Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Tits & Sand: Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

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sinbad_the_sailor_1947_posterAfter I published the short piece about Tits & Sand yesterday, I realized I have two movies I absolutely need to talk about: one is Alexander Korda’s The Thief of Baghdad, from 1940, and the other is Sinbad the Sailor, directed by Richard Wallace in 1947. Certainly my two favorite “Arabian fantasies” at the movies.
And as I was nursing my usual insomnia, later in the night, I decided to re-watch the latter, and then … well, here I am writing about it.

“O Masters, O Noble Persons, O Brothers, know you that in the time of the Caliph Harun-Al-Rashid, there lived on the golden shore of Persia a man of adventure called Sinbad the Sailor. Strange and wondrous were the tales told of him and his voyages. But who, shall we surmise, gave him his immortality? Who, more than all other sons of Allah, spread glory to the name of Sinbad? Who else, O Brother, but – Sinbad the Sailor! Know me, O Brothers, for the truth of my words, and by the ears of the Prophet, every word I have spoken is truth!”

On with the show…

Director Richard Wallace was a prolific filmmaker that’s remembered today for movies like A Night to Remembernot the British movie about the sinking of the Titanic, but a delicious mystery-comedy featuring Loretta Young – and in this film shows a good hand when directing coreographed set-ups.
Apparently, the movie had been in the works since 1944, but only in 1946 RKO was able to shoot this story featuring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the rogueish role of Sinbad the Sailor, here telling the tale of his eight voyage. The one that happens not to be in the Arabian Nights.
What follows is a story of swashbuckling and derring-do in the streets of Basra and on the Seven Seas: Sinbad chances upon a strange abandoned ship, meets a beautiful woman (Maureen O’Hara), gets on the wrong side of the Emir of Daibul (Anthony Quinn) and sets sail in search of fabled Deriabar and the treasure of Alexander the Great. And who is the mysterious Jamal that seeks the same treasure of our hero?

(as a side note, I absolutely love the title lettering on this trailer – not the one in the preview still, the one in the trailer proper)

Fairbanks, back from the navy and on screen for the first time in five years is at his athletic best, jumping and running throughout the movie. He did most of his stunts. O’Hara is gorgeous and fiery-haired, and Quinn is a nicely sinister bad guy. The cast also includes Walter Slezak, as the very Chinese-looking Abdul Melik, the ship’s barber with a secret.

 

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The story is the sort that won’t stand too close a scrutiny and is essentially an excuse to stage various colourful, often action-filled set-pieces. O’Hara’s character is particularly incoherent at times – but these were the ’40s, and a lovely woman was supposed to be capricious. On the other hand, when the character is in focus, O’Hara’s unlikely Persian beauty Shireen is smart, bold and more than a match for her counterparts, a fine example of a lady that does not need to be rescued.

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And the movie, if you have the good fortune of watching it in a decent copy, is a wonder to behold for its vibrant colors.

Which is interesting, considering that Sinbad the Sailor was slated to be RKO’s 1946 Christmas movie, but because of a strike of the Technicolor workers, its release had to be postponed, and it actually was distributed in 1947.
And it was not a success, barely recapping its costs.

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And yet it’s fun, and snappily acted. Costumes and sceneries are gorgeous, and the music is not half bad. But the 1947 audiences, probably, had had their fill of light adventure and were looking for something different.
At almost two hours, it is still a nice and breezy pastime, and a good way to spend a sleepless night.

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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.

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