Monday, August 9, 2010

100 years, 100 films 33: Arabian Nights (1942)

This movie makes no sense. And by that, I don't mean that it's filled with plot holes (although it is), or that the dialogue sounds like stuff that no human would ever, under any circumstances, say (although it does), or that the basic plot is a cliche riddled mess with no proper through line (although it is and it hasn't). I don't even mean the fact that they've taken the Arabian Nights name, randomly stolen a bunch of character names from different, completely incongruous, tales, and plopped them all into something with absolutely nothing to do with the Arabian Nights. When I claim that this movie makes no sense, what I mean is, is that there is absolutely no reason why the hero is the hero and the villain is the villain.

By this, I mean that the hero does nothing heroic, and the villain does nothing villainous. In fact, at the start of the film, I had assumed that the villain was the hero, given the fact that his introduction was him being tortured by the film's "hero". And not only was the "villain" being tortured by the "hero," and not only was the "hero" saying absolutely nothing to convince me that this torture was in any way justified, but the guy was being hung on a horizontal pole by his arms in a very obvious Christ-like pose. So naturally, I assumed, "oh, this is just poorly handled, very obvious symbolism." But then, when I (eventually) worked out that he was the villain, I had to reassess my judgement, and I thought to myself, "oh. It's just a really shitty film with absolutely no idea what the hell it is doing."

Something else that didn't help matters any - the hero and the villain looked exactly the fucking same. I mean, they were supposed to be brothers, so I suppose you could argue that their identicalness was to stress the whole family resemblance thing, but it just made it really damn confusing. I kept having to think, "wait. Is this the hero, or the villain? Who is saying these things?" And the fact that neither of these idiots had anything remotely resembling a personality didn't help things any either. Here's a tip for any prospective film makers out there: when casting your movie, don't have the protagonist and the antagonist look exactly the fucking same. It's just confusing.

Other ways in which this film had no idea what it was doing: the "comic relief" was just so goddamn terrible. When the "highlight" of your "comedy relief" is Shemp fucking Howard, you should not be allowed to have any goddamn comedy relief. Shemp plays Sinbad the Sailor and spends the whole time attempting to tell stories of when he was at sea. Everyone around him keeps telling him to shut the hell up, but he never gets the damn message. Other comic "highlights": a fat guy making "boing" sound effects when he hits people with his belly, a fat guy in a dress, a man inexplicably falling in lust with a fat guy in a dress. Oh, and Aladdin is trying to find his magic lamp, so he goes around and rubs every lamp he sees. Ha ha ha? I can tell it was supposed to be a joke, because it made no sense in any other context.

The film looked great - the colours were lush and gorgeous, the set decorations were beautiful. But when any of the walls in any of the buildings are more interesting than any of the actors, there is something wrong with your movie. There is something wrong with this movie.

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