Son of Sinbad
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Undeterred by the censorship difficulties which plagued him after the lusty western The Outlaw (1943), multi-millionaire Howard Hughes spent the bulk of his tenure with RKO Radio Pictures in the 1950s churning out a string of glossy, fetishistic entertainments like Underwater! (1955) and, in a project that might have inspired Hugh Hefner to enter publishing, the 1955 dames-and-desert opus Son of Sinbad.
Already a Hughes favorite after his superlative turn in His Kind of Woman (1951), Vincent Price was recruited again to play Omar Khayyam, right hand man to our skirt-chasing hero, Sinbad (played by barrel-chested western star Dale Robertson). Despite the familial nature of the title, the plot actually follows the same known-and-loved sailor as he avoids a prison sentence by aiding the Khalif (One, Two, Three's (1961) Leon Askin) in an upcoming battle. Fortunately the famous forty thieves (of Ali Baba fame) sired an equal number of slinky daughters, all of whom come into play for the film's cantilevered finale.
Son of Sinbad was originally planned as a 3-D spectacle with acres of cleavage spilling out of the screen but unfortunately arrived at the end of that craze, instead unspooling for the public completely flat (relatively speaking). Nevertheless the film offers plenty of visual appeal, largely thanks to its rosters of aspiring actresses and Vegas showgirls filling the screen including a welcome lead role for notorious burlesque queen Lili St. Cyr as Nerissa, the Khalif's easily tempted wife. However, her contributions are largely overshadowed by more "legitimate" dancer/actress Sally Forrest (seen the next year in RKO's While the City Sleeps for Fritz Lang), whose exotic dance routine was one of the film's greatest stumbling blocks with the censors. Several famous faces also appear in bit roles or even split-second cameos, including a young Kim Novak, Woody Strode, and a rare onscreen appearance by ubiquitous voiceover artist Paul Frees. As for the bulk of the female cast, credit is usually attributed to Hughes' insatiable womanizing; though only credited as executive producer, his influence extended to offering roles to the countless would-be starlets he romanced and plied with promises of big screen roles. From that vantage point alone, Son of Sinbad stands as a unique cinematic experience by offering the contents of one man's little black book spilled out across an entire film.
The film's striking look can largely be attributed to director Ted Tetzlaff, a former cinematographer from such films as Notorious (1946) and My Man Godfrey (1936) whose promotion to director produced less consistent results (with the striking film noir classic The Window (1949) standing out as his finest achievement). Cinematographer William E. Snyder, already a 3-D veteran from the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), again proved his compositional ingenuity while busy composer Victor Young (The Uninvited (1944) and 1957's similar Omar Khayyam) offers another efficient and exotic score.
Released in many territories as much as two years after its premiere thanks to its displays of pulchritude, Son of Sinbad proved to be Hughes' penultimate project at RKO (followed by 1957's Jet Pilot). The film's largely self-generated scandalous reputation limited its potential as a recurring family title, though its value as a voluptuous camp exercise has ensured viewer interest for decades to come.
Producer: Howard Hughes, Robert Sparks
Director: Ted Tetzlaff
Screenplay: Jack Pollexfen, Aubrey Wisberg
Cinematography: William Snyder
Film Editing: Roland Gross, Frederic Knudtson
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller
Music: Victor Young
Cast: Dale Robertson (Sinbad), Sally Forrest (Ameer), Lili St. Cyr (Nerissa), Vincent Price (Omar Khayyam), Mari Blanchard (Kristina), Leon Askin (Khalif).
by Nathaniel Thompson