Sinbad the Sailor
A lavish RKO production beautifully shot in Technicolor by award-winning pro George Barnes (Rebecca, 1940), Sinbad the Sailor (1947) was a prestige project snapped up quickly by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Though famously ignored by his father as a child, Fairbanks was determined to follow in his patriarch's footsteps as a matinee idol and decided on this lush project, an ideal match between traditional swashbucklers and the more fantastic flights of fancy in films like The Thief of Bagdad (1924, one of the biggest Fairbanks vehicles). Returning from a voluntary tour of duty in the Navy, the former spouse of Joan Crawford was rewarded with one of his strongest leading roles opposite a prime leading lady. Appearing the same year in the soon-to-be-classic Miracle on 34th Street, O'Hara impressed her onscreen hero in more ways than one; ¿Her naturally reddish hair, perfect Irish complexion, and exquisitely endowed bosom (which she was wisely but discreetly at pains to exploit and which I, ever an untiring student of such anatomical addenda, discreetly admired) may not have been in the least Middle Eastern, but I didn't care,¿ remarked Fairbanks in his autobiography, A Hell of a War. ¿After all, I was not exactly a typical Arab any more than Walter Slezak was even remotely (with his taped-up blue eyes) Oriental.¿
A veteran character actor, the Austrian-born Slezak made a strong impression as the duplicitous Willy in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) three years earlier. Groomed as a leading man, Slezak was often cast as the villain or cuddy comic relief thanks to his sudden weight gain after hitting 30. Often portraying characters with shifting allegiances, Slezak became a staple in prestige musicals like MGM's The Pirate (1948) and Fox's Call Me Madam (1953), as well as George Pal's splashy Cinerama spectacle, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962).
One of the most familiar RKO faces in the film belongs to Jane Greer, who had first caught studio mogul Howard Hughes' eye on a World War II poster. With seven films already to her credit, she made no less than three movies for the studio that year: Sinbad the Sailor, They Won't Believe Me, and a little film noir thriller called Out of the Past. Along with wrecking her marriage to crooner Rudy Vallee, her stormy relationship with Hughes kept her locked to her contract that ultimately derailed her career when the studio finally went under. Though her work output slowed considerably, she still had a few plum roles waiting such as The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Billie (1965) and Man of a Thousand Faces (1957).
One of most memorable components of Sinbad the Sailor is its romantic, evocative music from RKO staple Roy Webb. An incredibly prolific composer, this largely unsung talent scored many of the successful Val Lewton horror films, Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946), The Locket (1946), and the aforementioned Out of the Past. Though never a household name like some of his peers (Bernard Herrmann, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, et al), he eventually earned an appreciative following thanks to eventual soundtrack releases over the past decade, showcasing work that often outshone the sometimes slapdash films with which he was saddled. While watching Sinbad the Sailor, you might be distracted by the gaudy visuals but the ears will find an equally rich and rewarding experience.
Producer: Stephen Ames
Director: Richard Wallace
Screenplay: John Twist, George Worthing Yates (story)
Cinematography: George Barnes
Film Editing: Frank Doyle, Sherman Todd
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert S. D'Agostino
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Sinbad), Maureen O'Hara (Shireen), Walter Slezak (Melik), Anthony Quinn (Emir), George Tobias (Abbu), Jane Greer (Pirouze).
C-118m. Closed captioning.
by Nathaniel Thompson