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Energetic performances by Curtis and Laurie make for delightful adventure
To begin, I've always found movies with Arabian Nights settings to be curiously seductive, even if infested with clichés. The exotic (though studio bound) locales, pastel colours, lavish interiors, voluptuous dancing girls, and lively daring-do provide, if not quality, an irresistible recipe for pure escapism. Universal Studios regularly churned out these carpet rides during the late '40s and early '50s, often using them as proving grounds for many of its young contract players.
THE PRINCE WHO WAS A THIEF may well be the best of the lot. It is a happy combination of above-average script sourced from a short story by Theodore Dreiser, technically competent direction, and fortuitous casting of the two leads.
Tony Curtis plays a young Prince of Tangier, marked for assassination as an infant but raised into adulthood by thieves and becoming one himself until he can reclaim his birthright, all with the help of fellow thief, Piper Laurie. Both players, who went on to better films and even critical praise, attack their roles with a boundless energy that's contagious, yet they avoid upstaging each other. So appealing was their on-screen rapport that they would make three subsequent films together. Here, the accent is on acrobatics and the athletic Curtis and the agile Laurie deliver in spades, performing all of their own stunts with the exception of Laurie's (she was 19 at the time) climb to the top of a high wall on the backs of men near the climax. A playful banter between the two throughout adds a good-natured battle-of-the sexes to the proceedings and keeps the story humming along.
Direction was deftly handled Rudolph Maté, a Hungarian ex-pat who had previously apprenticed with Alexander Korda as cameraman and with Fritz Lang and René Claire as cinematographer. While none of his later work produced classics, his films remain effective and visually appealing as evidenced here.
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