Arabian Nights was a big hit for Universal and launched one of the most improbable of film genres: the exotic picture starring the very white and decidedly un-exotic Jon Hall and the somewhat exotic and decidedly untalented Maria Montez (did it occur to anyone that this movie succeeded in spite of these two?) which saw them re-team for later efforts like White Savage, Gypsy Wildcat, Cobra Woman, Sudan, and of course Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves.
Maria Montez plays Scheherazade and everyone wants to see her strut her stuff at the little circus that Ahmad runs.
She catches the eye of an evil fat guy named Kamar. He wants her and she was obviously disgusted by his pencil thin moustache and tells him jokingly that she would hook up with him once he became the Caliph of Baghdad.
Dang, woman! You never say something like that to a horny fat toad who happens to be the malevolent brother of the Caliph!
Kamar gets busted by his brother (Jon Hall as the Caliph) for trying to steal the throne which pretty much ends that crazy scheme, right?
Wrong! Kamar’s cronies arrive to break him free and a fierce battle ensues. The Caliph ends up running through the city and jumping across buildings and generally doing one of those patented foot chases through Baghdad all these movies seem to have. He eventually gets tagged by arrow and he and a pursuer take a header off of building.
Luckily for the Caliph (street name: Haroun-Al-Raschid), someone witnessed his plight. It was a teenage boy called Ali Ben Ali (Sabu) and he just happened to be standing on his head atop a giant pyramid of circus folk while all this was going on.
Like all pyramid schemes, this one collapses and Sabu goes rolling off into the alley and finds the Caliph all laid out, with a shoulder wound. He also sees the other guy is dead, his head crushed by a piece of falling building.
Showing a set of street smarts that would be put to better use just rolling both guys for their jewels, credit cards, and cell phones, he immediately sizes up the situation and makes a snap decision.
He takes the ring that identifies Haroun as the Caliph and puts it on the guy who doesn’t have a head, then he gets Scheherazade to help him out with Haroun and convinces her and the rest of the circus to hightail it out of there before the guys who attempted to kill the Caliph can find them.
With Kamar installed as the new Caliph and his brother believed to be dead, he turns his attention to getting his little stripper girlfriend back.
His right hand man, Nadan, recognizes that if this little woman gets her hooks into the Caliph that his power will wane, so he hatches a sinister plot where he orders some of his men to find her and dispose of her.
That’s all well and good, except that they take “dispose” to mean “sell into slavery” which is a bit of a botch, because it gets reported back to Kamar that Scheherazade has been sold into slavery, so he orders Nadan to go and get her.
As far as slavers go, I would have to say that while they appeared to have a professional operation (lots of cells, a thriving sale area, an auctioneer with pizzazz), they were actually quite the amateurs when it came to dealing with the all the circus people in their custody.
First of all, somehow or other when they bring Scheherazade out to be put on the auction block she has a giant dagger with her. I don’t know about the rest of you guys with harems, but the only weapon I like my fillies to have is an ungrateful stare.
Meanwhile, back in the jail cells, the rest of her crew are embroiled in their own crazy plots. They use the old “guy having a seizure on the floor of the cell” routine that gets the guards to come in and see what the problem is and the next thing you know, circus folk are flooding the bidding arena and the fight is on!
Having rescued the girl, Haroun and everyone meets up down by the river where Haroun gets himself caught again. What follows is some transgender wackiness where Ahmad gets his beard shaved off and has to impersonate a woman to distract Kamar’s men. Must be seen to be believed.
By this time, Nadan is fed up with all this running around for Kamar and strikes a bargain with Scheherazade: he’ll let Haroun go if she’ll poison Kamar. Heck, I’d bet she’d have done it for free!
What follows is some sword fights, horses running around, circus folks burning down a lot of tents, bad guys getting knifed and speared, and Sabu getting felt up by a harem of hotties!
The epitome of the Saturday afternoon adventure film, this one gets by because it knows what the audience wants from a movie like this: good looking sets, fast-paced action, and Maria Montez in harem pants and bikini top!
This was Universal’s first three-color Technicolor movie and they made good use of it, the sets being suitably colorful and exotic looking.
Arabian Nights also stands out because of the yeoman-like work the supporting cast did. I don’t imagine there was much incentive to work too hard in a glorified B movie like this, especially if you weren’t the leads, but the work of most everyone involved (except for the badly miscast Leif Erickson as the not-very-threatening Kamar) was very good, with Sabu and Billy Gilbert (Ahmad) being the standouts.
An old time, empty-headed adventure film that’s a fun amalgamation of cliches and character actors. And yes, that is the Three Stooges’ Shemp as Sinbad!
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