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Arabian Nights opens and closes with a framing story featuring an elderly guardian relating the story of two rival brothers, Haroum-al-Raschid and Kamar al Zaman, to six harem girls. In the opening credits, actor Jon Hall receives billing over his co-stars, Maria Montez and Sabu; in the end credits, however, Sabu receives billing over Hall and Montez.
Hollywood Reporter news items state that some scenes in the film were shot on location in Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park, both in Utah. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Ford Beebe directed the second unit of Arabian Nights, which shot exteriors in the coral sand dunes near Kanab, UT, while John Rawlins worked with the first unit back on the studio lot. According to Universal press materials, producer Walter Wanger hired artist Dan Sayre Groesbeck to paint a series of sketches which were to be used as "scene guides" in the production of Arabian Nights. Hollywood Reporter news items announced that Stanley Logan was working on the screenplay to Arabian Nights, but his contribution, if any, to the released film has not been determined. Model Marie McDonald was cast in Arabian Nights, but left the film and Universal to appear in the 1942 Paramount film Lucky Jordan , according to Hollywood Reporter.
Arabian Nights was the first of six Universal films to co-star the romantic adventure team of Jon Hall and Maria Montez. Sabu was also featured with the two stars in their next film together, 1943's White Savage, as well as the 1944 Universal release Cobra Woman. According to Hollywood Reporter, Sabu was signed by Wanger to appear in Arabian Nights after being released from his contract by British producer Alexander Korda, for whom he had made the adventure films Elephant Boy and The Thief of Bagdad (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.5330 and F3.5486). This was Leif Erikson's last film before his induction into the U.S. Navy; he did not return to acting in motion pictures until 1947, when he appeared in Monogram's The Gangster .
Arabian Nights received four Academy Award nominations: production designers Jack Otterson and Alexander Golitzen, along with set decorators Russell A. Gausman and Ira S. Webb, were nominated for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (color); cinematographers Milton Krasner, William V. Skall and W. Howard Green were nominated for Best Color Photography; Frank Skinner was nominated for Best Musical Score (drama or comedy); and sound director Bernard B. Brown was nominated for Best Sound Recording.
According to modern historians, The Arabian Nights' Entertainment, also known as The Thousand and One Nights, is a collection of stories from Persia, Arabia, India and Egypt, compiled over hundreds of years. Most of these stories originated as folk tales, anecdotes, or fables that were passed on orally. They include the stories of Ali Baba, Aladdin and Sinbad the Sailor, all of which have become favorites in Western countries. The stories in Arabian Nights are narrated by "Scheherazade" (listed as "Sherazade" in the screen credits,) a queen whose own story acts as a frame for the collection. The earliest known written record of Arabian Nights is a fragment of the collection that dates from the 800s. The collection grew over the centuries until it reached its present form, written in Arabic, in the late 1400s. Antoine Galland translated the stories into French in 1704, entitling his publication Les mille et une nuits. The best known English-language versions of these fables are Arabian Nights, translated by Edward William Lane in the 1840s, and The Thousand Nights and a Night, translated by Richard Francis Burton in the 1880s.
Based on the success of Arabian Nights, Universal made three more films in the 1940s derived from these stories: in 1944, the studio released Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, which also starred Jon Hall and Maria Montez, this time under the direction of Arthur Lubin; in 1947, Universal made Song of Scheherazade, directed by Walter Reisch and starring Yvonne De Carlo and Turhan Bey; and in 1950, the studio filmed The Desert Hawk, directed by Frederick de Cordova and starring Yvonne De Carlo and Richard Greene (see entries above and below). Universal returned to the Arabian Night stories once more in 1953 with The Golden Blade, starring Rock Hudson and Piper Lauire, and directed by Nathan Juran. Among the numerous other films based on or inspired by Arabian Nights stories are: the Columbia 1945 release A Thousand and One Nights, directed by Alfred E. Green and starring Evelyn Keyes and Phil Silvers ; the 1959 cartoon 1001 Arabian Nights, directed by Jack Kinney and featuring the voice of Jim Backus as "Mr. Magoo"; and the 1974 Franco-Italian production Arabian Nights, directed by Pier Pablo Pasolini and starring Ninetto Davoli and Franco Merli. For information on other films based on stories from Arabian Nights, see the entries for Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Sinbad the Sailor (see entries above and below).