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Enjoyable romp in Ancient Egypt with Maria Montez and Jon Hall
Brian Camp12 September 2009
SUDAN (1945) was the sixth and final film in a series of Technicolor costume adventures made by Universal Pictures from 1942-45 which starred the duo of Jon Hall and Maria Montez. The formula for these films included a lot of action, some comedy, a smattering of romance, and an exotic setting created on the Universal backlot. The earlier films were ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942), WHITE SAVAGE (1943), ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES (1944), COBRA WOMAN (1944), and GYPSY WILDCAT (1944).

SUDAN stars Montez as Naila, the daughter of the monarch of a small Egyptian city on the Nile who takes over after her father is murdered. She goes on an undercover mission to find Herua, the rebel leader who is blamed for the murder. She's captured, branded with the "S" mark of a slave (who knew the Ancient Egyptians used the Roman alphabet?), and sold to a slaver. There's a lot of escape, recapture and release in this one. At some point she is aided by two pickpockets, Merab and Nebka, played by Jon Hall and Andy Devine, one of whom (Hall) falls in love with her. She races her speedy golden stallion in a horse race and beats the handsome challenger (Turhan Bey) who also falls in love with her and takes her to his secret outpost in the mountains, a haven for escaped slaves. When she learns his identity, she has a crisis of conscience. Little does she know (as the viewers have known practically from the start) that her father's "trusted" adviser, Horadef (George Zucco), has been behind the evil doings all along, eager to get his hands on the throne and get rid of the young queen. At one point, Merab is imprisoned by Horadef and tortured by being bound to a large wheel and slowly "stretched." It looks less like torture than a simple chiropractic exercise and Hall comes out of it quite relaxed and seemingly sorry it ended.

There's quite a lot of action in this, with excellent second unit work shot on desert and mountain locations in the dry regions of southern California far to the east of Los Angeles and made to resemble Egypt's deserts and locations along the Nile. There's an exciting and well-staged horse race that may not rival the chariot race in BEN-HUR, but offers ample thrills for a comparatively low-budget film like this. The illusion of Ancient Egypt is further created by expert matte paintings used to supplement the studio sets. The illusion is, however, sometimes shattered by Andy Devine's comic antics, which would seem more at home in a western.

Montez is pretty and glamorous and seems unusually tolerant of the sweet nothings continually uttered to her first by Hall and then by Bey. The resulting romantic triangle has a rather startling resolution given the pattern established by the previous five outings for the starring team. George Zucco makes a suitably oily villain and familiar character actors pepper the proceedings, including the Three Stooges' constant foil, Philip Van Zandt, who plays one of Zucco's weasel-like henchmen. Tor Johnson, a famous wrestler and member of Ed Wood's notorious stock company, is listed in the cast as a "slaver" and is recognizable only by his bulk in one scene. The man credited as the film's Dialogue Director is none other than Stacy Keach, the father of the actor famous for playing Mike Hammer on TV in the 1980s.

This may not have the sheer copious entertainment value of ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES and COBRA WOMAN, but it's a novelty item that certainly deserves a look. It may not have the budget of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and LAND OF THE PHARAOHS, but it certainly deserves to be grouped with them as one of Hollywood's rare forays into the most ancient of mankind's advanced civilizations (at least among the ones acknowledged by establishment historians). If there's a scene that explains why the film is called SUDAN, after Egypt's southern neighbor, a locale that never figures in the plot, it wasn't included in the print I saw.

I've seen four of the five earlier Hall-Montez teamings. I'm only missing WHITE SAVAGE, which, for some reason, never got revived on television when I was watching (and taping) all the others.
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Desert Romance with a Strong Western Generic Flavor
l_rawjalaurence29 July 2016
Ostensibly set in the Arabian desert, the third in a series of highly profitable films produced by Universal with Maria Montez, Jon Hall, and Turhan Bey (the other two being ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942), and ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES (1944), SUDAN is a formulaic romance with a disguised princess sold into slavery (Montez), a rebel leader suspected of killing her father (Bey) and a pickpocket with romantic intentions (Hall) aided and abetted by his comic sidekick (Amdy Devine). Add to that George Zucco in one of his hissable villain roles - and ludicrous costumes - and you have all the ingredients for another rip-roaring epic with plenty of fights and a rousing musical score (by Milton Rosen).

In truth John Rawlins's production doesn't have much to do with the mystic East. Shot in and around Los Angeles, its chase-sequences, with horses galloping across the sun-drenched desert, have more in common with the Western. Likewise the shots of the lovers (Montez, Bey) embracing in the mountains at night, with the peaks stretching like fingers into cloudless skies.

The story has clear propaganda elements: at one point Bey's Herua talks about ridding the world of "evil hours" while ensuring that his people will make Naila (Montez) "forget what has happened." When the villains have been vanquished, and the lovers ride off into the sunset, a heavenly choir strikes up another patriotic song praising freedom that exists like "the wild wind," protecting a people "always proud and free," and "that's the way we will remain," "fighting together for ever." The two lovers might be non-white (in the accepted racial sense of the term), but Rawlins's film projects a transcultural message; in the peace following six years of bitter war everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, will be able to live together harmoniously.

This wish might be idealistic, but it provides a suitably climactic coda to a highly entertaining adventure that is more about America's future than elsewhere.
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Campy fun!
JohnHowardReid14 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Very pleasant fantasy nonsense superbly photographed in most attractive Technicolor hues. Jon Hall as usual is hopeless but the rest of the players, even Turhan Bey (pronounced "Two Ron Bay), have a good time and Maria Montez of course acts as if she were a queen to the manner born. The costumes and sets are most attractive and there is plenty of unsophisticated action and even a scene where MM is branded (which we are surprised got past the kiddies' matinee censors). Film has been produced on a fair-sized budget, despite a great many obvious glass shots. And if the script and dialogue iare juvenile and the humor mostly forced (though there are one or two amusing lines) Rawlins has directed it all with plenty of pace and often a visual eye. The music score is unusually original instead of derivative for Universal and it too is as pleasant to the ear as Robinson's photography to the eye.

OTHER VIEWS: As with all the Montez-Hall movies, even the trailer is a real hoot. "I rule the city of Khemmis now!" exclaims that wonderfully deep-dyed villain George Zucco. "The only treason is to defy me!" Now that he has finally revealed his true colors to Maria, he cannot disguise his glee as he instructs his torturers to give Jon Hall, spreadeagled on the rack, "Another turn!" But the campiest line of all falls to Turhan Bey (delivered with a perfectly straight face) as he suggests to our "more alluring, more bewitching" Montez, "I suppose you think it strange that I interfered with your execution?"
  • JHR writing as George Addison.
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No desert song playing over this sandy atmosphere.
mark.waltz6 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
With a very impish way of presenting its adventurous story, this is another film that would have pleased me a great the age of 10! Now, it's just another one of those silly sword and sandal adventures that are passable time fillers but not much else. It's the story of a newly crowned desert queen (the always striking but emotionally dead Maria Montez) who gets to wear Cleopatra type head dresses as she is manipulated by her father's trusted assistant (George Zucco) who has murdered the king and framed lowly pickpocket Jon Hall who saved the queen when Zucco attempted to banish her.

Colorful but juvenile, this is yet another reunion for Hall, Montez, Turhan Bey and Andy Devine, oh so silly as Hall's sidekick, complete with silly goatee and Buster Brown bob. Better in scope than the other Montez/Hall pairings, this has long views of endless desert vistas, and seems to be a combination of various places periods rolled into one. It's one of the silliest if this genre, not as camp as "Cobra Woman", but mixing the Arabian Knights feeling with that of a biblical epic, it seems to be taking place in some parallel universe. Montez tones her performance way down, often quite silent, and leaving the hamminess to veteran villain Zucco.

Technically, this is excellent, yet it was the very last of the colorful Montez/Hall epics, with "A Night in Paradise" closing off this series the following year with mostly different actors, including Merle Oberon in Montez's place. Andy Devine (if it is possible) becomes even more cartoonish here than in previous films at Universal of the genre. Still, there are some excellent effects, particularly an intense rock slide which takes place as the heroes and villains have a sword fight which leads to the final clinch over, you guessed it, a desert song.
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