On stage, this old Arabian Nights barnstormer has always been indefensible, but irresistible. On screen, it’s only indefensible. The musical played down the ‘oriental’ nastiness of the father’s revenge tale while bumping up the romance between his daughter & the prince, then let the Borodin-inspired songs work their charms. It was still kitsch, but it was high-class kitsch. In the film, the vocals are fine, even if the score’s high point, ‘This Is My Beloved,’ is reduced from a showstopping quartet to a commonplace duet. Alas, helmer Vincente Minnelli loathed the show and only rushed thru it to protect his Van Gogh project, LUST FOR LIFE/’56. So, the storybook sets are vivid, but the drama never gets off the page.* And, except for campy vamp Dolores Gray, the cast are over-parted . . . or worse. This was the second classic musical Howard Keel inherited from B’way great Alfred Drake (KISS ME, KATE/’53 came first) and he just hasn’t got the acting chops to run the show. There’s no threat, and he misses the roguish authority that a seasoned star like Ronald Colman brought to the role in ‘44. Or try Clark Gable in Papa mode, say, MOGAMBO/’53 to get the idea. (Hey, he’d have been great!)
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Yet, Minnelli is Minnelli and he can’t help but turn a CinemaScopic eye on the prince’s bridal procession, NIGHT OF MY NIGHTS which millions of Radio City Music Hall patrons will recognize as a variation on the famous Christmas Nativity pageant which even today looks just as Minnelli staged it back in the ‘30s.