More than real
Hollywood's thousand and one nights
By Darius Kadivar
November 25, 2002
The truth is not revealed in one dream, but in many...
-- Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Il
Fiore delle Mille e Una Notte" (Thousand and One Nights )
Often situated in geographically uncertain Middle Eastern countries most films
dealing with the 1001 nights tales are indifferently either set in Iraq's Old Baghdad
(which was actually under Persian rule) or the enchanting city of Isfahan in Persia.
However let's face it, most of these movies were meant to be unpretentious yet
colourful and costly, often confusing Persia and Arabia on the map. They were a pretext
for exotic adventures which ended happily with the hero (Alladin, or Ali Baba) winning
the heart of a princess or harem girl in a never never land of flying carpets and
"A Thousand and One Nights" (1945) here in its spanish
release under the title "Aladino y la Lampara Maravillosa" (Aladdin and
the Marvelous Lamp).
thousand and One Nights" is the title of Alfred E. Green's 1945 film starring
Cornel Wilde as Aladdin who seeks the love of Persian Princess Armina, (Adèle
Jergens), but his romance is interrupted at every possible turn by a Woman Genie
(Evelyn Keyes), who also has fallen in love with him.
"I'll keep watching you ..." The genie (Evelyn Keyes)
follows Aladdin's (Cornel Wilde) every move.
There are a few things which might be considered strange by today's standards,
like a Persian princess with blonde hair, and the racial references are all muddled,
but this is to some extent a spoof on the European "Arabian Nights" take
on Persian legend. So it is not wholly incompatible.
The most stunning thing is the art direction, which was Oscar nominated, and this
manifests itself in the great sets and also the costumes. Technicolor was made for
films like this and give a quality that is almost more than real. The script seems
very contemporary and not at all 1940s, and Phil Silvers with a pair of anachronistic
spectacles seems like an American tourist placed in the period setting to give modern
audiences some point of identification.
Phil Silvers (left) follows Cornel Wilde's (Alladin) steps in
this exotic adventure.
He and Wilde sparkle throughout the movie, as do panto villains Hoey and Van Zandt
and the two beautiful ladies playing the Princess and the Genie. Interestingly actor
Rex Ingram who also played a Genie in Alexander Korda's 1940 classic remake of "
The Thief of Bagdad " (See "Ahmad,
Abu and Jafar") makes an appearance in this movie. Also keep a keen eye
open and you will notice Shelly Winters playing a handmaiden!
There's also Disney's 1992 favorite hero "Aladdin",
an animated musical to which contribute the voices of famous stars like Robin
Williams, Jonathan Freeman, or Gilbert Gottfried and includes humour and romance
as well (Most Disney Classics are like that too!)
Walt Disney Studios
The story takes place in the poor town of Agrabah, where "street rat"
Aladdin (Scott Weinger) and his Monkey Abu live. They are poor and must steal food
to survive on the streets. Aladdin falls in love with the Sultan's daughter Jasmine
(Linda Larkin) and the two eventually become friends.
By royal orders, it is time for Jasmine to get married (and it must be too a prince
ONLY!). However She does not want to rush and wants to wait for her true love too
come. Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) is the Sultan's "trustworthy" Vizier who
wants to rule the world and gain the power of being a Sultan. However, he needs the
"magic lamp" to do this, so he gets Aladdin to get the lamp for him in
the "Cave of Wonders".
Aladdin finds the lamp and meets the famous and humourus "Genie of the Lamp"
(Robin Williams). The Genie changes Aladdin to a prince so he can gain the love of
Princess Jasmine. Jasmine and Aladdin fall in love together, but when Jafar's sidekick
parrott Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) gets ahold of the lamp and Jafar rules Agrabah,
it is going to take Aladdin's courage and bravery (With the help of the Genie) to
defeat Jafar and save Agrabah!
The film won Academy Awards for Best Song ("A Whole New World") and
Best Original Score. Interestingly The legendary city of Agrabah with its mud bricked
architecture, blue Mosques and Palaces is actually directly inspired by photo's taken
by an iranian cartoonist working at Disney Studio's from his hometown Isphahan in
Iran . Also when Aladdin finds the " Cave of Wonders " a keen eye can clearly
identify relics of Persepolis ( the palace of our Persian Kings ) in the form of
Columns and Palace doors buried under tons of Gold coins and sparkling gems.
Ali Baba has a name fit for adventure and it is no wonder that he appears
in a number of movies. First in "Ali
Baba and the 40 Thieves" (1944) Directed by Arthur Lubin with Maria Montez
(Amara) , John Hall (Ali Baba) and Turhan Bey.
Notice the background the Persian looking mosque minaret.
It follows the exploits of the Caliph of Baghdad's son, who runs off into the
desert after his father is killed by raiding Mongols. There he encounters the legendary
40 thieves and watches in amazement as their command, "Open Sesame," magically
parts a solid rock wall, revealing a cavernous hiding place filled with treasures.
He is adopted by the thieves, dubbed "Ali Baba," and grows up to be their
leader. As an adult, Ali sets out to avenge his father's death and to free his land
from the reigning Mongols.
Maria Montez stars as Amara, a Baghdad beauty, who is one of the main reasons
of the fight between the Mongol Khan Hulagu and Ali Baba. A funny anecdote about
the difficulties encountered in making the film concerns Maria Montez's contract
that stipulated that she would never accept to do scenes or scene parts against her
For instance, the director Arthur Lubin tried to convince her of appearing naked
inside of a pool, the problem was only solved when Lubin accepted to put her in a
bubble bath. Also before beginning work on what was to become the most popular and
commercial movie of its time, Maria said to the media: "According to my horoscope,
the name I will have in this movie will not augur me success." The producers
thought Montez wanted to change the name they assigned her and they allowed her to
Even though this movie dates from the 40's it was previewed in movie theaters
worldwide for commercial release a number of times as this 1973 Spanish poster release
(Ali Baba y los 40 ladrones) testifies. Also notice clearly in the background the
Persian looking mosque minaret.
Ali Baba also appears in another "hocus pocus" sequal "The
Son of Ali Baba" in 1952, this time with Tony Curtis
in the title role.
Tony Curtis and beautiful Piper Laurie in the "Son of Ali
It also allows colorful appearances of Hollywood second roles like Russian immigrant
actor Leon Belasco ( actually Leonid Simeonovich Berladsky ) as "Babu"
whose turbaned funny face and gimmiks are enough to justify his presence in this
Leon Belasco is Babu
William Reynolds is Mustapha, Kashma's friend and sidekick. As for beautiful Susan
Cabot she portrays the beautiful but unpredictable Tara. As the story goes In medieval
Persia, Kashma Baba (Tony Curtis) is a military cadet by day and a roisterer by night.
Kashma Baba (Tony Curtis) is a military cadet
The morning after a rowdy banquet, Kiki (Piper Laurie), an escaped slave, takes
shelter under Kashma's roof. Word comes that the wicked Caliph (Victor Jory) is looking
for her; but Kashma, by this time in love, flees with her to his father's palace.
Alas, there's more to Kiki than meets the eye. The greedy Caliph attempts to steal
Ali Baba's(Morris Ankrum) treasure. Kashma thwarts the Caliphs plans. Yet will the
evil schemers succeed? The sons of the Forty Thieves are called to the rescue!
What is the cunning Tara (Susan Cabot) up to?
Tony Curtis's swordmanship are equaled by his good looks and he certainly seems
to enjoy playing the lead role and winning the hearts and lips of his female co-star
Another original appearance of Ali Baba can be viewed in comic Eddie Cantor's
1937 parody of Ali Baba "Ali Baba goes to town" where the
Turbans of the Caliphs are as big as the domes of their mosques and palaces. The
movie is quite funny. It is about a man (Eddie Cantor) working on the set of Arabian
Nights who falls asleep and dreams he's back in Baghdad as Ali Baba, an advisor to
the Sultan. In a spoof of Roosevelt's New Deal, he organizes work programs, taxes
the rich and abolishes the army.
Eddie Cantor's Parody of the Ali Baba Legend
Last but not least of the 1001 Night tales, heroine Princess Sherehazade makes
two major movie appearances. The first in the film the "Song
of Scheherazade" (1947) based on the Russian composer Rimsky Korsakov's
music and the Woman who inspired him.
French Hollywood star Jean-Pierre Aumont stars as the Russian composer in his
youth as a officer in the Russian navy who falls in love with a manipulative femme
fatale portrayed by exotically beautiful Yvonne De Carlo. The blend of technicolor
and song along with the exotic beauty and dancing skills of DeCarlo make "Scheherazade"
a must see for those who thrill to great musical entertainment.
Yvonne De Carlo often portrayed Middle Eastern belly dancers
as in the "Song for Scheherazade"
Scherehazade makes another appearance in a less memorable film with no other than
beautiful Catherine Zeta Jones (yes Mrs. Michael Douglas). French director Philippe
de Broca 1990 movie "The Thousand and One Nights" attempts to tell
the story through Scheherazade own experiences. Indeed the latter ends up by actually
taking part to her own tales.
Through her journey she meets all the great heroes like Sinbad (Vittorio Gassman)
and kings like Shahriar (Thierry Lhermitte), and is helped on her journey by Aladdin
(Stéphane Freiss) and Jimmy Genious (Gérard Jugnot) a Genie who has
been banished from the middle ages and is living in 1990 London and uses his TV to
This was Zeta Jones's very first movie appearance which was actually a flop. It
is no wonder it is unavailable on video. However her beauty seems fit for Scheherazade
and catches up for most of the liberties and anachronisms in the plot.
Cornel Wilde once again appears in a film set in ancient Persia, this time as
Omar Khayyam in "The
Life, Loves and Adventures of Omar Khayyam" (1957) directed
by William Dieterle. Although details of Khayyam's life are unknown, this movie invents
one for him that include his real achievements - inventing a new calendar and of
course penning poems. Thus the film provides us with a splendid cinematic introduction
to Persia's greatest poet.
Omar Khayyam (Cornel Wilde) as Hollywood poet and hero
Khayyam appears as a compassionate and noble figure whose extraordinary literary
talent and all-encompassing intellect displayed no natural boundary. Khayyam is admirably
portrayed as a fascinating personality. The casting of the movie is exceptional and
we are treated to fine supporting performances by distinguished actors such as as
Michael Rennie and Sebastian Cabot among others.
The movie also attempts to explore key historical issues surrounding the life
and times of Khayyam. We learn about the Byzantine Roman Empire's war with Persia
involving an alliance composed of Bulgars, Greeks, Franks and Lombards. We also confront
a number of other historical and scientific issues in this film that are portrayed
with an interesting admixture of detail and insight that seems to be unusual for
such Hollywood productions.
Khayyam additionally provides us with a fascinating glimpse of the Assasins of
Syria, and their leader Hasani (actually Hassan Sabah and his infamous "Hashashin"
sect). This film has Khayyam romancing a sultan's bride Sharain (Debra Paget) and
foiling the assassin sect's plot to kill the Shah's son Prince Malik (John Derek).
As an advisor to the Persian Shah (Raymond Massey), Khayyam efforts to root the Assassins
out of their extrodinary mountain fortress.
Omar Khayyam's portrayal in William Dieterle's film is certainly highly exagerated
especially regarding his military skills and the real Khayyam was probably more in
phase with the image depicted by Amin Maalouf in his bestselling novel "Samarkand".
However the film is truly a joy to watch as a Technicolor Spectacle and contains
all the ingredients that make up an exciting Oriental Tale.
Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Il Fiore delle Mille e Una Notte" (Thousand and
One Nights) was released in English under the title of "Arabian
Nights" or "Les Mille et Une Nuits" in French. It is a more personal
and audacious interpretation by the filmmaker than an accurate account of Scherehazade's
tales and certainly less politically correct given its erotic illustration as compared
to the glossy Hollywood 1945 version with Cornel Wilde.
Pasolini's interpretation of a Thousand and One Nights
Nights" was prized at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival with the Special Grand
Jury Prize. The film is meant to be sensual and humorous tale, Pasolini follows the
adventures and the rise of a young Pelligrini slave. Around its history, we see the
episodes simultaneously magical, mysterious and odd inspired from Persian, Egyptian
and Indian cultures of the 9th century.
This film obscures the boundaries between myth, dream and cinema and mixes the
three together. As tales of myth, the interwoven stories in this film act as lessons
of love and heartbreak, collective dreams and fantasies of staggering beauty.
Destiny is a major theme in this film, as though human beings all live the same
lives, as though humankind's greatest desires and fears are gifts and curses from
the gods -- the end residue remaining in the beauty and wisdom of poetry, spoken
Ennio Morricone has created some very beautiful music for this film. The harp
strings overwhelm us unexpectedly when we first encounter the story of the pigeon
and the dove. The settings are amazing, throughout Yemen, Ethiopia, Iran and other
Vincente Minnelli's 1955 technicolor adaptation of a Broadway musical Hit "Kismet"
is an enchanting fairy tale about a vagabond poet Hajji (Howard Keel) and
his beautiful daughter who set the ancient city of Baghdad on its ear. The music
includes famous musical scores like "Stranger in Paradise", "Baubles,
Bangles and Beads" and "This is My Beloved."
Hajji (Howard Keel) tries out his vocal cords in the desert
Howard Keel plays the witty poet-beggar whose quick tongue is forever getting
him into trouble-and out again. Masquerading as Hajj, a famous sorcerer with magical
powers, he had just the right amount of charm and bravado to fool a wicked Wazir
(Sebastian Cabot) and turn a fair lady's head (Dolores Gray).
Many other minor films have been made based on Thousand and One Nights it would be
impossible to mention them all. However two more deserve notice. One is "Ali
Baba et les Quarante Voleurs " with French film comic Fernandel playing the
title role shot in Morroco in the 1950s, and Ray Harryhausen's "Sinbad"
Adventure Sequals. (See "Come
with the wind").
However the stories in these tales are so rich in imagery, fun, adventure and
universal symbolism that it is no wonder that good old King Shahriar refused to behead
his beautiful Sheherazade after her "One Thousand and One Nights" of storytelling
and decided to marry her instead. Scherehazade's character is also a tribute to women
in that their intelligence and imagination will always have the upperhand over the
brutality and wrath of men.
That is probably why the enchantments of these these oriental tales will continue
to fascinate spectators of all ages and inspire generations of movie makers worldwide
thirsty for adventure, fantasy, harem girls, a dashing hero and a beautiful exotic
Persian Princess waiting to be rescued from the hands of an evil Vizir.
Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie Final kiss in "The
Son of Ali Baba" (1952).
All's Well that Ends Well
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