Sunday, March 20, 2022

Kismet (1944)

Kismet sounds like it’s going to be tremendous fun. More of a fairy tale than an Arabian Nights tale although it has the Arabian Nights setting. It stars Ronald Colman as a beggar in Bagdad, but he’s not just a beggar he’s Hafiz the king of the beggars. At night he dresses as a prince.

The young Caliph likes to dress up as well. He disguises himself as a humble gardener’s son so he can wander about the city and find out how the people really feel.

While he’s disguised as the gardener’s son he meets Hafiz’s daughter Marsinah and they fall in love.

For her whole life Hafiz has been making plans for Marsinah. He wants her to marry a prince. He schemes endlessly to bring this about.

Hafiz gets mixed up in the power struggle between the idealistic young Caliph and the wicked Grand Vizier. Hafiz talks his way into the Grand Vizier’s palace and convinces that worthy and his whole household that he is a prince from a distant corner of the empire. Hafiz is an accomplished and shameless liar and this is part of his plan to give Marsinah what he imagines she wants - marriage to the most powerful man in the empire.

But first he’ll have to get rid of the Grand Vizier’s current mistress, the formidable Jarmilla (Marlene Dietrich).

So we have lots of people pretending to be something they’re not which should provide plenty of laughs and plenty of opportunities for romantic complications.

And it does work, sort of. After a fashion. Almost.

One problem is that Hafiz clearly lives entirely in a world of fantasy. He can be very amusing with his shameless lying and impostures but it also makes him kind of creepy and pathetic.

A much bigger problem is that we’re supposed to be rooting for the idealistic young Caliph in his power struggle with the wicked Grand Vizier. We’re supposed to want the heroine to end up marrying the handsome young Caliph. But there’s just no way we want any girl to end up with that dishwater-dull pompous nonentity of a Caliph. We just know that a woman would have a much happier life with the wicked Grand Vizier because he’s a really fun guy, he’s witty and amusing, he adores women and pampers them and indulges them.

The other problem is that Hafiz tells everyone how spectacularly beautiful and talented his daughter is and we’re apparently supposed to believe that a connoisseur of women such as the Grand Vizier would be stunned by her. But the truth is that Marsinah is a whiny bore and Joy Ann Page’s performance is just dull dull dull.

So I found myself really wanting the bad guy to win. I was really hoping that something totally horrible would happen to the hero, the young Caliph, like maybe being sold into slavery.

I suppose in a way I could get behind the idea of the Caliph and Marsinah marrying because they’re such dreary sanctimonious characters and it would be poetic justice for them to make each other’s lives miserable.

The movie looks quite impressive but it lacks the vitality and the wit and the sparkle that this type of movie needs. It needs to be faster. It needs more energy. Marlene Dietrich livens things up a little but she’s not given enough to do and she’s not permitted to be wicked enough to make things interesting.

Generally speaking I adore these Arabian Nights movies and I just love adventure romance mixed with comedy in an exotic setting. The 1944 Kismet is, sadly, the dullest movie of this type that I’ve encountered so far. It just doesn’t come to life.

To see this sort of thing done well check out Arabian Nights (1942), The Desert Hawk (1950) or Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944).

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