In ancient Bagdad, Hafiz is a beggar - self coined the King of Beggars - and a master of the slight of hand. He often likes to wander the streets late at night pretending to be a Prince, specifically of Hassir located in the farthest reaches of the empire. In the process, he has entered into a passionate romance with a beautiful woman, Jamilla. He is unaware that she is one of the queens of the Grand Vizier - the most powerful man in the empire - to who she was provided in a power deal with Macedonia, the deal agreed to by Jamilla only under the condition that she retain her independence. In turn, Jamilla knows that her lover is not who he says he is, she, however, not having any idea that he is mere street beggar. She doesn't mind his lies as they are a means to escape into a fantasy world away from the reality of life with the Grand Vizier. At home, Hafiz has told his daughter, Marsinah, since she was a child that she would marry a prince, rather than the reality of she probably ...Written by
This is not a bad movie, but it is not an important one. Made in the last decade of Ronald Colman's active career as a movie star, KISMET seems to be an odd choice for him. Normally he was playing English gentlemen types - Rudolph Rassendyll in THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, or Robert Conway in LOST HORIZON or Dick Helgar in THE LIGHT THAT FAILED. If he played Americans, they were the Supreme Court Candidate in THE TALK OF THE TOWN or the title character Boston Brahman in THE LATE GEORGE APLEY. Here he was playing the philosophical thief Hafiz of 11th Century Baghdad. An odd choice indeed.
To begin with, as he is playing an Arab, there was nothing physically "semitic" about Colman to suggest a citizen of Baghdad. However, the producers must have thought of him as a good example of a cultured type (Hafiz sprouts proverbs and examples of Middle Eastern wisdom), so he fit half the requirement. Still, it might have been better to have used someone who might have looked more like a citizen of the "fertile crescent". Robert Donat would have made a better choice.
Secondly, if they had to do a story about ancient Islam at it's zenith of glory and power, why did they choose KISMET? It is an old play by Edward Knobloch which was written about 1910 and became the favorite starring part for the then great stage character actor Otis Skinner.* In fact, Skinner did a film version of the play in the silent period. But while not the worst example of a well made piece of hokum, it remains hokum. Skinner was quite well identified with the central role, but he died in 1942. It may be that Paramount felt they could get away with this just because he was no longer around.
*Skinner's career, like so many of his contemporary stars like Richard Mansfield and Henry Irving can only be judged by snips and brief glimpses of their work - if they made an early silent film or even sound film (George M. Cohan in THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT comes to mind) we can see something of what they were like. Irving actually made surviving gramophone recordings of Shakespearean parts. In Skinner's case, most people who recall him at all today probably do so because Charlie Ruggles played him in the movie OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY which was based on a book by Skinner's daughter Cornelia Otis Skinner. If you can find the 1961 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the article on "Make-up" had a page of photographs of Otis Skinner in a dozen roles, including Hajjj (the actual name of Hafiz's character - the real "Hafiz" is the greatest of Persia's poets).
Still the studio went to great lengths - they made it a color film (a rarity for Colman, by the way). They gave the two other best parts to the capable Edward Arnold as the evil Vizier, and to Marlene Dietrich as the Vizier's sexy (and bored) wife. This film reunited James Craig and Arnold (formerly together in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER) with Craig as the Caliph. Except for romancing Joy Page as Colman's daughter, Craig really has little to do here. He's a target for Arnold's ambitious murder plans. Old Harry Davenport is the wise old Chancellor - a comparative figure of good to the evil Arnold.
It's serviceable and no more. You watch KISMET and you won't be bored, but you will not be enthralled by it. Colman does try to bring some additional juice to Hafiz. When threatened with banishment he seems genuinely surprised, hurt, and horrified - like being told he will now be a fish out of water, although he can live anywhere else in the empire. There are also some humorous moments, such as the threatened plan to punish Colman (in this film he is threatened with punishment several times) by cutting off his hands - he was captured as a thief. His anticipated looks at this imprisoned, chained down fists are surprisingly amusing. But the screenplay keeps going from mock philosophy to comedy to romance to melodrama. The ride is made as smooth as possible, but it seems like it's on old fashioned back roads.
So, I will say the film can be watched - but stick to THE LATE GEORGE APLEY or RANDOM HARVEST or A DOUBLE LIFE or CHAMPAIGN FOR CAESAR to get a better glimpse at Colman's acting strengths. He was just treading water here.
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