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The Indian actor Sabu Dastigir, known professionally by his first name, had become famous starring in Alexander Korda's The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and The Jungle Book (1942). Having recently ended his contract with Korda, Sabu signed with producer Walter Wanger who cast him in Arabian Nights (1942), Universal Studios' first three-strip Technicolor film.
The story and screenplay were based on a collection of short stories entitled The Arabian Nights' Entertainment (also known as The Thousand and One Nights), translated in Paris in 1704. Michael Hogan, a British freelance writer, adapted it into his own story and screenplay, with additional dialogue by True Boardman (who had been writing sketches for Abbott and Costello). When Boardman read Hogan's script he called Wanger and told him that it was "nothing but a western with camels." Wanger replied, "I know that, and it will make a million dollars." The final figure was nearly twice that.
In Arabian Nights, the evil Amar Al Amar (Leif Erickson), steals the position of Chief Caliph of Baghdad from his brother Haroun-Al-Raschid (Jon Hall) and courts the beautiful dancer Scheherazade (Maria Montez). Haroun meets up with teenaged acrobat Ali Ben Ali (Sabu) and together they work to restore Haroun to his rightful place. The rest of the cast included Billy Gilbert, Edgar Barrier, Richard Lane, Turhan Bey, and Shemp Howard of The Three Stooges as a character named Sinbad and John Qualen as "Aladdin" who complains of having lost his magic lamp.
Production on Arabian Nights began on June 29, 1942 and continued into early September. Location shooting took place in Utah, with director John Rawlins working the first unit in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, while Ford Beebe shot second unit in the famous Coral Pink Sand Dunes near Kanab, which later became famous as a Western film location. Wanger was able to keep costs down when art director Alexander Golitzen conceived of tents in which the final fourth of the film could take place. With these and matte paintings to create the illusions of sets, the production also adhered to wartime shortage restrictions. Wanger gave Golitzen five percent of his $900,000 personal profits from the film as a reward and Jack Otterson and Golitzen were given production design screen credit.
Arabian Nights was released on Christmas Day, 1942 and was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Art Direction - Interior Decoration, Color (Alexander Golitzen, Jack Otterson, Russell A. Gausman, and Ira Webb), Best Cinematography, Color (Milton R. Krasner, William V. Skall and W. Howard Greene), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Frank Skinner), and Best Sound, Recording (Bernard B. Brown).
The story of Arabian Nights proved so popular that Universal made four more films based upon the ancient texts, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944) with Hall and Montez, Song of Scheherazade (1947) with Yvonne De Carlo and Turhan Bey, The Desert Hawk (1950), also with De Carlo and Richard Greene, and The Golden Blade in 1953 starring Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie.
Producer: Walter Wanger
Director: John Rawlins
Screenplay: Michael Hogan (screenplay and story); True Boardman (additional dialogue)
Cinematography: Milton Krasner
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Jack Otterson
Music: Frank Skinner
Film Editing: Philip Cahn
Cast: Sabu (Ali Ben Ali), Jon Hall (Haroun-Al-Raschid), Maria Montez (Scheherazade), Leif Erikson (Kamar), Billy Gilbert (Ahmad), Edgar Barrier (Nadan), Richard Lane (Corporal), Turhan Bey (Captain of the Guard), John Qualen (Aladdin), Shemp Howard (Sinbad).
by Lorraine LoBianco
The American Film Institute catalog of motion pictures produced in the United States, Volume 1, Part 1.
D'Arc, James V. When Hollywood Came to Town: The History of Moviemaking in Utah
The Internet Movie Database
Bernstein, Matthew Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent
Ramrez, Juan Antonio Architecture for the Screen: A Critical Study of Set Design in Hollywood's Golden Age