The Wonders of Aladdin (1961)
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When I saw it again, about age 12, I was appalled. What a cheesy picture, I thought. The wink-wink-nudge-nudge joke of O'Connor (but not the audience) accidentally seeing the princess (not Funicello after all) nude seemed embarrassing. The "special effects" were just cheap.
When I caught the movie again at college age--after several years of reading about films and seeing films of all eras--I was ready to forgive "The Wonders of Aladdin" its failings and enjoy it again.
If you like 1001 nights type stories and you appreciate films of different eras, "The Wonders of Aladdin" is an enjoyable B-movie fantasy.
But besides, the plot was extended in so many ways. The mechanical dolls (or robots, as we would call them these days): he a dancing flute-player, she a deadly embracer. The amazons who save their victims from thirst, but later have very cruel and unusual plans for them. The scenes where Aladdin's girl is tortured... the baby switch... the trap-door to the lions' den...
All in all, a surprising weird yarn, enjoyable, bewildering, a very different experience. Terence Hill (as he later called himself) played the prince, but I didn't recognize him. Thrilling fun, and certainly not just a kiddie movie.
SYNOPSIS: In the ancient city of Baghdad, a poor boy named Aladdin day-dreams of great wealth and royal processions. One day his mother buys him a little lamp which the lad accidentally discovers contains a genie who can grant him three magic wishes. Aladdin uses his first wish to escape from some merchants he has robbed and then sets out by caravan to attend the royal wedding of Princess Zaina and Prince Moluk. Accompanying him is his devoted but unrequited girl friend, Djalma, and his loyal bodyguard, Omar. When Aladdin and Omar are captured by man-killing Amazon huntresses, the genie is once more summoned and he transports the pair to an Arab camp near the royal city of Basora. Meanwhile, the wicked Grand Vizier has taken Prince Moluk prisoner and is planning to marry the Princess himself. But Aladdin and his friends...
NOTES: Both the French — Les Mille et Une Nuits — and Italian — Le meraviglie di Aladino — versions run 100 minutes.
VIEWERS' GUIDE: The 93 minute version contains material highly unsuitable for children.
COMMENT: "Wonders of Aladdin" is going to disappoint many potential customers because it's virtually a straight Arabian Nights adventure in the style of those Universal Tony Curtis, Piper Laurie, Rock Hudson, Jeff Chandler pictures and very little use is made of the genie of the lamp and the consequent special effects. In fact, it's a pity that the genie has such a small role to play in the proceedings because his first appearance and the special effects arising therefrom are rather well done and we look forward to more of the same, and even better outcomes. Alas, we have to wait rather a long time for more and when they come they are inferior both in quantity and in quality (a wire is even visible in one scene).
Although he receives such large billing, De Sica has a very small and unrewarding part (the final indignity — his voice is even dubbed in the English version). In fact, O'Connor is the only member of the cast to use his own voice (incidentally, if you are not a fan of his, you would be well advised to avoid this one, he is on screen almost continuously and even doubles up in an uncredited bit part in which he plays the acrobat/artist who draws a picture of Princess Zaina for the Grand Vizier).
The rest of the cast is interesting — Adam, Fabrizi, Mercier — but cannot compare to the talent assembled behind the camera. The only dud is director Henry Levin. No writers are credited on the screen (or Filmfacts) but whoever they were, they certainly came up with a lightweight pastiche that many would say wasted a lot of talent.
On the other hand, the film is always very colorful to look at, and O'Connor is as acrobatic as Fairbanks, Senior. There are some really bright moments in the script, especially the scenes with the robot dolls and the aged wizard.
The first thing which stands out is that Aladdin is played by a 35 year old Donald O'Connor. I don't need to say anything more about this.
Aladdin still lives with his mother who one day buys a cheap lamp which 'makes noise'. Now who would buy a lamp or even sell a lamp that makes noise? This 'noisy' lamp is meant to be funny but it's just the beginning of a series of comedic touches or jokes which aren't comical or funny in any way, shape or form.
Now Aladdin accidentally rubs the lamp while scratching himself because he has fleas (!!!). Like the 'noisy' lamp, the scenes featuring fleas go one endlessly and never illicit any laughs. I've never thought of seeing a movie waste 10 minutes of film on stupid fleas. It's overkill.
The film continues on here and there with nary a story. Now the lack of story could be fine if the direction and pacing and dialogue where amusing but it's not. There are aspects of this story which beggars belief: such as Aladdin NEVER knowing how to summon the Genie (played with complete indifference by Vittorio De Sica). Once Aladdin figures he can summon a Genie he never asks for money, love, etc. It never dawns on Aladdin to ask the Genie to grant him all of his wishes. The Genie is simply there like a prop whenever Aladdin is in a predicament. At one point, Aladdin tries to summon the Genie but since he doesn't remember how he did it the first time (see above i.e. fleas) in one scene we have to endure O'Connor goofing around, rubbing his stomach and such. A-ha! Again not funny. Just stupid and forced. This moment happens 30 minutes into the film and we still can't see any semblance of a storyline. Aladdin and his slave (Milton Reid) are stranded in the desert after a battle. The two end up being captured by desert Amazons who want to mate with them and kill them afterwards but Aladdin figures out how to get the Genie to get them out of there and bam they're back in the desert, walking in a chain-gang. The entire scene with the Amazons, who look like Las Vegas showgirls, was pointless. They could cut it out and go from the scene before and then to the chain-gang moment and it wouldn't make any difference. It's inconsistent and padded and nonsensical as that.
O'Connor was a talented and his artistry does shine through from time to time but for the love of God he was totally miscast. Terence Hill is in this and he's wasted in a pointless role. The whole project feels aborted and misconceived. Steve Reeves was supposed to star in this and the European film company LUX changed their minds as Steve was going to star in a couple of other productions, including the much better and more successful THIEF OF BAGHDAD. So they cast O'Connor instead of Reeves. How does one go from Steve Reeves to Donald O'Connor is a total mystery.
So to recap:
The bad: unfunny jokes, lame action scenes, terrible meandering script, padded. The complete total lack of any sense of wonder.
The good: locations, great score by Angelo F Lavagnino and a scene or two showcasing O'Connor's talents.
Can the ten lines of copy be decreased in the future?
I made the mistake of ordering a DVD of this film from Zeusdvds in Florida. I should have checked out the site for review. The owner ripped me off as well as dozens of other customers.