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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Columbia Pictures may not have had the stars to populate this film like
MGM or Warners would have, but they knew how to have some fun with what
they had. Sure, it's splashed with expensive Technicolor and has lots
of costumes and effects (the effects winning an Academy Award for
Lawrence W. Butler), but its feeble cast features Evelyn Keyes, Cornel
Wilde and Phil Silvers. Not exactly box-office, although Wilde was one
of the hot new stars of 1945. But it's Keyes and Silvers who make this
film enjoyable, even if their lack of star value keeps this film from
being noticed today.
It's the umpteenth variation of the 'Aladdin and the Lamp' story, but this one is hoked up with plenty of anachronisms, chiefly in the form of Phil Silvers who plays Aladdin's thief buddy as an All-American wiseguy complete with the latest 40's slang and a pair of modern eyeglasses. And when Aladdin gets hold of the famous lamp (after a scene wherein he and Silvers dodge a giant played by Rex Ingram, who virtually reprises his character from 1940's 'Thief of Baghdad') out pops the genie played by Evelyn Keyes. And she's a sassy sprite who likes to be called "Babs." Since she's invisible to all but the owner of the lamp, she gets to mess around with others and sling wisecracks and warnings at Aladdin, to his discomfort. Sandwiched between Silvers and Keyes, poor Wilde is nothing more than a handsome grinning prop. At least his fencing skills come into play in a climactic duel.
The story includes the requisite villain, in this case played by Dennis Hoey (most famous as Inspector Lestrade in the Sherlock Homes series) in a duel role as a Sultan and his scheming twin-brother Prince. Adele Jergens plays the Sultan's daughter who naturally falls for Aladdin because he's so gorgeous and sings love songs to her (Wilde's singing voice dubbed). Jergens is not very interesting (looking like a pale imitation of Virginia Mayo) and to be honest, in my estimation, is strangely overshadowed by the striking looks of her chief maid played by Dusty Anderson. Neither of them became movie stars, but Anderson's looks and voice are so much more impressive than Jergens that it distracts from Wilde's pursuit of the Princess. In my view, why take a chance on being executed for trying to possess a moderately pretty Princess when the maid is a knockout, and likable too? (One small note: Shelley Winters plays a fellow handmaiden in this film, but good luck finding her. I think I spotted her in the back row of a group of maidens in a scene near the end of the film).
Interesting line: Phil Silvers looks into a sorcerer's crystal ball and sees himself robbing someone. He quips to Wilde re: the Sorceror: "This guy has run into television and don't know it." Since no pretense is made that this is anything other than a silly romp, Silvers gets to gag it up with plenty of other current references, including the absurd ending wherein he croons a Sinatra tune ("All or Nothing at All" and using the actual Sinatra recording) to handmaidens in bobbysoxer footwear. Needless to say, this a fun movie, easy to like.
Escapist fare was always welcome during the troubled '40s-era,
especially just after World War II when movie fans were clamoring for
entertainment to take their minds off their woes. So Columbia jumped
onto the bandwagon with a fluffy Arabian Nights sort of adventure
starring their hot new box-office star, CORNEL WILDE as Aladdin in A
THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, teaming him with up and coming EVELYN KEYES
and wise-cracking PHIL SILVERS for comedy relief.
And with eye-popping Technicolor added to the mix, it's a pleasure to report that it succeeds as escapist fare on its own terms--with Silvers largely stealing the show with his array of anachronistic gags that help whenever the action gets dull.
But that's not too often. CORNEL WILDE was an ideal choice to play the adventure hero Columbia assigned him to after his success as the pallid Chopin in A SONG TO REMEMBER. He's at home among the plush fairy-tale settings and shares some charming on screen chemistry with co-star EVELYN KEYES, but only has one chance (at the finale) to indulge in a swashbuckling duel with Hoey. Wilde turned down a chance for the Olympic championships in dueling to start his film career instead.
DENNIS HOEY plays the Sultan and his villainous twin brother with energetic relish. Wilde's romantic interest is ADELE JERGENS as the Sultan's beauteous daughter. The story, of course, is a tongue-in-cheek variation on Aladdin's use of the magic lamp with the help of Genie (Keyes) instead of the genie we all saw in THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (Rex Ingram), who makes an appearance in the film as a token gesture.
It's all complete nonsense, with typical humor from Silvers ("I wish I had a gun. What am I sayin'? Guns haven't even been invented yet!"). He's turned into a crooning Sinatra after Genie Keyes decides to do him a final favor with a rub of the lamp. She gets her wish too--a clone of Cornel Wilde so that she doesn't end up alone.
Pure escapist fun, totally unsophisticated and clearly aimed at a youthful audience of the '40s crowd. Whether you like it or not, depends on your sense of humor and nostalgia for this sort of thing.
Harry Cohn must have gotten a little jealous at all the money Universal
was raking in with those Maria Montez/Jon Hall Arabian Nights films
that they were grinding out. Cohn decided Columbia deserved a bit of
that market itself.
What Cohn was smart in doing was playing this one tongue firmly in cheek for his sand and sandal epic. Cornel Wilde, fresh from his Oscar nominated role as Fredric Chopin at Cohn's studio, cuts a romantic and dashing figure, playing Aladdin of Cathay for laughs in a way that more serious swashbuckling rivals like Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn would never have done.
Wilde's in love with the forbidden blonde Arabian princess Adele Jergens, but it is forbidden for him to rise above his station. Cornel's going to need some supernatural help and he finds it in the person of the genie with a lamp, in this case not Barbara Eden, but the one who must have been her inspiration, Evelyn Keyes.
Though she's crushing out on Wilde big time, Keyes does help him in his romantic quest and coincidentally works against plot by the dastardly twin brother of the sultan to usurp the throne. That would be Dennis Hoey who is clearly enjoying hamming up, both roles.
Phil Silvers is around as well as the jive talking Abdullah who rumor hath it was born some 600 years ahead of his time.
Part homage to The Thief of Bagdad and part Road to Morocco as well, A Thousand and One Nights is enjoyable enough because it doesn't take itself too seriously even as satire.
But what about hard working Evelyn, what's her reward. Think The Palm Beach Story and remember she does have a magic lamp.
Aladdin (Cornel Wilde) falls in love with Princess Armina (Adele
Jergens). She loves him too but she can't marry a poor man. Aladdin
finds a lantern, rubs it and our comes a female genie named Babs
(Evelyn Keyes). Aladdin orders her to make him a rich prince so he will
be able to marry the princess--but Babs starts to fall in love with
Aladdin! Abdullah (Phil Silvers), Aladdin's buddy tags along.
If you take the Arabian Nights stories seriously this will probably have you horrified. However if you take it for what it is (a fun, silly movie) you'll love it. It was shot in bright Technicolor with huge sets, a large cast and excellent special effects. It's obvious that Paramount spent a LOT of money on this. The script moves quickly and one-liners (mostly by Silvers) go flying left and right. Some of the lines are groaners but (more often than not) they're right on target.
Acting--Wilde is tall, hunky and incredibly handsome. He even sings a few songs (!!!). Silvers could have very easily been annoying--but he's actually quite funny and full of life. Jergens and Keyes are both beautiful and good in their roles. Also Rex Ingram has a pointless (but interesting) cameo as another genie and Shelly Winters plays a harem girl! Cute, colorful, lavish and lots of fun. Worth catching. Perfect for the whole family.
This is the sort of silly adventure film that, unfortunately, they just
don't make any more. And to top it off, the film's sense of humor and
fun is so pronounced that it's hard not to like the movie. In many
ways, the film is the obvious inspiration for Disney's ALADDIN as well
as inspired by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's "Road Films". An apt title
for the film might have been "Road to Arabia".
So how can I say it's like a Road Film? Well, even though the actors and studio are different, the chemistry and dialog is identical. Phil Silvers plays a part highly reminiscent of Bob Hope, as he plays a snappy-talking anachronistic 1940s jive-talker set in the 9th century. He was simply wonderful in this role--probably the best film part he ever did. Cornell Wilde is much like a more handsome version of Bing Crosby because he very ably croons throughout the film and is the one who eventually gets the girl. The chemistry and plot outline is pure "Road"--such as ROAD TO MOROCCO or any of the other Hope-Crosby films except it's a better--probably due to better writing and production values.
So how is it like ALADDIN? Well, Cornell Wilde actually plays Aladdin and much of the story is what is later replicated in the Disney film--the evil sorcerer Jafar and the plot to steal the throne and the romance between a princess and a poor young man are all there. And, in many ways, Phil Silvers is the sidekick who was later replaced by the monkey, Abu! And, finally, the genie is the fast-talking and smart-allecky character it was in the later film except it is played by a lady (Evelyn Keyes) and she, too, is in love with Aladdin. I absolutely loved Miss Keyes in the film (more than I liked Robin Williams as the genie) and really couldn't understand why Cornell didn't pick her instead of the lovely princess (Adele Jergens).
The bottom line is this movie is just lots and lots of fun. Plus, the humorous and anachronistic lines were actually funny and made me chuckle. This is a must-see for fans of adventure films and I'm glad I saw it. I could easily have scored the movie a 9--it was that good.
By the way, the dual roles of the Sultan and his evil twin were played by Dennis Hoey. He's the same guy who played the recurring role of Inspector Lestrade in the Sherlock Holmes series of the 1940s and it was nice to see him in a different sort of role.
A Thousand and One Nights is a rollicking, bawdy and unapologetically
40s vision of the ancient Arabian legend of Aladdin.
Just as Disney's animated feature "Aladdin" updated the genie-in-a-bottle storyline for the 90s mindset, this exploration fuses the epic musical film style of big-budget Hollywood films in post-War America with the cultural stereotypes surrounding the Middle East. The results are a fantastic, if laughable, adventure movie, geared towards young adults and the elderly, but with plenty to chew on even for children.
Imaginative sets and superb costumes present a lavish spectacle of colour and brilliant old school special effects combine with well-performed choreography to keep the action and laughs rolling, and the viewer suitably engaged. However, the cinematography and lighting are disappointingly one-dimensional, suggesting more of a stage adaptation than an original film.
Performances, especially vocal, are largely impressive. For a script that contains a bewildering assortment of varied characters, often singing choruses, a great cast of character actors is needed, and it's definitely the largely uncredited bit parts and cameos (Shelley Winters!) that make this ensemble memorable. With a wooden lead in Cornel Wilde (Aladdin), best friend Abdullah (Phil Silvers) really picks up the slack, with an endless stream of predictable--yet nonetheless witty--wisecracks. Even Babs (Evelyn Keyes), the emotionally-berserk female genie, manages to convincingly portray a noticeably pathetic, but likable, co- starring lead.
All told, this one's a must for film fans of days of yore and students of Hollywood Orientalism alike. If the rousing music and generous matte sets don't sweep you off your feet, the astonishingly ludicrous premise of a comedic epic musical based on an ancient tale of dread and magic will have you rolling on the floor laughing.
Although the Arabian Nights Technicolor fantasies of the 1940s and
1950s were mainly the domain of Universal Studios, the other Hollywood
majors understandably jumped on the Oriental band wagon while it was
big box-office, and this endearingly modernistic revamp of the mythical
tale of Aladdin was Columbia's contribution to that WWII craze. Having
first (and only) read about this one on Leonard Maltin's Film Guide and
never encountering it on Italian TV in my childhood, I leapt at the
chance of acquiring it on DivX but, as is becoming increasingly (and
frustratingly) regular with this format, there were lip-synch problems
which, thankfully, were corrected via conversion to DVD. But, enough of
Aladdin is played by Columbia's star Cornel Wilde he had just been Oscar-nominated for A SONG TO REMEMBER (1945) who is curiously fourth-billed here; he even gets to sing several times (a talent of his that I had previously been unaware of if that was indeed his voice on the soundtrack); incidentally, I should be acquiring another somewhat obscure Wilde costumer very soon called STAR OF India (1954) which I intend to watch over the Christmas week. As I said in my introduction (and perhaps to differentiate itself from the rival Universal product), the film-makers also engaged the services of another currently hot commodity in bespectacled comedian Phil Silvers as Aladdin's pickpocketing sidekick. At first, I balked at his modern-day savvy personality (with in-jokes towards The Lone Ranger, liberal use of hip words like "groovy", etc.) but was eventually won over by his gauche schtick culminating in his hilarious Frank Sinatra transformation at the film's very end. Another asset to the film is the delightful (if belated) presence as a mischievous female genie of the proverbial lamp of the late (she died earlier this year aged 91!) Evelyn Keyes; naturally, she falls in love with her master Aladdin but, losing him to Princess Adele Jergens, she creates her own clone!
Speaking of the Universal rivalry, I was surprised to see Dennis Hoey (best-known as the bumbling Inspector Lestrade of Universal's ongoing Sherlock Holmes series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) in a dual rule as the villain, not to mention Rex Ingram reprising (albeit too briefly) his celebrated giant characterization from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940)! Like its prototype ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942), this film was also looked on favorably by Academy Award voters in the technical categories: art direction-set decoration and special effects (mostly having to do with Silvers being unable to see Keyes and Wilde's transformation into a dog another nod, I suppose, to that afore-mentioned Alexander Korda production).
A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS (1945) is a Technicolor "Arabian Nights" romp
with its tongue planted firmly in cheek. The lightweight script
contemporizes the tale of sultans, sorcerers, magic lamps, and romance
in Old Araby. The film is pretty weak, but it seems like the kind of
movie that would be fun for kids and young folk. (Or at least young
folk in 1945.) The colors are vibrant, there are some "magical" special
effects, a few songs, and a sense of exotic adventure. Plus more than a
few winks at the modern audience.
Phil Silvers is a walking anachronism, complete with 1940s slang and a variation on his signature specs. He plays the comedic sidekick to Cornel Wilde's Aladdin and is a vehicle for pop culture references. His shtick is nigh insufferable here. Wilde plays a rather bland hero, a handsome vagabond who makes women swoon with his singing in the marketplace.
The best thing about this film is Evelyn Keyes. I know her from 1950s noirs like THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK (1950) and THE PROWLER (1951). Here she is adorable as the redheaded genie who grants wishes for Aladdin. She shows up about twenty minutes into the movie and makes the whole thing worthwhile. She looks great in Technicolor and steals every scene she's in. As the genie can only be seen by the person who possesses the magic lamp, she's always skipping around, up to some playful mischief while "invisible". It's fun watching her, even when she's not the focus of the scene.
Keyes's genie falls in love with Wilde's Aladdin when he first rubs the lamp, and she's rather put out that he only has eyes for the daughter of the sultan. Still, she has no choice but to help Aladdin get the girl. The princess is played by Adele Jergens, a blonde Virginia Mayo type. She's beautiful, but personally I would've run off with Evelyn Keyes.
The cast also includes the lovely Dusty Anderson as the princess's handmaiden, Dennis Hoey as the sultan (and his evil twin), Philip Van Zandt as his scheming vizier, Richard Hale as a random cave-dwelling sorcerer, John Abbott as a poor tailor with a thing for redheads, and Rex Ingram seemingly recreating his diaper-wearing giant role from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940).
As with other Arabian Nights films, like the 1924 and 1940 versions of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, it's interesting to note the similarities to Walt Disney's ALADDIN (1992). In this film particularly you have a vagabond named Aladdin (with a pickpocket sidekick) who falls in love with the sultan's daughter. The evil vizier conspires against the sultan and wants to marry the princess. Aladdin uses a genie's magic to pass as a prince and enter the palace to woo the princess. There's even the scene with the old sorcerer in the cave ("Let us out!" "First give me the lamp!"). I don't know if the folks at Disney screened all these old movies for inspiration or if the plot points are just common to the traditional Arabian Nights tales.
A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS is not a great movie, but it's a fun spin on Arabian Nights adventures. The film certainly doesn't take itself too seriously. There's little substance for the serious film buffs, but it's a colorful curiosity and an interesting product of its time. The closing bobbysoxer gag is great.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As if the Maria Montez/Jon Hall/Sabu color fests dealing with similar
tales over at Universal weren't camp enough, Columbia gives us this
"Hellzapoppin'" type spoof,a jive-talking', slang filled satire that is
only missing Robert Hays responding, "Shirley, You Can't Be Serious!".
From the moment the bespeckled Phil Silvers comes on screen (glasses
weren't invented until 500 years after this takes place!), you know you
are in for a wacky ride. His references to Lana Turner and television
simply confirm that. Cornel Wilde is Aladdin, the handsome beefy hero
who loves the Sultan's daughter (Adele Jergens) after invading her
caravan and has won her love as well. But evil is afoot, and after
dealing with giant Rex Ingram (repeating his role from "The Thief of
Bagdad"), Wilde and Silvers find the lamp an evil sorcerer has sent
them looking for, and find it contains the beautiful but wise-cracking
Evelyn Keyes. As far removed from "Gone With the Wind's" Tara (where
Keyes played Scarlett O'Hara's younger sister) as she could get, Keyes
falls in love with Wilde and schemes in her teasing way to prevent him
from winning the princess. The story cleverly utilizes aspects of the
Arabian Knights tales ("New lamps for old", in particularly) with
genuine satire, and is as colorful as the Rita Hayworth musicals that
Columbia was turning out. In certain shots, Jergens seems to be
photographed and made up exactly as Hayworth was in "Cover Girl".
Columbia took a break from its string of Robin Hood adventure yarns for this sword & sandal fest, and came up with a winner. Wilde is a charming hero, Jergens a sweet but spunky princess, and Keyes going down Eve Arden territory with a touch of teenie bopper crush thrown in. Silvers provides some humor that may be considered dated, but some of his gags are timeless. There are enough villains to give Disney's "Aladdin's" Jafar a run for his money, although on closer examination, the plot of the movie resembles "The Lion King". The ending provides one of the funniest gags on screen imaginable.
Big colorful sets and fantasy costumes are featured in this hokey
update to Alladin's Lamp that never takes itself seriously. Evelyn
Keyes is adorable as the genie that no one but handsome Cornel Wilde
can see, but he has eyes only for Adele Jergens as the blonde princess.
Sidekick Phil Silvers has his eyes on every jewel in the palace. Of
course there's a scheming Vizir and a Sultan switcharoo. A thief
masquerades as a prince, and just about every other Arabian Nights
cliché is given some sort of send up.
Most of the comedy involves one of the secondary characters turning to the camera and saying something modern while the leads play it straight. Subplots (and villains) are invented then abruptly dropped, and cultural awareness seems unknown in 1940s Hollywood. If this sort of thing makes you cringe you will hate this film, but if you like pretty musical comedy in gorgeous Technicolor there's a lot here to like! The Princess is carried in a royal blue litter that matches her dress, and her bed is draped in sumptuous curtains the same color as her lilac gown. Harem girls flutter in pastels, and the brightly colored see-thru veils they use to cover their faces is merrily naive. Set pieces are few and far between but fabulous, and every other scene seems to take place on an ornate balcony. An authentic looking dance is a welcome distraction, and Silvers and Wilde share a bar sing-along about women (one for romance, the other against) that is campy fun.
By the end it feels over-sweet like you've swallowed too much cake icing, but it moves along quickly and there's a happy ending for everyone even the genie. This film is in the same vein as Marlene Dietrich's version of KISMET (1944), which I highly recommend for its pastel harems and anachronistic Baghdad that never was.
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