a reasonable fac-simile of Clark Gable who wasn't trapped in a film star persona and could actually act. William Dieterle had worked with him before in "The Devil and Daniel Webster" and knew exactly what he was doing by casting this raw hunk of burning love in the part of the young Caliph. (This is the kind of part Dieterle himself played when he was a young man - See his Valentin in Murnau's "Faust".) The idea was to depict a Caliph who really behaved like a gardener's son, picked fights in the street and was not afraid of his own Vizier, his own judgment and his own sexual impulses. He is also the only version of the Caliph who has the stuff to stand up to everyone - including death threats, his advisor's admonitions and the beggar's eloquence, lies and "snobbishness" - and to actually tear down the walls of his intended when mating season comes around. This is the scene that really clinched the film for me and made me wonder what the stage play must be like without the usual subtle Hollywood censorship.
From the trivia section on James Craig's IMDb bio: "He was name-dropped several times in the novel 'Myra Breckinridge' (1970) by Gore Vidal, as the eponymous hero's favorite and most romantically desirable movie star."
I think you don't need to be a transgendered Gore Vidal heroine to agree on that one.
P.S.: By the way, here's a tip for hours of cheap, harmless fun... Just pick up Leonard Maltin's "Video and TV Guide" and read any entry using the voice of Simon Cowell or Patrick Swayze in drag. This is the only way to read his reviews.
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