Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Magic Carpet ride


Because I had some technical problems with the feature that was to be reviewed in this space today, I was forced to call an audible…and so, I made the decision to go with The Magic Carpet (1951), a cheesy fantasy-adventure produced by none other than “Jungle” Sam Katzman under the banner of Esskay Pictures.  (Esskay also gave birth to a guilty pleasure of mine, Siren of Bagdad [1953], featuring the incomparable Hans Conried.)  Once we’ve dispensed with the opening titles, we witness a celebration at the palace of Omar (Leonard Penn), caliph of an unidentified Arabian province.  Omar is a proud papa—his son Abdullah al Husan has entered the world, and a beaming Omar prepares to announce to his subjects that “Ab” is officially his successor.  The treacherous Ali (Gregory Gaye), however, has other plans—he murders Omar in cold blood…and directs his henchman Boreg (Raymond Burr) to do away with his wife and the baby.  Queen Yashima (Doretta Johnson) manages to save her son by placing him on a magic carpet and directing the enchanted rug to fly the kid to her uncle Ahkmid (William Fawcett) …who adopts the foundling as his own son, rechristening him “Ramoth.”

John Agar, Patricia Medina, George Tobias
As Ramoth (John Agar) grows to manhood, he also becomes a physician like his “father” …but bemoans the state of the province under the iron-handed rule of Caliph Omar.  Omar is a despot; squeezing his subjects for every last dinar through ruthless tax collecting and adopting a zero-tolerance policy where dissent is concerned.  (Of course, had his opponent bothered to campaign in Michigan, it might have been a different story where his subjects are concerned.)  Ramoth decides that the people need a champion…and he dons crimson robes to become “The Scarlet Falcon” (dun-dun-DUNNNN!!!); with his faithful sidekick Razi (George Tobias) and Razi’s sister Lida (Patricia Medina), Ramoth battles regularly with the Caliph’s men, and to vanquish his foe once and for all he infiltrates the palace as Ali’s personal physician…while attracting the eye of Ali’s treacherous sister Narah (Lucille Ball).

The Magic Carpet is one of four features on a two-disc Mill Creek Entertainment collection entitled Hollywood Legends: Lucille Ball, which I grabbed at Hamilton Books for the obscenely low price of $4.95.  (If I’m not being presumptuous, members of the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear faithful might want to bookmark Hamilton and check their inventory from time to time; they have some incredible bargains, including that bodacious Hopalong Cassidy box set with all 66 Hoppy features—which friend of the blog Richard M. Roberts e-mailed me to let me know was selling for $19.95.)  Now…I didn’t purchase the Lucy set just to add Carpet to the dusty TDOY archives—it was bought for the acquisition of Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949) and The Fuller Brush Girl (1950), two wacky Lucy favorites that have been previously covered here on the blog.  Carpet was just a bonus, as was the fourth feature, Her Husband’s Affairs (1947).  So, in making the choice between the two bonuses (boni?), I had to determine which actor would be the least painful to endure—Franchot Tone or John Agar.  (Proving I don’t always make the best choices in life—Agar is his usual lunkheaded self in Carpet.)

I thought with the Katzman stamp on the production—along with direction by Lew Landers, one of my favorite journeymen—The Magic Carpet might be a diverting little flick provided I parked my brain in neutral.  It’s not terrible, but it’s nothing you need set the DVR for, either.  I amused myself for most of the proceedings chuckling at the clandestine romance between Burr’s vizier and Princess Lucy; in earlier editions of his acclaimed movie reference books, Leonard Maltin identified Lucy’s character as the heroine but that has since been corrected in the third edition of Classic Movie Guide.  Lucy’s really the only reason why you should invest the time in this costumer, and her participation behind-the-scenes is more interesting than the movie itself.

According to her autobiography, Ball had become frustrated with the poor quality of the movies she appeared in at Columbia—many of them just like the vehicles on the Hollywood Legends box set, ironically enough—and when she was offered a nice role by director Cecil B. DeMille in his Oscar-winning extravaganza The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) she asked Columbia head Harry “White Fang” Cohn to be let out of her contract.  Cohn said no dice, Chicago, and offered her Carpet instead.  Cohn was hoping that Lucy would refuse to do the picture because her contract with the studio would have been terminated and she would have forfeited a $85,000 payday (which is what she earned for five days’ work on Carpet).  Lucy did not get where she did in show bidness by being dumb, so she agreed to wade through Carpet and get that moneh.  At the time she was filming, however, Mrs. Arnaz was pregnant with the child that would be eventually born as Lucie Arnaz—which is why Lucy looks a little full-figured in her harem duds.  (They tried to hide her condition by placing her behind props and furniture…but it’s obvious she’s got a Scheherazade in the oven.)

Gregory Gaye, Lucy
Three days after the premiere of I Love Lucy on television, The Magic Carpet was released to theaters.  Ball would concentrate her efforts on making that show one of the most beloved sitcoms in the history of the tube, and Lucy later made a pair of films with hubby Desi Arnaz at MGM, The Long, Long Trailer (1954) and Forever, Darling (1956).  She’s fun to watch in “SuperCineColor” even though she doesn’t do any of the dancing depicted on the poster art (Patricia Medina handles that angle, and, to quote Facebook pal Hal Erickson, “is obliged to spend a good portion of the film in chains and ropes”).  Comic relief from George “Ab-nah!” Tobias and prime villainy from Gaye and Burr make this a painless way to spend 84 minutes…though I used the Steppenwolf pun for the title because you can’t really call this one a “buried treasure.”

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