Cast & Crew
After unsuccessfully attempting to overthrow the lawful regime of Haroun-al-Raschid, his brother, the Caliph of Bagdad, Kamar al Zaman, is sentenced to "the slow death." Seven days later, however, Kamar still lives, but before Haroun can give him to a merciful death, he makes his escape with the help of his followers. During the ensuing battle, Haroun is wounded and his troops are defeated. He is later found by Sherazade, a poor dancing girl who is the object of Kamar's unwanted affections, and Ali Ben Ali, an acrobat. In order to protect the injured Haroun, Ali places his royal ring on the finger of a dead rebel, and mistakenly believing his brother is dead, the people proclaim Kamar the new Caliph. He is unable to place Sherazade on the throne beside him, however, as her circus has gone into hiding. Meanwhile, Haroun is nursed back to health by Sherazade and Ali, with only the young acrobat knowing his true identity. The circus troupe then learns of Kamar's accession to the throne, but rather than being brought to the new Caliph, Sherazade and the circus performers are sold into slavery by the Captain, who had been ordered by Nadan, the Grand Vizier and Kamar's closest advisor, to kill the dancer. Kamar learns of the Captain's actions and goes in search of his love, while Nadan alone knows that Sherazade and the others are in the hands of slave trader Hakim. Nadan then purchases Sherazade at the slave auction just as Haroun and the others escape from their cell. Haroun saves Sherazade from Nadan's clutches, and, along with Ali and the others, they go to a nearby village, where they are released from their chains by a local blacksmith. Before they can escape by boat across the river, however, Kamar arrives and takes them to a desert city he has built in Sherazade's honor. Once there, Haroun is called before Nadan and is arrested for his love of Sherazade. Ali then sneaks into Kamar's harem to tell Sherazade of Haroun's plight, only to have Nadan arrive and offer to have Haroun released if she agrees to poison Kamar at their wedding banquet. Knowing that Nadan plans to have Haroun killed once his escort reaches the river, Ali and the others, who have finally learned Haroun's true identity, race to the river town to save their Caliph. Haroun then arrives at the wedding banquet just in time to stop Sherazade from drinking the poisoned wine. The two brothers then battle over the throne and Sherazade, while Ali arrives with soldiers loyal to Haroun. Kamar is about to kill Haroun, but is stabbed in the back by Nadan. After Ahmad, the circus owner, stops Nadan from killing the wounded Haroun, Nadan himself is killed by Valda, the circus strong man, as he attempts to escape. With order restored, Haroun regains his throne, and with it, the hand of Sherazade.
William "wee Willie" Davis
Jeni Le Gon
Ben Ayssa Wadrassi
Bernard B. Brown
R. A. Gausman
W. Howard Greene
Dan Sayre Groesbeck
Edmund L. Hartman
William V. Skall
Ira S. Webb
Best Art Direction
Best Music, Original or Comedy Series
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
Ramírez, Juan Antonio Architecture for the Screen: A Critical Study of Set Design in Hollywood's Golden Age
Arabian Nights - Sabu, Maria Montez & Jon Hall in ARABIAN NIGHTS ON dvd
Hall plays Haroun, the rightful caliph in ancient Baghdad who is deposed by his brother Kamar (Leif Erickson). Rescued by young acrobat Ali (Sabu), and nursed back to health by stunning dancing girl Scheherazade (Montez), Haroun works to regain his rightful place. This little plot, told with cartoonish and sometimes juvenile humor, is brought to vivid life by Universal's talented technicians of the time. The studio's first three-strip Technicolor feature, Arabian Nights dazzled the eyes back in '42 and does so again now on DVD, in no small part because color like this just doesn't exist in movies anymore. The effect of seeing it now must rival the "wow" factor it produced back then, when most movies, after all, were still in black-and-white.
A big part of the "wow" factor in 1942 was also the Dominican-born Maria Montez, who catapulted to stardom with this movie. She quickly gained a loyal following even though she couldn't act. She knew she couldn't act - and she knew it didn't matter. It was enough for her to be glamorous, larger than life, and be willing to go over the top in movie after movie, with great titles like White Savage (1943), Cobra Woman (1944) and Gypsy Wildcat (1944). She was in the right place at the right time in Hollywood history and became known as The Queen of Technicolor.
The makers of Arabian Nights knew what they were doing with Montez because they knew what audiences would want to see. (As one character says, "[her] beauty shames the glory of a desert sunset!") The movie is filled with beautiful close-ups throughout of Montez bedecked with jewelry and wearing exotic, midriff-baring costumes. These shots, along with nice desert vistas and Oscar-nominated art direction, go a long way toward making an otherwise campy, silly story very pleasurable to watch. Also nominated for Oscars were Frank Skinner's excellent score as well as the sound and color cinematography. The movie was such a success that Universal teamed Montez and Hall again in five more similar films.
Popping up in the supporting cast for comic relief are Shemp Howard as Sinbad and John Qualen as Aladdin, who rubs every lamp in sight hoping it's "the" lamp. Qualen did this movie right after playing a small role in Casablanca (1942), and Shemp Howard made it a few years before he rejoined The Three Stooges. He had been one of the Stooges in the old days with his brother Moe and Larry Fine, until his other brother Curly replaced him in 1930. Shemp returned to the Stooges in 1946 when Curly had a stroke. Shemp Howard and another famous old comic, Billy Gilbert, bring some vaudeville tone to Arabian Nights, with Gilbert even dressing as a woman for one funny sequence. ("The bag of Baghdad!") The presence of these comic actors ensures that Arabian Nights will not be taken very seriously and keeps it on the level of diverting escapism.
That said, the presence of Sabu, hot off The Thief of Baghdad (1940), brings some level of "believability" (if one can call it that) to the film. He also brings welcome enthusiasm and charm; the scene that finds him alone in a harem is hilarious. ("Look! A boy! Catch him!!" the harem girls squeal.)
Universal Home Entertainment's DVD offers a digitally remastered transfer with sublimely beautiful color and barely a scratch. The only extras are an intro by Robert Osbourne and a trailer, which is a hoot and contains some accidentally macabre humor when seen in 2007: "Baghdad... City of temptation... Home of fiery adventure... and daring romance," a narrator intones. Interestingly enough, the trailer also prominently mentions producer Walter Wanger, which says a lot about his success and fame at the time. (He had also just signed a new deal with Universal.) But then the narrator gets back on track with: "You'll thrill to the slave market, the torture rack, blazing battles - in a story rich and exotic as the East itself."
For more information about Arabian Nights, visit Universal Home Video. To order Arabian Nights, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Arabian Nights - Sabu, Maria Montez & Jon Hall in ARABIAN NIGHTS ON dvd
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).