Thursday, July 09, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Arabian Nights (1942) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The lavish Technicolor adventure ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942) will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber on July 21st.

This was the first of half a dozen films costarring Jon Hall and Maria Montez, and it was my first time to see it. I was quite looking forward to it, and I'm happy to say it did not disappoint. The timing could not be more perfect for escapist fantasy, and ARABIAN NIGHTS left this viewer quite happy.

Kino Lorber cleverly used a plain black and white Blu-ray menu with drawings of the characters; it serves as a perfect "palate cleanser," with the Technicolor opening credits providing a stunning contrast. The credits are incredibly beautiful, starting with a unique rendition of the Universal Pictures logo; from there, the entire movie, Universal's first film in three-strip Technicolor, is a visual knockout.

The movie begins with a group of harem girls hearing the story of the Arabian Nights. Among the half-dozen girls is Elyse Knox, who was the mother of Mark Harmon; she's recently been reviewed here in TANKS A MILLION (1941) and HAY FOOT (1942).

In flashback we hear the story of Haroun Al-Raschid (Hall) and his brother Kamar (Leif Erickson of THE HIGH CHAPARRAL), who are battling for the throne. Haroun is wounded in a battle with his brother's supporters but is rescued by a troupe of traveling carnival performers, including Scheherazade (Montez) and Ali (Sabu).

Scheherazade believes it is her destiny to marry a prince and is already engaged to Kamar, who takes the throne after Haroun disappears. However, she doesn't love Kamar and finds herself instead very attracted to Haroun, not realizing that he's the true caliph.

There are all manner of adventures as Kamar's henchman Nadan (Edgar Barrier) plots to remove Scheherazade from Kamar's life and Haroun searches for a way to regain his throne.

I found it all a lot of fun, with a couple of surprisingly brutal moments fortunately balanced out by some nice humor. There's a funny gag with an elderly Aladdin (John Qualen) and Sinbad (Shemp Howard) trading stories of their adventures in days gone by, with Aladdin hoping that every lamp he comes across will reunite him with a genie.

Scenes such as Haroun swinging on a rope to knock a villain off his horse and rescue Scheherazade made me think that this might have been one of the films which helped inspire George Lucas making STAR WARS (1977). There's something magical about a moment like that, and I liked imagining how that scene and the movie as a whole must have been received by war-weary audiences at Christmas 1942. It was certainly balm for my pandemic-weary soul in 2020.

Hall has a nice presence in the lead, while Montez isn't a particularly good actress, but with her good looks it doesn't take much to pull off a role like this. She's stunning. (That said, I confess I found myself wishing for Yvonne DeCarlo in the lead, but she was still playing bit roles in 1942.) Sabu is quite engaging as Haroun's resourceful new friend, and the cast also includes names such as Turhan Bey, Billy Gilbert, Richard Lane, Thomas Gomez, Robert Greig, and Charles Coleman. Acquanetta is one of the harem girls.

This film would be worth seeing simply for the Oscar-nominated Technicolor photography (by Milton Krasner) and the lavish sets, matte paintings, and costumes, but, as described above, it's also quite an enjoyable tale. The screenplay by Michael Hogan, based on his own story, is fun and director John Rawlins keeps things moving along for a brisk 86 minutes. Frank Skinner contributed a robust score.

The Kino Lorber picture and sound quality are both top notch. (Anyone wanting to get an idea of the picture quality can check out the screen captures at DVD Beaver.) It's an absolute treat visually. I've seen some really good Blu-rays this year, most recently ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948) from the Warner Archive Collection, and this print takes its place among the best of 2020. It's a must for anyone who loves '40s Technicolor escapism.

The disc includes the trailer, a gallery of trailers for three additional films available from Kino Lorber, and a commentary track by Phillipa Berry.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

6 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

ARABIAN NIGHTS is a deal of silly fun, no doubt.

But this...."Montez isn't a particularly good actress"... might be the nicest thing anyone ever said about Maria Montez's acting.

5:33 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Not at all -- people loved her, that is why she was a star. For further information, she did not have a command of the language and learned her parts, at least in the early going, phonetically.

6:53 PM  
Blogger mel said...

In the funny world of today, political correctness would dictate that only Arab actors and actresses could be used...

1:51 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Mel, you are right, and the best anyone can say to that crowd of nincompoops is who cares.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yvonne DeCarlo would have made the film perfect for me, but I can live with Maria Montez LOL. I'm really looking forward to ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES (1944) after enjoying this one!

Mel, regarding casting, I saw an amusing reaction to the casting of Jude Law in a new film as Captain Hook, joking that he should not play the role as he's not actually missing a hand. I do feel at times like people have forgotten the concept of acting...that it's all about pretending to be something you're not. Ah, well. That's life in 2020 for you.

Best wishes,
Laura

3:18 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Fantastic comment, Laura, relative to Captain Hook's hand; he is Mr. Darling, no hand missing. People are stomach-churning crazy these days.

4:16 PM  

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