Wednesday 22 August 2007

Bagdad (1949) Charles Lamont

Bagdad in 1949 was a very different place to the Baghdad of 2007. The key thinking here is made aware to us via the opening narration: it's the point between the civilised west and the savage east and in Bagdad all unbelievable things are possible. The narration comes to us courtesy of the rather recognisable voice of Vincent Price, who plays a Turkish military governor. He's welcoming Maureen O'Hara to Bagdad and she's apparently a princess of the Aramlak, merely one who has spent almost her entire life in England. The glorious technicolor merely enables that fact to become even more fantastic.

Anyway Princess Marjan returns just in time to find out that her father, the Sheikh, is dead and his tribe destroyed. Given that the princess is a headstrong young so and so, she does her best to do something about it, by singing at the Cafe Efrangi. Another person who spent many years in Europe is also fighting the black robed Bedouin and that turns out to be Prince Ahmed, the very man who's head she wants in return for her father's, hiding as Hassan the camel driver. Naturally romance ensues, though surprisingly little.

Price is great fun as a military pasha and he gets to strike a number of suitably diabolical villainous poses and look notably upset. His lazy eye is unexplained but fascinating. Maureen O'Hara is a nonsensical choice to play a Bedouin princess, with her red hair, ruby lips and horrendously dubbed soprano voice, but she looks great in the glorious technicolor and she's as believable in indignant and dedicated vengeance here as she was in Big Jake. Her eyes were always powerful. Paul Hubschmid (credited as Paul Christian) tries to turn his role into an Errol Flynn/Douglas Fairbanks Jr swashbuckler but isn't dashing enough. What he excels at is dialogue.

This dialogue is one of the true pleasures here: watching Price and Hubschmid battle with rapier sharp politeness is at once joyous and hilarious. They get some great lines and they execute them with precise skill. However for all the clever dialogue, the story is stunningly dumb. My favourite inanity is when aged bodyguards leap headlong into rooms they want to check for danger before drawing their swords. One is quick to wonder how such bodyguards became aged in the first place. However that's one of many. when Princess Marjan wants to infiltrate a camp, she's careful to disguise herself in new clothing but completely misses out on the fact that she's the only woman in the entire country to have flowing red hair. She also happily makes her exclamations in an Islamic manner, while just as happily not wearing a veil or praying at the appointed times or even looking towards Mecca.

Surprisingly inept as the Princess's father's right hand man, Mohammed Jao, is Jeff Corey, one of the most acclaimed acting teachers in Hollywood. He's wooden here, though far less out of place than most of the leads, but apparently he trained everyone from Jack Nicholson to Cher, from Robert Blake to Robin Williams, from James Dean to Leonard Nimoy. At least his costume is more believable than anyone else's, these being the brightest and cleanest clothes I've ever seen on desert warriors. Corey is bad but he's still one of the better things about the film. That really says plenty in itself.

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