Universal // 1944 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // July 1st, 2009
"For a man's country or his stomach he might bid his life; even for his horse. Never, never for a woman." -- Abdullah
Escapism at the movies has always been in fashion, even sixty years ago. Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is a Technicolor dream of Baghdad and waving scimitars. It's a reimagining of the Arabian Nights tale with less mysticism, more Technicolor, and the dazzling Maria Montez.
Baghdad is invaded by the Mongols, and the Caliph is betrayed and killed. His son Ali escapes. He finds refuge with a band of thieves who hide out in a cave that you have to say "Open Sesame!" to enter. Ali Baba (Jon Hall, The Invisible Man's Revenge) grows up to lead his gang of rebels in a resistance effort against the foreign invaders. He wants to reclaim his throne and his girl (Maria Montez, The Invisible Woman), but it may take forty oil barrels full of sand to get there. The bad guys twirl their moustaches, the good guys make noble speeches, and the beautiful exotic girl is caught in the middle.
Maria Montez had become a screen siren who's presence represented "B" grade escapist fare ever since she traded modeling for a movie career after the Great Depression. She seemed to always have Turhan Bey alongside her in the cast, and Jon Hall to play the "white bread" hero to her exotic female lead. Hall and Montez had made a very successful film adaptation of Arabian Nights only two years before this one, so Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves feels like a studio's attempt to cash in on a trend. It looks like a lot of the same sets and costumes were used, and the usual clichés abound. The saving grace is the film just has a good time, and doesn't pretend to be anything it is not. The acting is cheesy, the story is predictable, but the spectacle is enough to carry it all through. Like Maria Montez herself, it's pretty to look at.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves comes to us on a DVD that is part of the Universal "Backlot Series." The picture has been digitally remastered, and we get the B picture in it's original full frame aspect ratio. It looks okay, although you can certainly guess the film was made six decades ago. The Technicolor is a little wacky, and there is a wash of grain and lack of detail throughout. I saw a couple of scratches and dirt pop up now and then too. The sound is a simple mono which is tinny but serviceable. There are no extras, not even a vintage trailer or poster gallery. There are subtitles, though, which is a plus when all things are considered, especially Montez's sometimes-thick accent.
In the grand scheme of things, this title is only going to excite the Maria Montez completist. Surely the better made Arabian Nights or the even more silly and fun Cobra Woman represent better choices for DVD enthusiasts who just want a fun ride.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is a solid B picture content to ride right in the middle of the road. It's not quite as campy as the absurd Maria Montez epics, but then it is also not quite as well made as the best of her films. There is singing, dancing, sword waving, bed sheet costumes, huge cardboard sets, and lots of soft focus close ups. Nobody even remotely looks Middle Eastern, and the accents are from everywhere but that region. The whole film is a cartoon made for adults who just wanted to escape for an hour and a half.
Guilty of being a middle of the road guilty pleasure.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1944
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Maria Montez Fan Site