I first saw this movie shortly after the death of its maker Alexander Korda when all his movies were shown on TV for the first time, and I remember being bowled over by the slendour and imaginative richness of the production even though I had to watch it in glorious black and white. When I got to watch it again some years later I was bowled over again by the sheer beauty of the early technicolor. It remains the finest cinematic evocation of the Arabian Nights, a potent blend of magic, romance and adventure and the inspirer of countless similar but inferior Hollywood spectacles a couple of which starred Sabu. A few years ago in a TV documentary John Justin, his co-star in this movie, said of the charismatic young Indian actor who sadly died at the age of 39 "In the course of a long life I've met many people most of whom I've forgotten but Sabu will always shine in my memory like a diamond." But the finest performance is given undoubtedly by the legendary Conrad Veidt as the wicked vizier Jaffar, one of the cinema's greatest portrayals of malevolence and all the more effective for being underplayed. "Know that there are only three things men respect: the lash that descends, the yoke that breaks and the sword that slays. By the power and terror of these you may conquer the earth." When the vizier drips his poisonous credo into the ear of the idealistic young king you are reminded of a certain Adolf Hitler (this British production was in fact interrupted by the outbreak of World War 2 and completed in Hollywood with financial aid from United Artists in which Korda was a partner. Veidt and Sabu stayed on in Hollywood, the former went on to play the dastardly Major Strasser in Casablanca whilst Sabu played Mowgli in the Jungle Book.) Miles Malleson who plays the Sultan of Basra also deserves special credit for contributing the wonderfully poetic screenplay with its echoes of Sir Richard Burton's 19th century translation of the 1001 Nights, likewise Miklos Rozsa for one of the great film scores of all time (in fact the music virtually steals the show, it plays almost continuously and is brilliantly integrated with the action;there is an excellent recording of this wonderful score and of Rozsa's Jungle Book by the Nuremburg Symphony Orchestra which you can access through my other reviews.) Then there's Georges Perinal who lensed the picture and the stunning sets by art director Vincent Korda (Alex's younger brother.) I could go on and on. Perhaps only the special effects no longer dazzle quite as much in our computer age but, even so, it's difficult to imagine the flying carpet sequence being bettered and the moment when the giant genie (the unforgettable black actor Rex Ingram) with tiny Sabu clinging to his pigtail flies up through the clouds to the temple of the dawn is for me the supreme moment of movie magic, it shows what the cinema can do that no other art form can. You'd never guess this movie had three credited directors and at least three uncredited because it's such a seamless triumph. It is undoubtedly Korda's finest production and one of the greatest British films of all time.
With regard to the technical quality of this release, picture, colour and sound are all very good and unlikely to give you cause for complaint. But movie buffs and perfectionists may find the two disc Criterion version preferable on technical parameters and it comes with a host of interesting extras. It's also much more expensive and to the best of my knowledge is only available in Region 1 format from the US.