A Night in Paradise
Cast & Crew
In 560 B.C., Aesop of the Greek Isle of Samos sails into the main port of the kingdom of Lydia, where great excitement surrounds the impending arrival of Princess Delerai of Persia, who has agreed to marry King Croesus to prevent war. Prior to Delerai's arrival, Croesus meets with his chamberlain, Leonides, to discuss what to do about Queen Attossa of Phrygia, from whom he has accepted a chest of pearls as a wedding troth. Leonides advises Croesus to keep the pearls and send a message to Attossa that the ship baring the jewels was lost at sea. Meanwhile, the beautiful Delerai and Aesop arrive at court simultaneously and the princess is taken aback to find that the famous wiseman is a withered old peasant in rags. When Aesop informs Croesus that Samos can make no monetary tribute to Lydia, but only an offer of trade, the insulted king angrily orders Aesop's execution. Delerai, however, recognizes Aesop's reknown and pleads to have him spared. In Phrygia, through the use of sorcery, Attossa discovers Croeses's deceit in refusing her marriage offer and begins haunting the Lydian king, hoping to drive him mad as revenge. After some days of Attossa's torments, Croesus, in desperation, turns to Aesop for assistance, and the wiseman advises that he conquor Attossa through will power. When Croesus succeeds in driving Attossa away, he is pleased enough to make Aesop his confidant, unaware that the old man has fallen in love with Delerai. Although appalled at Aesop's declaration of love, Delerai continues to put off Croesus' demand that she set a wedding date. As Aesop grows despondent over Delerai's aloofness, Attossa begins haunting him, tempting him to do away with Croesus in order to win Delerai. Leonides, resentful of Aesop's new influence with Croesus, schemes with Delerai to place the wiseman in a compromising situation that will ruin his standing with the king. As part of their plan, Delerai sends for Aesop late one night, ostensibly to interpret a charm, but he has grown wary by the hour of the summons. As Aesop hesitates, Attossa taunts him about his dishonesty, which prompts him to send a handsome young man to Delerai in his place. The young man introduces himself to a startled Delerai as Jason, and, interpreting her amulet, predicts that her vanity will destroy her unless she humbles herself to a lowly, common man. When Delerai realizes that Jason's prophesy suggests Aesop, she faints, but upon reviving, recognizes that Jason is Aesop and acknowledges that she is in love with him. When Delerai asks why he disguises himself as an old man, Aesop explains that it is difficult for a young man to be accepted as a sage. Meanwhile, the spirit of Attossa again torments Croesus by revealing that Delerai mocks him by falling in love with Aesop. Outside Delerai's apartment, Leonides waits for her previously agreed upon summons in vain and when he bursts into the room, finds Delerai alone. Croesus arrives at the same moment and is deeply offended that Leonides should accuse Delerai of improper conduct and orders his execution. The next day when Delerai tells Aesop she intends to refuse to marry Croesus, he advises against it, for fear that the king will invade both Samos and Persia in revenge. Aesop then rushes to stop Leonides' execution, thus causing the chamberlain to be indebted to him. Attossa continues to plague Croesus with implications that Aesop and Delerai are in love, and the king's suspicions and jealousy grow. When Croesus pressures Delerai to marry him immediately, she refuses, and upon consultation with a priest, Croesus learns that Aesop is not who he appears to be. Croesus then bans Aesop from Lydia and prepares to make war on Samos, but Aesop pleads with him to consult the oracle at Delphi before taking action. Croesus agrees to abide by Apollo's decision and Aesop goes to Delphi disguised as a Lydian ambassador and pays off the oracle's high priest to predict Lydia's triumph. When Croesus finds Delerai missing from the palace, Attossa informs him she is with Aesop at Delphi. Unaware that Delerai is at Delphi, Aesop, in his old man disguise, tries to bribe the priest Cleomenes to allow him to go to the oracle to hear Apollo's decision. When Cleomenes refuses, Aesop kills him and attends the oracle in the priest's robes. The high priest prophesizes that Samos will be saved, and just as Aesop attempts to slip away from the ceremony, Delerai is brought before the priests. Aesop attempts to intervene, only to have his disguise revealed. When he angrily chastises the priests for mocking the oracle by giving desperate prophecies, they respond by ordering his and Delerai's death for blasphemy. Croesus arrives before the execution and Aesop informs him that the Delphi priests are only interested in his money, not in truth. Creosus offers to save Delerai, but she insists on remaining with Aesop, so Croesus gives them both up in disgust. The couple is forced off a cliff into the sea, but Attossa intervenes and saves them from death. Their survival and subsequent happy marriage succeeds in driving Croesus mad, fulfilling Attossa's quest for revenge.
Wee Willie Davis
Karen X. Gaylord
Pedro De Cordoba
Bernard B. Brown
John P. Fulton
Russell A. Gausman
John B. Goodman
W. Howard Greene
Jack P. Pierce
E. R. Robinson
A Night in Paradise
Tagline for Night in Paradise
Universal's front office must have thought they were trapped in a hellish nightmare when this lavish Arabian Nights adventure lost half its investment at the box office. In more recent years, however, fans of the strange and misguided have come to regard this 1946 romance as a camp classic. Long unavailable in its original form, the film had rarely aired uncut until TCM started presenting it.
Producer Walter Wanger had scored a huge hit at Universal in 1942 with Arabian Nights, inspired by the success of Alexander Korda's The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and even featuring one of its stars, Sabu. The real news generated by the Wanger production, however, was Maria Montez, who shot to stardom as queen of the Universal swashbucklers with her performance as the Arabian dancing girl Scheherazade. The studio followed with a series of profitable exotic adventures, most often teaming her with her hunky Arabian Nights co-star, Jon Hall. Though those films did well, however, the genre's comic elements took over. Even Wanger spoofed the form with his 1945 Salome Where She Danced, which made Yvonne de Carlo a star. As a result, the time was far from ripe for a serious return to exotic romance.
For over a decade, Wanger had dreamed of filming George S. Hellman's 1931 novel Peacock's Feather, depicting the famed fable-writer Aesop's romance with a Persian princess betrothed to the mythical King Croesus. When Wanger was at RKO in the early '30s, he had hoped to make it with that studio's reigning dramatic star, Ann Harding, but the project fell through. He resurrected the picture at Universal, where it seemed a perfect fit for the studio's production roster.
Wanger wanted to borrow the young Ava Gardner from MGM for the role of Princess Delarai, but studio executives insisted on casting established star Merle Oberon. Ironically, Universal's The Killers, released the same year as Night in Paradise, would make Gardner a much bigger star. Oberon didn't hesitate to accept the role. She had always dreamed of being a Persian princess and often went to costume parties in her version of Arabian regalia. When she read her first scene, in which she is drawn to the palace in a cart hauled by 12 white oxen, she didn't have to read any further.
As her leading man, the studio cast another star from their run of adventure films, Turhan Bey. The Austrian actor, nicknamed "The Turkish Delight" for the exotic looks inherited from his Turkish father, was a great hit with audiences in search of escapism during the World War II era. He had top-lined many of the studio's genre films and had even taken a trip to the majors to co-star as Katharine Hepburn's husband in the ill-fated Dragon Seed (1944). But despite his good looks, he could be rather wooden on-screen. Nor was he helped by a script that kept him in unconvincing old age makeup until well past the halfway point.
Out of the makeup, however, he was considered quite a dreamboat, an assessment with which leading lady Oberon readily agreed. Director Arthur Lubin claimed that Oberon and Bey had an affair during filming. Unfortunately, that damaged the film, as the married leading lady fought to keep her passion from showing during what should have been steamy love scenes with him. It didn't help either that his current inamorata, Lana Turner, kept showing up on set to keep anything further from developing between the co-stars. Even when Oberon demanded a closed set, Turner would sneak in and peep through the scenery.
The film's real drive -- and much of its camp value -- comes from the lavish scenic design and the supporting cast. Art director Alexander Golitzen had already won an Oscar® for the Technicolor sets for the studio's remake of Phantom of the Opera (1943), starring Claude Rains. For Night in Paradise, he worked with John B. Goodman to create a series of fanciful depictions of the ancient Far East, which took up a good part of the high-for-Universal budget of S1.6 million.
Competing to see who could devour more of those sets were a trio of inveterate scene-stealers. Ray Collins, originally a member of Orson Welles's Mercury Players and later Lt. Tragg on Perry Mason, got to play an effeminate royal advisor whose shifting loyalties help keep the plot moving. Gale Sondergaard, who had won the first Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress as the villainess in Anthony Adverse (1936), is a vengeful sorceress out to drive the king mad and foster Aesop's romance with Delarai. But the biggest scene stealer of all is Thomas Gomez, best known for playing seedy urban types like John Garfield's brother in Force of Evil (1948). His Croesus is alternately imperial and childish as Sondergaard's enchantments and jealousy drive him to the brink of madness and beyond.
In the late '40s, however, critics and audiences were tiring of Universal's Arabian Nights confections. Dorothy Masters of the New York Daily News dismissed the film as the "spoofingest artistry of the season," while Bosley Crowther of the New York Times dubbed it "more ridiculous than entertaining." Audiences obviously agreed, as the film lost $800,000 at the box office. Even those who might have enjoyed Night in Paradise's mix of romance and high camp were stymied by the badly cut, grainy prints released to television in the '50s. The TCM screening returns the film to its original Technicolor splendor and 84-minute length, complete with picturesque shots of beautiful girls wading in the palace pool and the title song sequence, sung by Juli Lynne. With all of its footage intact, viewers can even try to guess which of Gomez's palace maidens is future singing star Julie London.
Producer: Walter Wanger
Director: Arthur Lubin
Screenplay: Emmet Lavery, Ernest Pascal
Based on the novel Peacock's Feather by George S. Hellman
Cinematography: W. Howard Greene, Hal Mohr
Score: Frank Skinner
Cast: Merle Oberon (Delarai), Turhan Bey (Aesop), Thomas Gomez (King Croesus), Gale Sondergaard (Attosa), Ray Collins (Leonides), Ernest Truex (Scribe), George Dolenz (Frigid Ambassador), John Litel (Archon), Jerome Cowan (Scribe), Douglass Dumbrille (High Priest), Moroni Olsen (High Priest), Pedro de Cordoba (Magus), Julie London (Palace Maiden).
C-84m. Closed Captioning.
by Frank Miller
A Night in Paradise
Modern sources indicate that producer Walter Wanger wanted to borrow Ava Gardner from M-G-M for the role of "Delerai," but that Universal insisted on Merle Oberon. Modern sources indicate that production figures reveal A Night in Paradise cost over $1.5 million to produce and lost Universal nearly $800,000.