The least well-restored Criterion movie I’ve seen, maybe because it’s the least-worthy, mainly included in the Paul Robeson set for historical reference. Even the movie’s own DVD extras call it “embarrassing.” But Jomo Kenyatta (future president of Kenya) and Robeson were behind it at the time, believing it would turn out much better. It seems semi-competently slapped together by today’s location-shoot standards, though it was the biggest-budget British film of its time.
Robeson hails his unimpressed white rulers:
Leslie Banks, evil hunter of The Most Dangerous Game, now reduced to pleasant englishman, is Sanders, the local colonial ruler, bringing peace to multiple formerly-embattled tribes. Sandy is against slavery, but also against African self-rule, acting the father to his “misguided children”, with second-in-command Lt. Tibbets, never realizing that names like Sandy and Tibbets diminish their authority. He sounds like Dr. Moreau saying things like “I am Sandy who gives you the law. I will punish with a great punishment all those who break the law.” A smiling Robeson is one of the tribe leaders, or at least its representative to the white powers.
All is going smoothly until Sandy comes down with malaria and leaves town for a moment and his replacement Ferguson proves not a strong-enough father-figure to keep his misguided children from fighting. Evil King Muffuletta kidnaps and kills Fergie, and intends to do the same to Robeson’s wife Lilongo (gorgeous Nina Mae McKinney, star of Hallelujah), sending Sandy scurrying back to Africa to make peace. The music is nice, anyway, and there are nude-breasted dancing women (because Africa).
King Muffeletta gets speared:
Watched again with Katy, three years after buying the DVD intending to show it to her – and she liked it! Watched by myself April 2006, and wrote as my fifth entry for this blog: “Total children’s fantasy with brilliant colors except for the occasional harsh violence (beheading talk, arrows shot into the bad guys’ skulls). Nice to see a British/American movie set in Iraq with good guys named Ahmad and Abu who praise Allah every few scenes. Of course the effects are great and of course the princess falls in love way too easily. Our hero was sorta goofy, but Abu the thief is wonderful. Neat how it begins in the middle (blind Ahmad) then hits the full backstory before proceeding.”
Holy cow. Shot over two years. Remake of a Fairbanks movie. Shot like a silent film, conceptualized as a musical, and directed by six different people. Interrupted by the war, so it was put on hold to make propaganda piece The Lion Has Wings. Constant script revisions. Whole segments excised a few weeks before release. Early scenes with Sabu unusable because he grew so much during the hiatus. Shot in two countries with a relatively new color process and an unprecedented array of special effects. Could have ended up an unsalvagable mess instead of the beautiful-looking smoothly-edited story it is.
I love this giant foot. Of the stars, Sabu was Indian and genie Rex Ingram was black, “born on a riverboat on the Mississippi River,” making this an unusually multicultural film for 1940 Britain.
Young Sabu never gets to be a romantic hero, but the romantic hero is boring. Sabu shoots the villain in the forehead with a crossbow (Jaffar’s mechanical horse then falls to pieces mid-air, a startling scene) and escapes his appointed pink-clothed life as John Justin’s vizier, flying away on the magic carpet in search of adventure.
Princess June Duprez was in other Korda pictures The Four Feathers and The Lion Has Wings, and a Rene Clair movie.
Jaffar was Conrad Veidt. Good at playing a villain, he’d portray the chief nazi in Casablanca the year before he died, and in the silent era he starred in The Hands of Orlac and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (as the somnambulist). Miles Malleson, the old toy-obsessed Sultan, wasn’t really so old – he acted for the next 25 years, including in Kind Hearts and Coronets, Stage Fright and Hammer’s Hound of the Baskervilles. Cheese-headed stage actor (obviously) John Justin became a Ken Russell regular in the 70’s.