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Salem, Massachusetts, 1800. Mountaineer Jason Starbuck rides into town with furs to sell and dreams to fulfill. He falls in love with Roxana, who breaks her previous engagement and leaves for France to await Jason. Roxana's ship is attacked by pirates and she is sold into slavery in Morocco. Jason follows her to Morocco and must win the support of the sultan in order to continue his efforts to locate and rescue her. Written by
Ed Sutton <email@example.com>
To begin with, I interrupted my ongoing parallel Luis Bunuel (Part 2) and "Euro-Cult" marathons to indulge in an old-fashioned Hollywood oater on the big screen. This was due to an unscheduled, but most welcome, invite by a couple of movie-buff friends of mine (who are actually my Dad's peers). Since we settled on which film we would be watching at the very last minute, I went into this knowing only the odd title (which I was familiar with alright, but it had somehow never cropped up for viewing until now) and the male lead involved (Jeff Chandler) and, yet, I had to smile when, upon wondering if this was helmed by Joseph Pevney, his name actually turned up in the opening credits!
Being a Universal production, one has to remember that this sort of mindless crowd-pleasing fare used to be churned out virtually on an assembly-line during this era with the slightest of trimmings to accommodate the studio's current top box-office draw (be it Chandler, Tony Curtis or Rock Hudson)! Similarly, several journeymen directors flourished there at the time, proving adept at practically every setting and storyline the executives could throw at them! Now, to get back to the single biggest coup of the film under review, it is the effortless blending of sure-fire formulas which rendered the whole most enjoyable: in fact, proceedings start off in a Western milieu, then the scene shifts to the high seas and a brief interlude of pirate action, before eventually settling into an Arabian Nights adventure! Without wishing to attribute undue subtext to an inherently modest product, I am sure it would have greatly pleased the Surrealists to witness its depiction of amour fou literally transcending genre conventions!
Anyway, here we find trapper Chandler and redhead Rhonda Fleming falling for each other virtually at first sight (though, typically, she is intended for another who unsurprisingly proves to be an arrogant bully). Soon enough, the two men engage in a horse race, which Chandler wins thanks to an Indian yelp (like the one Richard Dix gave in CIMARRON ) which frightens his rival's steed! Sailing to Marseille with her father, she is kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery to a Moroccan potentate (or, rather, an aspiring usurper) played by Rex Reason here billed as Bart Roberts and later promoted to lead status for the sci-fi classic THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955)! The real ruler (an ill-at-ease Lee J. Cobb) fears his own army would not withstand a full-scale attack by Reason's forces. He is saved by the arrival of Chandler upon the scene, who offers to school his soldiers in quick-shooting tactics in exchange for a place at court in an effort to get wind of Fleming's whereabouts. For his services, Chandler is not only garbed in the latest Oriental fashion but gets acquainted with their customs (including owning a personal slave-girl in the shapely form of delightfully "cackling" yet jealously conniving Mamie Van Doren, also thankfully the closest thing here approximating comic relief) prompting him to exclaim at one point, "I can Salaam with the best of them!"
As is to be expected, Chandler eventually regains Fleming and loses her once more to Reason, before himself falling into his clutches. Their obligatory showdown (by the way, there is also a cat-fight between the two girls over their supremacy in Chandler's harem!) takes place on the prison turret, with the villain predictably getting his just desserts by being impaled on a set of horns which protrude from the walls to prevent convicts from escaping! One thing which I noticed but forgot to tell my host (who is a Victor Mature fanatic) is that Reason's castle was, in all probability, the very same one to be featured (complete with a strategically-placed palm-tree) in Mature's own Universal-produced Arabian Nights epic THE VEILS OF BAGDAD (1953), and which had actually been one of the first titles we caught at his private cinema!
In fact, watching YANKEE PASHA via a surprisingly well-preserved 16mm copy, despite the occasional image blurring and emulsion problems in an ambiance which attempted to recreate the full theatrical Saturday matinée' experience (complete with walls adorned by vintage movie posters and musical accompaniment before the performance and during the reel-changing break) heightened the steady dose of unassuming colorful entertainment provided by the main feature. In conclusion, the career of silver-haired Jeff Chandler may have been short-lived but it proved incredibly prolific nevertheless: having checked just now, I have some 23 of his films lying unwatched in my collection as opposed to the mere 7 which I have gotten under my belt so far! Given that this year marks the 50th anniversary of his tragic passing, I might make room for a well-deserved retrospective throughout my proposed generic viewings in 2011
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