on 2 December 2010
All in all, one of the best, if not thee best, of the Universal American Arabian Nights fantasies made during the 1940's, with rousing action; glorious early Technicolor and a wonderful music score by the little known, but obviously very talented, Edward Ward that captures the atmosphere of the film superbly. Even Miklos Rozsa himself couldn't have done a better job on it. Scotty Beckett's performance as young Ali throughout fourteen minutes of the first reel (seventeen minutes) of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" is totally mesmerising and wonderful. If only he could have played Ali throughout the whole film. From the start of the second reel, with Jon Hall playing Ali as a grown up, the film seems to change mood abruptly. It's still very good and entertaining, but never regains the heights it achieved in the first reel. In turn, Scotty looks so proud: "I will never fail you or Baghdad, father!", he says, with his head held high. Genuinely afraid (the murder of his father in the ambush and the burning of the boats and his first encounter with the magic stone doors in the mountain wall) and touched by magic and an incredible childlike sense of wonder as he discovers the treasures of the thieves' cave. You are there with him and feel just as he feels. It's an incredible performance for a boy of 12, going on 13.
I love watching him in this first reel and he is what you see on the screen and what you see is what you get. He must have been wonderful to know and to have as a friend in those days and it's obvious that after that, as he grew into his teenage years, something terrible must have happened to him. Why? Perhaps he was let down and abandoned and betrayed by those he misguidedly loved and trusted. The same thing happened to the likes of Bobby Driscoll and Darren Burn. A human tragedy of immense proportions in all three cases. Nonetheless, it's still wonderful to see what a fine and unique young boy and child actor Scotty Beckett was, before his world came crashing down around him. Wherever he is now, in some heavenly world of spirit, I hope and pray he has found contentment and happiness. His portrayal of young Ali in this film was, in my opinion, his crowning achievement and it's worth buying the DVD of this film just to see him in it.
I highly recommend this film, which has been so beautifully restored from the original Technicolor negatives, that it looks marvelous and both sound and picture are as clear as the proverbial bell and the film looks like it was made yesterday, although it is, in fact, sixty-seven years old, having been made in 1943 and released in 1944. In fact, the image quality is so good that the film has also been released on a Blue Ray disc.
on 27 October 2013
ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES  [Blu-ray] Wild Nights of Sheer Delight! In Glorious Technicolor!
All the excitement of the Arabian Nights is orchestrated in this thrilling tale of romance, revenge and high drama. Orphaned as a young child and adopted by a band of notorious thieves, the now-grown Ali Baba [Jon Hall] sets out to avenge his father's murder, reclaim the royal throne, and rescue his childhood love Amara [Maria Montez] from the clutches of his treacherous enemy. A lavish adventure classic, co-starring the great Andy Devine, and filmed in glorious Technicolor, `Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves' is presented for the first time for home viewing in the UK in a stunning restored high-definition 1080p encoded transfer.
FILM FACT: The role of Jamiel was meant to be played by Sabu, the role was taken by Turhan Bey. Maria Montez admitted she only acted "three or four times" in the time. Modern sources report that the film was made at a cost of $792,714, including $7,300 for the original screenplay by Edmund L. Hartmann and $18,000 for the services of director Arthur Lubin.
Cast: Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Turhan Bey, Andy Devine, Kurt Katch, Frank Puglia, Fortunio Bonanova, Moroni Olsen, Ramsay Ames, Chris-Pin Martin, Scotty Beckett, Yvette Duguay, Noel Cravat, Jimmy Conlin, Harry Cording, Ed Agresti, Richard Alexander, Robert Barron, Alphonse Bergé, Eric Braunsteiner, Ed Brown, John Calvert, Fred Cavens, Dick D'Arcy, William 'Wee Willie' Davis (Arab Giant uncredited), Dick Dickinson (uncredited), Rex Evans (uncredited), Alex Goudavich (uncredited), Hans Herbert (uncredited), David Heywood (uncredited), James Khan (Persian Prince uncredited), Ethan Laidlaw (uncredited), Pierce Lyden as Guard (uncredited) George Martin (uncredited), Don McGill (uncredited), Art Miles (uncredited) Belle Mitchell (uncredited), Alma M. Pappas (Princess Kanza Omar uncredited), Theodore Patay (uncredited), Joey Ray (uncredited), Pedro Regas (uncredited), Alex Romero (uncredited), Angelo Rossitto (uncredited), Charles Wagenheim (uncredited), Norman Willis (uncredited) and Harry Woods (uncredited)
Director: Arthur Lubin
Producers: Paul Malvern and Jack J. Gross
Screenplay: Edmund L. Hartmann
Cinematography: George Robinson and W. Howard Greene
Composer: Edward Ward
Video Resolution: 1080p [Technicolor]
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 [Original Aspect]
Audio: 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Running Time: 88 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Eureka Entertainment / Universal Pictures
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: `Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves' has become somewhat of a popular fairy tale with parts derived from Arabian Nights, in which it first appeared, and then as "The Book of One Thousand and One Nights" and has drifted somewhat from the original story into something more adventurous and romantic. In the case of this 1944 film release, it is really a matter of forget everything you thought you knew about the Ali Baba legend as it will do you absolutely no good in attempting to follow this path and will only muddle things up if you attempt to apply the facts to this story.
Incorporating some real historical facts, the film begins just after Hulagu Khan and his Mongolian army had successfully conquered Baghdad. The Caliph has barely escaped with his life from captivity and, with his young son Ali, has sought refuge at Prince Cassim's mansion. There he plans to regroup what remains of his army and drive the invaders out of Baghdad. Whilst they are staying there, a romance blossoms between Prince Cassim's daughter, Amara, and Ali and they become betrothed via blood bond. Unbeknownst to the Caliph, Prince Cassim has betrayed him to the Mongolians and, when he prepares to leave, is ambushed and all of his party is killed with only Ali escaping, carrying with him a chain which belonged to his father and is only worn by the Caliph.
There 10 year elapses, during which the 40 thieves have become a band of freedom fighters that rob from the Mongolians and give their ill-gotten gains to the poor in a Robin Hood version of wealth distribution, becoming very popular amongst the Baghdad population in the process. Ali Baba is determined to get revenge on his father's murderer and will do almost anything to gain access to Prince Cassim. When they learn that a caravan transporting the Khan's new bride is headed for Baghdad, it seems like a perfect opportunity to plunder some more riches but Ali is suspicious and decides to scout out by himself with Abdullah, his 'nursemaid'. When Ali learns that the woman is in fact Amara, his betrothed, he decides to follow the caravan rather than rob it and finds one of the women bathing in a lake. The woman is Amara but, because of the length of time since they have seen one another, neither recognises the other, something not helped by her pretending to be a servant girl (the only way she could leave her tent and go bathing by herself) and Ali describing himself as a simple traveller, not the infamous leader of the band of thieves. Unbeknownst to Ali and Abdullah, the caravan was in fact heavily guarded and Ali is taken prisoner with Abdullah only just escaping with his life. The Khan doesn't recognise Ali either but he is still sentenced to death and tied up for the public to see prior to his execution the next day. It wouldn't be much of a film if Ali was beheaded at this point so, through a series of plot machinations, he is freed by the 40 thieves, with Old Baba been mortally wounded in the process. The thieves decide to take revenge by sneaking into the marriage ceremony, killing the Hulagu Khan and free Baghdad from their Mongolian occupiers. Unbeknownst to them, Prince Cassim has a spy in Amara's entourage who is relaying all the thieves' plans back to him.
As far as an adventure films go, this clearly borrows heavily from `The Adventures of Robin Hood,' made six years previously, with the outlaw lifestyle, the idea of romanticised redistribution of wealth and power usurped from the true monarch. Although that film is clearly the superior of the two, this is not without its merits and has rather lavish costumes and set design and, when it comes to the uprising during the marriage ceremony, a great deal of athletic and acrobatic swordplay. It is perhaps unsurprising that this sort of film was released in 1944, and was popular in the wartime era when people wanted a bit of escapism from rationing, bombs and bad news from overseas. If you want something unpredictable and with an ending that is always in doubt, then this is not the film for you as, like so many adventure films made around that time, it is one where you know that is going to triumph over evil and the hero will get the girl in the final reel. It is great fun and an enjoyable watch whilst not the most accomplished film ever made with decent performances throughout although very few, if any, of the cast, despite heavy makeup, actually look Persian!
Finally, the working title of this film was ‘Raiders of the Desert.’ The story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” is part of the famous Arabian Nights collection, also known as The Thousand and One Nights. According to modern historians, the city of Baghdad reached its zenith under the caliph Harun ar-Rashid, whose reign was the setting for the Arabian Nights fables. The decline of Baghdad began when Hulagu, the grandson of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, took the city in 1258, thus ending the rule of the Abbasid caliphate. ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ was the fourth of six Universal adventure films to co-star Maria Montez and Jon Hall. It also featured the motion picture debut of actress Ramsey Ames, who had been discovered as a nineteen-year-old singer at “The Stork Club” in New York City. According to the “Hollywood Reporter” news item, Sabu was originally going to be cast as "Jamiel," in ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,’ but had to give up his role, after being drafted into military service. “Hollywood Reporter” news items stated that George Dolenz was to be in the cast, but his appearance in the released film was never confirmed. Some scenes in the film were shot on location in Red Rock Canyon National Park in California and Kanab [Kanab is a city in and the county seat of Kane County, Utah, United States. It is located on Kanab Creek just north of the Arizona state line], according to “Hollywood Reporter” news items.
Blu-ray Video Quality – Presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, the film looks extremely good for its age with vibrant and strong colours, especially in the stunning 1080p encoded image of Technicolor, which really show off the beautiful lavish costumes and awesome set decoration. Additionally, the contrast levels are much deeper than on the inferior DVD so there is less of a problem when you have scenes with very low lighting. Although you can tell where the backgrounds are matte paintings and how much of the buildings are sets, it doesn't really detract from your enjoyment of the film, just as with films like `Black Narcissus,' `The Birds' or even something like `The Black Shield of Falworth.' The day for night shooting is far from convincing and can lead to the picture becoming a little muddy, though this is a great deal clearer than the inferior DVD release. Additionally, the rear projection footage is all too obvious when it comes to people riding their horses, singing happily with a fake background behind them so it is obvious when there are stunt men on horses and when they are actors. I originally had this on an NTSC LaserDisc and at the time it was a stunning Technicolor revelation, but of course this video format has now gone with the dinosaurs, but now I have it in the ultimate 1080p Technicolor video format to show of its true potential.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono soundtrack is extremely clear with crisp dialogue and a wonderfully upbeat and stirring musical score. All of the actors enunciate their lines very well, sounding as if they come a long way from Persia, with a variety of American and English accents! I thought the 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack on the DVD was good but this, quite frankly, blows it out the water. The optional English SDH subtitles are very good and will help anyone who is hard of hearing to follow the film without any issues in terms of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or subtitles disappearing too quickly. I have to admit to being very impressed with the DVD release but this one just blew me away as the sound and picture quality is so much better than I ever expected and it shows what can be done with a film in its seventh decade when treated properly and given the full HD treatment. The only slightly negative aspect of the sound, is that I noticed some out of sync with the lips and sound now and again, but as time goes by it improves, but despite this little nick picking, I am so happy and excited to have this Blu-ray version. I originally had this as an NTSC LaserDisc and even though it was a brilliant image wise, it was the break to side B that held up the entertainment and flow of the film and of course now having this on the ultimate Blu-ray format, makes the long wait well worth purchasing of this Blu-ray disc and Eureka Entertainment have done a really sterling work in preserving this Universal Film Classic.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras: Sadly, there are no extras on this Blu-ray; although there is an option to watch the film with just the Isolated Music and Effects Track, which are in the film soundtrack of 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio and you can really appreciate the rousing score and decent sound design. I wish more discs would have this as an option as it is the only way to truly listen to the awesome score, as when the film is playing normally, you can be distracted by the dialogue, action sequences and other aspects such of what is showing on the screen?
Finally, as adventure films go, `Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves' is fairly typical adventurous genre fare, but it is also a very enjoyable ride, especially wanting Ali Baba to get revenge on the Khan, and be reunited with his childhood sweetheart and rid Baghdad of the Mongolian occupiers. The timing of the release is quite strange as one can almost draw parallels between the Forty thieves and the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan that is happening at this moment in time in those countries. If you like these Matinée type films for all of their swashbuckling fun and don't mind the lack of extra features, then this release will suit you down to the ground. I just wish Eureka Entertainment would bring out the other Universal Cinema Classic of `Arabian Nights'  as this is in the same film genre as this Blu-ray I have just reviewed. So all in all a really fantastic Blu-ray disc and I am so proud to now have this amazing Technicolor film in my Blu-ray Collection. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom