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Hal Roach Jr.,
Lon Chaney Jr.
Antar is sent by Suleiman, head of the Ottoman Empire, to Bagdad to prevent Hammam, Pasha of Bagdad, from purchasing the services of local leader Mustapha to unite the hill tribes and overthrow the emperor. The intrigue mounts as Antar falls in love with dancer Selima, who tries to avenge her father's death against Hammam's right-hand-man Kasseim, whose wife Rosanna has fallen in love with Antar! Written by
Doug Sederberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ever since childhood (i.e. the 1980s) I have been a fan of swashbucklers and Arabian Nights romps which proliferated in Hollywood and even European cinema between the early 1920s (THE SHEIK , WAXWORKS , THE THIEF OF BAGDAD , etc.) up until the late 1970s (SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER , THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD [1978; TV], ARABIAN ADVENTURE , etc.). The genre's period of glory, however, came somewhere in between, during WWII where it proved to be the perfect escapist fare, spearheaded by movies like THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940) and ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942) and the decade following the end of the world-wide conflict. The latter movie was a particularly big success at the box office and, consequently, Universal became the film studio which specialized in similarly exotic Oriental extravaganzas. Three movies of this type and from this studio that I recall especially enjoying in my childhood days are ARABIAN NIGHTS itself (which I have since acquired on DVD-R and which I plan to revisit around Christmas-time), THE PRINCE WHO WAS A THIEF (1951; which, although it provided Tony Curtis with his first starring role, has yet to be released on DVD) and THE GOLDEN BLADE (1953; which, luckily, has already made it into a Rock Hudson DVD collection).
This extraneous introduction serves two purposes: it crystallizes my love of the genre (admittedly, more for its nostalgic flavor than for any intrinsic artistic merit of the films themselves) and also demonstrates that the city of Bagdad was more often than not at the center of intrigue found in these movies (in fact, there was yet another version of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, made in Italy in 1961 with American muscleman Steve Reeves in the lead that I recall catching as a kid on Italian TV like the rest of them which has virtually vanished off the face of the earth since then). It's truly a pity, therefore, that the negative modern-day connotations with the Arabic capital have apparently spelt doom for any prospective examples of the genre making their way onto DVD any time soon a dilemma which brings us directly to the film at hand: thankfully, for old-fashioned local film buffs, there are still many serviceable 16mm and 35mm prints of this type of movies floating around in the basement or garages of avid, long-time film enthusiasts and collectors. The star of THE VEILS OF BAGDAD, Victor Mature, happens to be the all-time favorite film star of the collector in question, an acquaintance of my own film-buff father and the uncle of another film enthusiast friend of mine, and through whom I had previously managed to have access to a 16mm print of Paul Newman's maligned film debut, THE SILVER CHALICE (1954) and which, lo and behold, will be making its own DVD debut in a mere three months' time. Perhaps my viewing of THE VEILS OF BAGDAD augurs equally well for a potential future DVD release of it and others of its ilk.
Anyway, to cut to the chase: the basic story deals with a usurping, food-loving and harem-keeping Pasha (Leon Askin) and his equally ruthless and seemingly impotent Vizier (Guy Rolfe) and the opposition they face from various bands of outlaws (led by Mature and Ludwig Donath and numbering among its members James Arness and frequent Burt Lancaster foil around this time, the acrobatic Nick Cravat) which are still loyal to their official but absent Ottoman ruler, Suleiman The Magnificent; on the side of the evil-doers one can also spot frequent Frankenstein monster impersonator Glenn Strange and a boyish but mute Robert Blake. The film runs for a brisk 82 minutes with well-balanced pauses for action set-pieces on the Pasha's castle rooftop (although, given Mature's distinctive and seemingly automated eyebrows, his occasional substitution for a leaner stunt man is all too apparent on a larger screen) and exotic dance routines (performed by red-headed heroine Mari Blanchard) in the local tavern which drive every Arab onlooker wild. Unfortunately, Rolfe starts out as a formidable villain showing uncontainable contempt towards his shrewish wife and gleefully overseeing the flogging of his enemies held captive down in the castle dungeons but somehow his character loses focus along the way and the final confrontation with Mature seemed somewhat rushed to me. Understandably for a 55-year old movie, the condition of the print I viewed was not pristine and it displayed its age through a reddish hue which permeated parts of the movie but, as I said before in my introduction, one can only be grateful that these cans of film exist at all in this day and age and that they are still able to provide a colorful, undemanding evening's entertainment for filmgoers so inclined.
Looking through the filmographies of the main people behind this film, one realizes that they were all old hands at this type of thing: Mature would later star in two similarly exotic British-made costumers (both of which I should be getting to presently) ZARAK (1956) and THE BANDIT OF ZHOBE (1959), Rolfe would immediately go on to KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953) and later, of course, THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1960; which I've just seen), leading ladies Mari Blanchard and Virginia Field had (or would soon) grace, respectively, SON OF SINBAD (1955) and CAPTAIN FURY (1939; which, like the afore-mentioned ZHOBE, is also available to me via a theatrical print), distinguished cinematographer Russell Metty had lighted his fair share of similar Universal-produced adventures, writer William R. Cox (who penned the intermittently sharp script) had just come off the afore-mentioned THE GOLDEN BLADE and director Sherman had also called the shots on THE BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1946), AGAINST ALL FLAGS (1952; another childhood favorite) and the spoof THE WIZARD OF BAGHDAD (1960; with Dick Shawn, which I also recall coming across on Italian TV eons ago)!
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