Saturday, October 9, 2021
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944)
You won’t be surprised to learn that the movie has very little (in fact almost nothing) to do with the original story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (which is of course one of the tales of the Arabian Nights). The movie turns the pauper Ali Baba into the son of the Caliph of Baghdad and it turns the band of cut-throats, thieves and murderers into courageous freedom fighters against the evil Mongols (who do not appear in the original story at all). This allows the writers to add some clumsy wartime propaganda about the crusade for freedom and democracy.
So instead Ali (renamed Ali Baba by the thieves) persuades the thieves to join him in freeing the land from the wicked Mongols, thus ensuring that freedom will triumph.
Ten years later Ali Baba (now played by Jon Hall) is the de facto leader of the band of thieves and freedom fighters.
Amara is Arabian and secretly hates the Mongols and of course she doesn’t want to marry Hulagu. Her father (the treacherous brother of the murdered Caliph) has forced her into it.
There are usual adventures and complications that you expect in a swashbuckler, with Ali and Amara not recognising each at first and not realising that they are destined to be together, no matter the cost.
Director Arthur Lubin handles the action scenes reasonably well. The film slows down a little in the middle.
I must say that I’m very fond of Maria Montez. No-one is going to claim she’s a great actress but she has the fieriness and the exotic beauty to be perfect for this sort of rôle in this sort of film. Montez was Spanish (although born in the Dominican Republic) but that wan’t going to deter Hollywood from casting her as an Arabian princess. Spanish, Arabian - it was all the same to Hollywood. And in a way they were right. What they needed was an actress who could be exotic and Montez could do that with ease.
This movie reunites Montez with Jon Hall, her co-star in Arabian Nights (also an excellent adventure flick) and Cobra Woman (which is great fun). He’s not Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power but he was OK as a cut-price adventure hero and it’s Montez’s star power that carries the movie anyway (and yes, in this genre she really did have a certain star power).
I should mention that the opening credits are done in a very clever way.
My copy of the movie is the old Universal Backlot Series DVD which looks very good. There are now both US and UK Blu-Ray releases which I’m sure look even better.
Personally I prefer Arabian Nights with its more interesting visuals and its fairytale atmosphere. Montez also starred in the extremely interesting Siren of Atlantis which is also a bit more interesting than this one.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is still a well-mounted second-tier swashbuckler. Recommended.