Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Tits & Sand: Arabian Nights, 1942

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Arabiannights1Shot well before the tits & sand label was coined, Arabian Nights, directed by John Rawlins has all it needs to be listed in the genre.
Yes, there’s lots of sand, and star Maria Montez does show her graces in a number of lavish costumes.

A pity the story is so flimsy.
But we’ll get there.

Arabian Nights is one of the exotic movies featuring John Hall and Maria Montez poroduced in the ’40s by Universal pictures.
The first Technicolor feature produced by Universal in over a decade, the movie was designed to cash-in on the success of The Thief of Bagdad in 1940.
Both movies feature Sabu in a key role as the sidekick of the male lead.

The story, now.
Despite its title, Arabian Nights ditches most of its source material and goes for a wild remix of some standard 1001 Nights cliches.

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After a pointless intro in a harem with a view on the Taj Mahal (don’t ask), in which we discover that the book of the Arabian Nights is required reading for harem girls, we get to the story proper.
Under the reign of Haroun-Al-Raschid (Hall), the caliph’s brother Kamar (Leif Erickson) is smitten with popular dancer Scheherazade (Montez).
Scheherazade – who’s cynical, capricious and petulant – will marry Kamar only if he’ll be sitting on a throne. Ergo, Kamar rebels, and with the aid of doubledealing vizier Nadan, disposes of his brother.
Believed dead, wounded Haroun is helped by Ali (Sabu) and joins the circus in which Scheherazade is the main attraction.Arapske-noci
When Nadan orders Scheherazade disposed of (he does not want to lose his role as power behind the throne), an enterprising captain (Turhan Bey) sells the whole circus to slave traders.
The artists escape the slavers, Kamar finds Scheherazade, Nadan blackmails the girl to get her to poison Kamar (who cares about being the power behind the throne when he can sit on the throne?) – all hell breaks loose, the bad guys die and justice triumphs.
The lot, in 86 minutes.

Arabian Nights is the sort of movie in which the caliph gets a shave and nobody recognizes him (not even his former right-hand man); a movie that drives home the basic fact that viziers are normally selected among homicidal, power-hungry sociopaths.
So it can be seen as a broad comedy – and indeed the comedic elements are many: the circus company includes Sinbad (that often reminisces about his days as a sailor) and Ali Baba (who keeps harping about his lost lamp).

So yes, it is weak – especially compared to the older The Thief of Bagdad, of which sometimes plays as a remix.

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Granted, the leads are good – and Maria Montez is beautiful, and has a wonderful accent.
The movie was a ticket box success, and got a brace of Oscar nominations – deservedly for cinematography and art direction. The matte painting crew did have a field day with this one.
And indeed, it’s in the looks department that this movie works best. The vistas, the scenes shot in the desert and the soundstage-constructed alleys and rooftops of Bagdad look wonderful.

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Such was the success of the movie, that the three leads were instantly booked to star in the following Universal tits & sand feature – Cobra Woman.
We’ll talk about it sooner or later.

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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Tits & Sand: Arabian Nights, 1942

  1. I love your posts about Hollywood Old Glories, especially when you talk about this unknown-till-now genre

    Like

    • Thanks!
      I love the definition “Tits & Sand” – Maureen O’Hara had a great sense of humor.
      And I basically grew up watching dozens of adventure movies, Arabian-themed or any other flavor, so there will be more posts coming.

      Liked by 1 person

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