Ali Baba, son of the Kalif of Bagdad is brought up by the 40 Thieves after his father is killed by the soldiers of Hugalu Khan, who received the necessary information by traitor Cassim. Ali becomes the leader of the thieves and they are fighting for the freedom of his land. Per chance Ali captures the fiancée of Hugalu Khan, who turns out to be his girl friend Amara. After a few misunderstandings Ali uses her wedding day with Hugalu Khan as the day for the liberation of Bagdad.
Maria Montez ... Amara
Jon Hall ... Ali Baba
Turhan Bey ... Jamiel
Andy Devine ... Abdullah
Kurt Katch ... Hulagu Khan
Frank Puglia ... Prince Cassim
Fortunio Bonanova ... Old Baba
Moroni Olsen ... Caliph Hassan
Ramsay Ames ... Nalu
Chris-Pin Martin ... Fat Thief
I saw this a few days ago after a gap of many years and it's still fun to watch. There was a whole spate of these highly colored Arabian Nights adventures in the 1940's and audiences lapped them up. The fun now is in the apparent seriousness with which they were made and the earnestness of not very good actors and actresses spouting there quasi poetic dialog.
These films were bonanzas for the exotic looking performers of the period, Turhan Bey, Jon Hall and Maria Montez (one of the lust objects of my adolescence). She would often wear quite revealing see-through dresses and there was always at least one scene where she emerged from a bath or swimming pool, quickly being discretely covered by large towels borne by hand-maidens.
Extras were cheap in those days and so there is a cast of thousands but most of the time the director does no more than fill the screen with bodies. Look at the battle scenes and you will see most of the participants are just waving their scimitars in the air aimlessly.
Ali Baba has wicked caliphs and valiant freedom fighters battling it out in the Hollywood desert. The ridiculousness of the All American Andy Devine as an Arab. Fairy tale cardboard castles. All makes for colorful entertainment.
I first saw this movie as a child when it ran every night for a week (and extras on the weekend) on something called Million Dollar MOvie that used to show the same film all week. I watched it over and over until I had the script practically memorized. I was fascinated by the location, the exotic story, the love interest and the gorgeous costumes, even though I originally only saw it in black and white.
Years later, I saw it in color, as a full grown adult and realized that this movie is one that can take me instantly back to my childhood, into a wonderful world of a fantastic story that still holds my interest today. With the eyes of the adult, I can see that it's sort of a "B" picture, but it does have really nice production values. Maria Montez is breathtakingly lovely and I adore the fact that she's so tall and statuesque. No skinny little model type, but a real womanly presence. Jon Hall is the perfect leading man. Actually the dialog is rather good, a sort of stylized script that lends itself very well to the story. There is a glaring anachronism in it, which just shows that Hollywood wasn't too concerned with accuracy back then. All the talk of Allah, and they bury Old Babba under a cross! In our world today, when there is so much hatred between the western word and the Muslim countries, it's rather wistful to realize that these characters were all Muslims, even if that word wasn't mentioned. They do refer to Ramadan and Allah and to realize that the country involved is Iraq does give one pause. Isn't it a shame that this lovely ancient world has such an unfortunate connotation today? This movie, for all its flaws, shows the Muslim world in a very good light.
The film has a nice brisk pace and attractive leads. It's mostly a fun light-hearted piece of escapist entertainment, with the only problems being that the sets, costumes, and Andy Devine all keep reminding us that it is a Hollywood film being staged for the cameras. The sets often look horribly fake, the costumes look brand new and freshly dry-cleaned, in order to look good in Technicolor one supposes. The back projections are just awful, and absurdly fake.
There's one scene when the 40 thieves are riding off furiously in a cloud of dust, as seen from a distance. Then we get a close up of the three leaders, each in turn, wearing bright clean clothes, and apparently sitting on coin-operated horses in front of some grainy back projection. It's unintentionally funny. And Andy Devine is the least convincing Arab thief ever. He's supposed to be comic relief, akin to Friar Tuck in many versions of Robin Hood. However, his line readings are awful, with his voice cracking most of the time, apparently in an attempt at humor. It's as if he strolled on to the wrong set, grabbed a freshly laundered costume and misguidedly decided to join in.
If you watch Ali Baba today, it can be viewed as a commentary on the US presence in Iraq. An outside invader (here the Mongols) has sacked and overtaken Baghdad. A popular insurrection boils in the countryside, but is dismissed by the invaders as merely the work of thieves and troublemakers. The occupier goes in for torture and bullying of the opposition, etc. The film does date from the middle of WWII, so it is unsurprising if some references to war and then-current events seeps through.
# The movie does not follow the plot of the original story except in the scene where the forty thieves are stuffed in jars and then brought to the palace as a gift for the villain, Hulagu Khan.
# Hulagu Khan was a real person - he was the brother of Kublai Khan, the conqueror of Asia, and the Mongol leader who conquered Iran and Baghdad, as shown in the movie. But he appears to have died of natural causes, not by murder.
# The reason the plot of the fairy tale wasn't used for the movie may have had something to do with the fact that in the original fairy tale, there are some 42 murders; the first is Ali Baba's cousin, and the other forty-one are those of the forty thieves themselves and later, their ringleader who arrives at Ali Baba's disguised as a merchant and thirsting for revenge. He is the last of the Forty Thieves to