Evelyn Keyes is magic in... A Thousand and One Nights (1945)

TCM has introduced me to countless movies, as I'm sure it has to many others. I owe the majority of my film knowledge to the channel, and while not every film is an absolute gem, there are quite a few that turn out to be spectacular: Kiss Me, Kate, Vivacious Lady, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Rebecca... and today's film, 1001 Nights. If you've never heard of it, I'm not surprised, although I'm certainly hoping to persuade you to give it a chance. A comedic take on the familiar Arabian Nights-style fare, 1001 Nights is a movie that deserves to be more well-known. It's not even released on DVD! While it resides in my DVR, I had to rent it on Amazon Instant just to get my screenshots -- there was no way I was taking photos of my TV on this one, the Technicolor is seriously that good. Let's get to it!

Petty thief Abdullah (Phil Silvers) makes the rounds in the village marketplace, stealing jewelry and wallets left and right. The villagers think he is crazy because he claims to have been born 1,200 years too early -- he speaks in 1940's slang and wears glasses centuries before they're invented. He even has knowledge of Lana Turner! His friend Aladdin (Cornel Wilde), a vagabond singer, tries to get him to stop stealing, but Abdullah doesn't see the harm in it. They're interrupted when the
mysterious Princess Armina (Adele Jergens) passes through, hidden in a covered litter. No one outside of the palace walls is allowed to see the princess without her veil, an idea that intrigues the adventurous Aladdin: "A beautiful face that no man has ever seen? To look upon it would be worth the price of death!" "Yeah, but then who are you going to tell it to?" Abdullah remarks. Creating a distraction, Aladdin is able to sneak into the litter, shocking the princess. She's quickly pacified, though, once
Aladdin gives his spiel about only wanting to get a glimpse at her face, therefore seeing "heaven" before he dies. It's pretty cheesy, but it works. Armina lets him remove her veil, and even gives in when he surprises her with a kiss before slipping away. It's a little disbelieving that Armina wouldn't just kick this amorous stranger out on his ear, but I've never had Cornel Wilde try to woo me, so...

At the palace, the Sultan (Dennis Hoey) is recovering from an attack by his evil twin brother, Hadji. Despite his brother proving how far he would go to take over the palace, the Sultan let Armina convince him to only banish Hadji, a stupid move when we see that Hadji violated his banishment and sneaked back into the palace. Working with the Grand Wazir Abu-Hassan (Philip Van Zandt), Hadji holds his brother captive and takes his place without anyone noticing. In exchange for his help, the Wazir is promised Armina's hand in marriage once the time is right.

That evening in the palace garden, Armina's servant and close friend Novira (Dusty Anderson) notices how distracted the princess has become. Armina asks her if she's heard of a vagabond named Aladdin, but she doesn't like it when Novira says that Aladdin's singing is popular with the ladies, even causing a few to remove their veils for him. Naturally, Aladdin picks this time to show up and serenade the princess. While some could classify 1001 Nights as a musical comedy, I'm not
sure I would -- Aladdin is the only one who sings and he has just three short songs, and two of them stem from people asking him to sing because they know he's good at it. However, the songs do relate to his situation, becoming an extension of his feelings like the average musical does. When he sings to Armina, it's pure flirtation. She finds it romantic, yet she also confronts him about the possibility that he tricked her into lowering her veil. He assures her that he's acting on genuine emotion, but before that
can go any further, guards rush in and imprison him for "annoying the princess." In the dungeon, Aladdin finds Abdullah, who was finally caught for his larceny. Armina tries to see her father, but Hadji tells his guards to let no one into his rooms. Seeing how frustrated her mistress is, Novira offers to flirt with one of the prison guards in order to sneak the cell key in to Aladdin. The plan works, but the guys' escape is noticed before they leave the palace. A chase on horseback ensues, resulting in Aladdin and Abdullah hiding in a cave until the coast is clear.

Exploring the cave, the guys meet Kofir, an old sorcerer who appears to have been waiting for them. He saw them coming in his giant crystal, and proves it by showing them Armina in her room at that moment. "This guy's run into television and don't know it!" Abdullah humorously exclaims. Kofir convinces the men to go deep into the cave and retrieve a lamp, promising to help reunite Armina and Aladdin if they succeed. Abdullah isn't keen on the journey, especially when he spots a
giant (Rex Ingram, reprising his role from 1940's Thief of Baghdad). Aladdin is able to secure the lamp, and the two play a game of hide and seek with the intimidating giant. They outrun him, but discover that Kofir has moved a boulder and trapped them -- if they turn over the lamp, he'll free them. Aladdin is suspicious of Kofir, though, and refuses, so the sorcerer leaves them to die of starvation.

Hearing a woman's voice, Aladdin is drawn to the lamp and encounters Babs (Evelyn Keyes), the lamp's genie. She likes the way Aladdin looks and encourages him to rub the lamp. He's mystified when she's able to transfer them outside of the cave, asking "Can you always do things like that?" "Oh, I'll do even better, now that my heart's in it!" Sleeping this whole time, Abdullah wakes up and thinks his friend has become nutty when Aladdin introduces him to Babs, but no one is there. She can only be seen and heard by her master, Babs explains,
yet she's able to convince Abdullah that she's real by conjuring up a feast right in front of him. After their meal, Aladdin is ready to get back to Armina, which becomes a slap in the face for the infatuated Babs: "You mean you’ve already got a girl?! Well, a gentleman would have at least given me the chance to get started!" Aladdin wants her help to make Armina fall in love with him (not realizing she already is), but that's out of her power. She can, however, make him into a prince so he can pursue the princess without being jailed again. The large retinue travels to the palace, all under the watchful eye of Kofir.

Seeing the benefits of a rich son-in-law, Hadji reneges on his promise to the Wazir and betroths Aladdin to the princess. Although the "prince" looks familiar, Armina tells him they can't be married. Unsure of what her reasons are, Aladdin asks Babs to assist him in getting into Armina's harem to see if he can overhear anything. Miffed that she's helping the guy she loves go after the woman he loves, Babs changes him into a dog, a cute little thing with the same puppy eyes as Wilde. After hearing Armina confirm that she's in love with him, Aladdin changes back into a human and once again sings to Armina in her garden, revealing that he and the prince are the same person. However, she assumes that he was pretending to be a vagabond so when she tells Hadji that the wedding is happening the next day after all, Hadji doesn't stop it, still believing that he can get his hands on Aladdin's wealth.

As he gets ready for the wedding ceremony, Aladdin ignores Babs's pleas to reconsider. Thinking that Armina will shun Aladdin once she realizes he's poor, Babs lures Novira into giving the lamp to a beggar outside who is trading old lamps for new ones. That beggar is actually Kofir, and as soon as he rubs the lamp, all of Aladdin's wishes are undone -- he's transformed into his old clothes and his retinue disappears, right in the middle of the ceremony. Accused of practicing black magic by the
Sultan, Aladdin and Abdullah are taken to be hanged. Armina asks the Wazir to stop the execution, which he agrees to do if she marries him and rejects Aladdin so he will leave them alone. She accepts, and Aladdin idiotically believes that she really doesn't love him. Drowning his sorrows at a tavern, Aladdin bitterly sings about how women suck, as you do. Novira finds him, though, and reveals how Armina actually saved him. Wanting to stop her marriage to the Wazir, Aladdin tells Abdullah they have to go back to the palace to get the lamp they left behind when they were thrown out. Novira explains that she gave away the lamp, sending the guys on a journey to find it.

Sure that Kofir was the beggar, they go to his cave and trace his location to the tavern using the crystal. Unfortunately, Kofir died from excitement shortly after stealing the lamp and the tavern owner gave the lamp to his son. The son then traded it to a camel driver for sugar, and the camel driver gave it to Ali the tailor. Before Aladdin and Abdullah can get there, the tailor rubs the lamp and has Babs summon six redheaded seamstresses, as well as the Sultan's golden robe. Of course, at that
moment, the Sultan is presiding over the wedding ceremony of Armina and the Wazir, so when his robe disappears, the ceremony is put on hold. Noticing that her "father" doesn't have the big scar on his arm he got from Hadji, Armina catches on that Hadji has taken his place. Foolishly, she tells the Wazir this, who then tells Hadji, who then decides that Armina must be killed to keep the secret. The Wazir is horrified and tries to stop Hadji, but is stabbed for his efforts. Meanwhile, Abdullah and Aladdin find the tailor, steal back the lamp, and hurry to the palace.

Spotting the princess laying on her bed, Hadji sneaks up to her and raises his sword, only to find it's Abdullah instead. Aladdin appears with his own sword and the two engage in battle, which ends with Hadji falling to his death, but luckily not before he reveals where he has his brother. Aladdin is made the new Grand Wazir and he's finally able to be with Armina, much to Babs's dismay. Although she really wants to stay with him, Aladdin feels that Babs should be free to do good in the world and he gives her the lamp. Heartbroken, Babs suddenly gets a great idea: she'll conjure up another Aladdin! Now satisfied, Babs feels sorry for Abdullah and rewards him in the film's funniest bit, as Babs gives Abdullah the singing voice of Mr. Frank Sinatra, earning him loads of female, bobby socks-wearing fans. It's a happy ending for everyone!

1001 Nights is certainly not tied down to the time period it portrays. Aside from Abdullah and the fabulous ending, Babs also feels dropped in from 1945. She's free of the period-film restrictions -- while Armina is your typical princess who does basically nothing except love the hero, Babs is a breath of fresh air. She plays with a yo-yo and hops down stairs and tries to wrap her head around the moves of belly dancers. Everyone else is serious and adheres to what we expect from a swashbuckler, but Babs and Abdullah just get to have fun and provide
the film with its feather-light feeling. Suffice to say, Evelyn Keyes steals the show every time she's on screen. Her pining for Aladdin is sometimes played for laughs, however there's a real sensitivity there thanks to Keyes. In one scene, she wistfully tells Aladdin "There's one thing you've never learned about love... It's no fun losing." It's not that he doesn't recognize what a great gal he has in front of him -- as he tells her at the beginning of their relationship, "If I weren't already in love, I would be now." If Babs had met him first, who knows what would've happened?

Although I think Keyes is the star of the movie, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the rest of the cast. Phil Silvers doesn't break new ground in his persona, but the film doesn't require that and he does a fine job. Cornel Wilde is a leading man you hardly ever hear about, which is a slight shame. I always think he does good work, even though he has yet to really wow me. Maybe his Oscar-nominated performance in A Song to Remember will change that? Wilde fits well into the swashbuckler, especially since in real life he was on the Olympic
team for fencing, quitting before the 1936 games to pursue acting. Singing, however, was not one of Wilde's many skills; he was dubbed by an uncredited Tom Clark. Wilde's romantic partner, Adele Jergens, was mostly relegated to B-films. She fulfills her role well, but she doesn't exactly stick in your mind. There isn't that quality, that X-factor, that draws you in and stays with you after the credits roll. Perhaps it was just her part that made her seem that way -- like I said, the princess is basically just eye candy.

1001 Nights was directed by Alfred E. Green, who is probably best known for the Barbara Stanwyck pre-code Baby Face (1933) and Dangerous (1935), which won Bette Davis her first Academy Award. Green couldn't have picked a more different project with this movie, although how funny would it be to watch the Technicolor comedy and the tough Baby Face back to back? Anyway, 1001 Nights is a delightful, breezy way to spend 90 minutes, if only to have Evelyn Keyes charm your socks off.



In her spare time, Armina is a unicorn.





Abdullah referring to the skull: "It's the man who didn't come to dinner!"











Desirous of the Wazir's "groovy lid" and medallion, Abdullah introduces him to a dice game.



Every night, I lay like this and ponder life's big questions.


The results of that dice game.



Some of you may recognize Dusty Anderson, who played Novira. She had a short career as an actress and pin-up girl before retiring from the screen. A lot of times she's mentioned in conjunction with her second husband, director Jean Negulesco.













With love,
Michaela

************************************************

This post here be my contribution to the amazing Swashathon, held by the lovely Fritzi at Movies Silently. Eat some mutton, drink some spiced wine, and enjoy the other entries here.

Comments

  1. This really is a "movie" movie, if you know what I mean, and Evelyn Keyes delightful.

    For different sides of Adele Jergens and Cornel Wilde, you have to go to film-noir for "Armored Car Robbery" (AJ) and "The Big Combo" (CW).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A "movie" movie -- what a perfect way to describe it! Thanks for the recommendations! I hate knowing just one performance from Adele Jergens, it feels so unfair. I'll certainly check those out.

      Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  2. Thanks so much for joining in and covering this weird and wacky film. It sounds like an absolute blast and I will have to keep my eye out for it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really is a lot of fun -- I hope you get to see it sometime. Phil Silvers and Evelyn Keyes are worth the price of admission alone. Thanks for hosting this event, too! It's been really great!

      Delete
  3. How I love this comment: "Drowning his sorrows at a tavern, Aladdin bitterly sings about how women suck, as you do." Babs sounds wonderful, and it would be fun to see something this frothy after Baby Face!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Babs is quite the gal, that's for sure. I'm starting to think I'm going to need to do a comparison post someday with this and Baby Face...

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  4. Thanks so much for covering this Arabian Nights swashbuckler for the Swashathon! It seems like this one at least has a sense of humor and some gorgeous Technicolor work. More than I can say for The Golden Blade, I'm afraid! I'll definitely keep my eyes open for this one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, a sense of humor and Technicolor it's got in spades. I'm happy to see that my post is bringing the film to people's attention -- I know I never heard of it until I randomly recorded it. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  5. Yes, Cornel Wilde doesn't really get the attention he deserves these days. He's become largely overlooked.

    Not that it matters, but I love that Phil Silvers wears eyeglasses in this film.

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    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, Wilde's legacy seems to just be an episode he did for I Love Lucy, which is admittedly where I first heard about him. 1001 Nights is a good boost to his filmography. And those glasses are fabulous -- they immediately set the movie's tone and let you know how silly things will be.

      Delete
  6. I loved the way Evelyn Keyes and especially Phil Silvers were anachronistic. This movie was a lot of fun and so was your post.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! Clearly, I agree with you -- Keyes and Silvers make this film truly unique.

      Delete

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