THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN (Henry Levin and Mario Bava, 1961) **1/2
While I could only get my hands on a French-dubbed version of this costumed romp (without even the benefit of any subtitles), I admit to having enjoyed it quite a bit indeed, more than I anticipated! Bava's involvement notwithstanding, I had long wanted to check this one out, in view of a movie poster of it kept in a scrapbook by my father back from the time of its local theatrical release. I have watched many an Arabian Nights fantasy in my time, so that there was very little novelty in the way of plot here but the cult director's hand definitely benefited the look of the film with sets, costumes, special effects and overall color scheme all coming across as rather splendid within their modest confines. Apart from the obligatory Hollywood veteran brought in to act as 'supervisor', we also get an American lead in Donald O'Connor: his comic shtick may be an acquired taste, but the actor's irrepressible energy served the role well in action highlights (not to mention a dance sequence towards the end in which he assumes the garbs of a mannequin imbued with life by the villain's sorcerer!). Also exposing the movie's Italian/French heritage is the fact that the supporting cast is peppered with many an established and upcoming presence from both these countries: Fausto Tozzi as a particularly flamboyant Grand Vizier, Terence Hill (still bearing his pre-stardom name of Mario Girotti) as the romantic second lead, Vittorio De Sica as the ubiquitous genie-in-a-lamp, and a typically flustered Aldo Fabrizi as the Sultan; Michele Mercier, then, is Hill's regal intended and Fabrizi's daughter (naturally also coveted by the dastardly Tozzi) and Raymond Bussieres appears as the Sultan's adviser. As expected, the fantasy sequences capped by a desert climax in which O'Connor duels with Tozzi (albeit managing to overcome him only through De Sica's helping hand, just as, at one point his dimensions are enlarged in order for him to turn the tables on some pursuers, with one of them even landing the post thereafter of the hero's servant/sidekick!) prove the film's ultimate mainstay. That said, there are also comedic flashes of eroticism (O'Connor twice discovers his girlfriend hanging naked after being captured by the villain) and a couple more of outright sadism (people falling through a secret panel in the floor of Tozzi's palace are ripped apart by his vicious dogs) which are decidedly incongruous for what is essentially a kiddie film!
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