Warner Bros. // 1965 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // July 30th, 2004
1001 Swingin' Nights!
Hey kids! Elvis is back and this time he's got himself wrapped up in some Middle East mischief that delivers plenty of swordplay, a harem of honeys, and a whole camel-load of exciting new songs. And, with legendary producer Sam Katzman slinking in as producer, you just know it's got to be good, right kids?
Johnny Tyronne (Elvis) is the chart-topping heartthrob who's currently in the midst of a goodwill tour through the Middle East. After a premiere screening of his newest Arabian adventure in which his impressive karate skills dazzle the collective of Middle Eastern ambassadors (he bitchslaps the hell out of a threatening leopard), he's invited to visit the palace of King Toranshah (Philip Reed) and his brother Prince Dragna (Michael Ansara). However, curvaceous temptress Aishah (Fran Jeffries) first slips him a Moustapha Finn and whisks him away to the evil abode of the Assassins led by the imposing Sinan. There, Johnny is coerced to use his fighting skills to assassinate King Toranshah, a difficult proposition not only because Johnny's not interested in becoming a high sands hit-man but also because he's fallen in love with the King's daughter, Princess Shalimar (former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley). Aided by the quirky Zacha (Jay Novello) and his band of bumbling thieves, Johnny escapes captivity and sets about to stop Sinan and the Assassins.
Harum Scarum is simply an embarrassingly crappy picture. No matter how hard the King croons, the film simply withers under the hot desert sun. Of course, it might have helped if an actual desert had been on hand as backdrop for this...er...desert adventure. Instead, we get a series of cheap sets, potted palms, and plywood palaces. Really, production value here is practically nonexistent. There are plenty of Harum Scarum apologists around, I've found, who try to assert some merit to this loathsome entry in the King's film repertoire but their protests are unfounded; this film is painful to watch and it clearly appears that Elvis himself is pained throughout the ordeal. Sleepwalking from cheap set to cheap set, forced to mimic a bevy of truly bad songs (with the single exception of "So Close Yet So Far from Paradise" which isn't half bad), the now-Persian Pelvis is left to fight his way out of amateurish scenes, stiffly choreographed musical numbers, a low-rent wardrobe, and a mottled stipple-tan.
It's hard to determine who's to blame for this muddled musical but El Cheapo Katzman certainly springs to mind. Of course, I do cut him some slack only because I enjoyed a couple of his pictures, namely 1956's The Werewolf and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers but he had a history of churning out fast-buck stinkers which makes him a prime suspect. Over in the director's chair was none other than song-and-dance man Gene Nelson, which leaves me puzzled why the musical numbers (which annoyingly seem to come about every seven minutes) fall flat and come off as largely unnecessary throughout the picture. Yes, it's an Elvis film, I know, and audiences are expecting him to sing but, really, to have him come out of a drugged stupor to sing a song only to drift away again after the final bars...then again, this is Elvis. Whatever the reason, the King generally comes off as if his Creole's gone bad, leaving him looking quite uncomfortable singing concocted compositions alongside every cheesy oasis, pre-fab marketplace, or plaster prison erected on the MGM backlot. He generally stumbles around, occasionally lifts and eyebrow, but never looks very committed to the role (odd since I'd expect the role of a singin' swinger would fit him like a leather ghutra).
The female performers are merely fodder for the King. Mary Ann Mobley is pretty but doddering. Fran Jeffries tries to inject a certain amount of femme fatale but is easily dismissed. The only actors of any note here are Michael Ansara who gives it his best as the enigmatic Prince Dragna and the diminutive Billy Barty as the mischievous mute thief, Baba. There's only one camel in the film, likely on loan from Ali Asin's Petting Zoo, yet all we see is its butt as it's led in front of the camera then quickly out of frame. Pretty.
Given the overall deplorable nature of the film, there's not much to counter with except, maybe, the disc itself. Coming from Warner Brothers Home Video, the anamorphic transfer, framed at 1.75:1, actually looks all right. Most notable is the cleanliness of the source material. The color is generally stable and rich though there were a few quick moments where the stock actually seemed to change to what looked like 16mm quality (perhaps a half-assed restoration was taking place before my unbelieving eyes). There is a moderate amount of grain to be seen, so in no way is this any sort of stellar presentation. The audio comes by way of an appropriate Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix that sounds better than most I've endured in the past. The only extras are the film's theatrical trailer plus trailers from other Elvis movies (notice how superior Jailhouse Rock appears in content when compared to this disc's disappointing feature).
Harum Scarum came at a time when Elvis was mired in formulaic films, nowhere near the genuinely entertaining Flaming Star or Jailhouse Rock. I can only expect this picture and other such dreck like 1967's Clambake to appeal to die-hard fans. It's truly difficult to watch for its sheer hokey nature.
Despite Warner Bros. attempt to offer a reasonable transfer for such lousy film, it's this court's opinion that you simply can't disguise this sort of desert dung and thereby finds all involved guilty. Phew! Smells like wet camels.
Review content copyright © 2004 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Elvis Trailer Gallery
* Official Elvis Site