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Josef von Sternberg
Edward Everett Horton
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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 <email@example.com>
Broadway choreographer Jack Cole worked out all the harem dance routines, and Marlene Dietriech's exotic movements for her specialty dance routine. Jack Cole was uncredited for his film participation. In the 1955 MGM musical film adaptation of the 1953 Broadway musical "Kismet", Producer Arthur Freed brought Jack Cole back to the MGM Lot to replicate and re-stage his Broadway choreography for the film musical. See more »
Ronald Colman's character eats with his left hand, which is taboo in Arabic culture. 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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Ultimate Masterpiece of the Arabian Fantasy Tale Genre
This story about the king of the beggars of Baghdad marrying off his daughter off to royalty is certainly popular in film. There are several silent versions: 1914, 1916, 1920, and of course the 1955 musical. However the only competition for this masterpiece was made in 1930, featuring that great queen of camp, Loretta Young, but is now a 'lost' film, so until a copy is found this one remains the undisputed masterpiece of the genre.
Ronald Colman plays Hafiz the great thief to perfection, including the extremely difficult task of balancing a turban the size of a small cupola on his head for the audience with the Grand Vizier that would have annihilated a less hardy specimen. As a matter of fact the costumes in this film are important enough to merit the treatment of a main character: They are so exquisitely ridiculous and the material so obviously synthetic, overwrought, clashing in color and style and so overwhelmingly kitsch that it is the DEFINITIVE example for the period and genre. Nothing like this has been since before or since, thank God. Although the film is in color you could swear they had color blind designers working you will see dangerous combinations of color never since surpassed; emerald green and magenta, scarlet and deep blue, saffron orange and mustard yellow....these are just some samplings but you have to add the swimming pools/fountains in every corner shining in acid-sapphire, the elaborate Formica lattice work of the harem walls, the spectacular shine of gold plated plastic jewelry....it is a thousand nightmares of design wrapped neatly into one movie, to be treasured forever. This is not a movie to rent, you have to BUY this film and watch it several times to appreciate it in detail.
The most outstanding performance is of course, Marlene Dietrich as Jamilla, the 'Macedonian' wife and queen of the grand Vizier (Edward Arnold) who by the way is the closest I have ever seen to a slab of prosciutto in the shape of a human, stuffed into severe velour's-metal embroidered tunics that could asphyxiate an elephant in an Indian wedding. But back to Jamilla: Her dance sequence is one of those moments in Hollywood history for which there are simply no superlatives or adjectives that can approximate the exhilaration of watching it. It would be like trying to describe the explosion of an atomic bomb at sunset in the Sahara. I will just say that never has a human being been capable of moving so gracefully with so much hair piled up in a complex ziggurat on her head while heavily burdened with a solid gold embroidered camisole, gold painted limbs, and enough bracelet weight to sink the titanic. There is not a moment in which she is not batting away three pairs of false eyelashes per eye, while holding an inane conversation with utmost interest, maintaining a dangerous cleavage line in place and holding a completely transparent veil to her chin. One half of this coordinated effort would have killed Ms.Paltrow and her tepid generation of clone-blonds, they certainly don't make them like that anymore! James Craig is the very handsome Caliph who plays at being the gardener's son to romance Hafiz's child, the demure Marsinah ( Joy Ann Page) he even manages to be pretty normally dressed except for the severe crown he puts on in the morning to write letters which would have crushed any skull for karat weight in diamonds. Marsinah always looks plain and innocent, even while dancing and chanting, then she is taken away to the palace in a litter that looks like a plasticized, enlarged fabergé egg and when we see her again she is always crying because she is being forced to marry the Grand Vizier by her father, but I thought it was because she could not stand her violet outfit and her hideous tiara that was crushing her brains with a small hill of diamonds and a cataract to boot, falling down her forehead.
The excitement of watching the scenes is not so much out of the plot development as it is to see what they could possibly wear next. I will not detail Marlene's last outfit, in which she rides away with her true love into happily ever after because I am still blinded by the impact. Run, don't walk to get this movie! There is no way anyone can be disappointed with so many colors in every scene, this is the ultimate Ali Baba, Thief of Baghdad movie!
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