Sunday, March 29, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Kismet (1944) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Anyone looking for pure escapism at this challenging time will find KISMET (1944) to be the perfect diversion. Happiily, it's available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

MGM made this sumptuous version of KISMET to entertain audiences during WWII, and it continues to delight today. While lacking the gorgeous score of MGM's 1955 version -- which I reviewed in both 2013 and 2014 -- it makes up for that with a terrific cast and Technicolor cinematography by the great Charles Rosher.

Ronald Colman stars as Hafiz, "King of the Beggars" by day who by night disguises himself as another kind of king to court Jamilla (Marlene Dietrich), an independent-minded concubine of the Grand Vizier (Edward Arnold).

Hafiz's daughter Marsinah (Joy Page of CASABLANCA and BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY) has fallen in love with the royal gardener's son (James Craig). Marsinah doesn't realize that her love is actually the Caliph, the highest ruler of the entire kingdom, and that he plans to make her his queen.

These mistaken identities, combined with the plotting of the evil Grand Vizier, cause all manner of complications before true love can find its way.

KISMET is visually dazzling from the impressive matte paintings -- so beautiful that one doesn't mind simultaneously recognizing the backgrounds are fake -- to the costumes and the colorful dancing. The whirling dancing girls of the palace banquet are visually thrilling -- and then to top it all off, in dances Dietrich herself, with her legs painted in gold. I'm actually a bit surprised her suggestive costume got past the censors; her number is really something.

And speaking of an interesting entrance, if you look very carefully in the background when Marsinah first arrives at the palace, you'll notice that one of her handmaidens is none other than Yvonne DeCarlo, who would soon find stardom in SALOME, WHERE SHE DANCED (1945).

Colman and Dietrich are perfect as the man of many disguises and the woman who delights in him, and Page is sweet and lovely as Marsinah. Since I've always had a soft spot for James Craig, the moment when he's finally reunited with his love at movie's end is quite thrilling.

My one complaint is I think this 100-minute movie could have been pared down by 10 minutes or so, as the machinations start to drag out in the last third of the movie, but other than that I found it a delightful escapist fantasy, produced with MGM's typical high-end production values. That includes a couple of songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg (THE WIZARD OF OZ); they're not in any way memorable in the way of the later musical version, but they work well, particularly Marsinah's haunting song near the end (with Doreen Tryden dubbing Page).

As a side note, Dietrich's Sydney Guilaroff hairstyles in this are even more complicated than the ones he designed for Ginger Rogers in WEEK-END AT THE WALDORF (1945) the following year, and that's saying something!

KISMET was directed by William Dieterle from a screenplay by John Meehan, based on the play by Edward Knoblock.

The supporting cast includes Harry Davenport, Robert Warwick, Florence Bates, Hugh Herbert, and Hobart Cavanaugh, with Frank Morgan providing the opening narration. Familiar faces abound in small roles, including Dan Seymour, Nestor Paiva, Charles Middleton, Pedro de Cordoba, Cy Kendall, and Morris Ankrum, to name just a few.

KISMET was first released by the Warner Archive a decade ago, but it remains available today, manufactured on demand. The Warner Archive print is lovely, with excellent sound. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

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