Saturday, June 18, 2016

SON OF ALI BABA (1952), ALI BABA AND THE SEVEN SARACENS (1964)




PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*



Here are two pieces of cheese: one American, one Italian, and both invoking the name of the Arabian character Ali Baba-- though it seems that the peplum originally used the name of "Sindbad."

SON OF ALI BABA presents Tony Curtis as Kashma Baba, whose dad was the original leader of the Forty Thieves-- and not, as in the Arabian Night, a fellow who ended up bringing doom to the thief-band. This bit of narrative confusion extends to every other aspect of this rather dull swashbuckler, for its script mingles aspects of DON Q SON OF ZORRO (hero is a member of a military guard, framed for wrongdoing) to Robin Hood. (One of the hero's prominent aides is a female archer, seen above with Curtis and another actor, who wears attire more befitting medieval England than medieval Araby).

In cinematic circles, the film became the source of a popular joke at the expense of Curtis' Bronx accent, in that he supposedly speaks the line "Yondah lies the palace of my faddah da king." Curtis' accent isn't the least convincing as an Arabian prince, but it's no worse than that of anyone else in the film, and he doesn't even speak the supposed line.

Though some Ali Baba tales referenced the one metaphenomenal aspect of the original tale-- the cave whose door magically opens to give the 40 thieves a hiding place-- there's no reference to that story-element. The original Ali and the thieves appear as old men, whose role is simply to advise the fierce young Kashma and his allies against their enemies. This is such a dull by-the-numbers swashbuckler that not even the presence of several sultry temptresses (among them Piper Laurie and Susan Cabot) can assuage the tedium.





According to IMDB director Emimmo Salvi-- perhaps best known for DAVID AND GOLIATH-- made a 1962 fantasy-film called THE SEVEN TASKS OF ALI BABA, though from descriptions it doesn't sound like it had much to do with the original Arabian Night. Then this film, originally SIMBAD CONTRO I SETTE SARACENI, was retitled, possibly because the 1964 shared some of the same cast as the earlier film. Certainly neither of the Arabian Nights characters inspired anything about this story, which is simply about medieval Arab warlords fighting one another for supremacy, with Ali Baba (Dan Harrison) as the good warrior and Omar (Gordon Mitchell, seen above) as the bad warrior.

The flick is just as formulaic as SON OF ALI BABA, but the action is better mounted and the costumes, while probably not accurate, don't look like they were recycled from films about other historical periods. The most interesting thing about SARACENS is that it's one of the few times that hostility between the film's "heroine" and "villainess" actually eventuated in a little hand-to-hand violence. Usually in this type of Italian film, the heroine's helplessness is emphasized, but the character of Fatima challenges bad-girl Farida at least twice to a fight, and the film delivers the claw-fest, though it's not a particularly good one. Another rarity is a scene in which the girls of Omar's harem rebel and beat up their guards, though this too is rather weak tea.

Though the original screenplay can't possibly have predicated on the story of Ali Baba, by sheer coincidence an unusual door plays a big part in the tale. But rather than a magical cave-entrance, it's a huge rock door in Omar's fortress that is raised and lowered by mechanical devices. Sometimes devices like this carry an "uncanny" vibe, but in this case it's a purely naturalistic contrivance.

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