Saturday, August 13, 2022

Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

Sinbad the Sailor is a 1947 RKO swashbuckler and the studio decided to spend some real money on it. It’s in glorious Technicolor and looks stunning. And it stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Maureen O’Hara.

The tales of Sinbad were among the most entertaining in that fabulous collection of eastern tales, The Thousand Nights and One Night (more commonly known as the Arabian Nights). The Arabian Nights became a major inspiration for swashbuckling adventure movies and there have been countless Sinbad movies. What’s surprising is that pretty much all of them are worth seeing.

Sinbad is a great sailor, trader, explorer and adventurer. We also get the impression that he is an accomplished and inveterate liar. But a charming one.

Sinbad and his sidekick Abbu board a fine sailing ship which was headed for the rocks and certain destruction. The ship’s crewmen are all dead. Sinbad intends to claim the ship by the law of salvage. But someone else wants that ship, a woman. A beautiful woman, although (as we will soon discover) possibly a dangerous woman. She is Shireen (Maureen O’Hara).

Sinbad found a chart on the ship, which he believes will lead him to the fabled island where the lost treasure of Alexander the Great can be found. He also notices a design on the window of the captain’s cabin which matches a medallion he has worn for years. Sinbad is convinced that he must have this ship and must find the lost island.

A major theme of Islamic folk tales is destiny, or kismet. Sinbad believes he has found his kismet.

He’s fascinated by Shireen and tries to convince her to go with him. She vanishes and he heads for a port renowned as a heaven of villains and cut-throats. He has a suspicion that he will find Shireen there. And she is part of his kismet.

Whether he can trust Shireen is an open question. It’s unlikely. She is ambitious and avaricious. Of course Sinbad is pretty ambitious and avaricious as well.

The problem is that Sinbad has lost that chart. It’s possible that Shireen knows how to find the island, but she thinks that Sinbad knows. The villainous emir who owns Shireen thinks Sinbad knows. I’s possible that whoever does know how to find that island doesn’t know that he (or she) has that knowledge.

Sinbad, Shireen and the emir all want Alexander’s lost gold. There’s going to be lots of intrigue and we can expect some double-crosses.

We also expect action and we get plenty of that.

The great swashbuckling stars were of course Douglas Fairbanks Sr, Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power and Stewart Granger. Douglas Fairbanks Jr played only a handful of swashbuckling roles but he played them so well that he certainly deserves to be added to the list. He seems to have picked up a few valuable lessons from his father - in a swashbuckler never be afraid of going over-the-top. You just can’t be too melodramatic in these sorts of movies. And nobody could overact like Douglas Fairbanks Jr when he was in the right mood. As Sinbad he is certainly a rogue, maybe even a bit of a scoundrel at times, but he is the stuff of which heroes are made. In this movie he’s all manic energy.

And obviously you can’t go wrong with Maureen O’Hara as the female lead in a swashbuckler.

The standouts among the fine supporting cast are Anthony Quinn (as a deadly scheming emir) and Mike Mazurki. Not to mention Jane Greer in a bit part. Especially good is Walter Slezak as Melik, a clever barber who is probably quite untrustworthy but definitely useful.

Unfortunately Sinbad gets a comic relief sidekick, George Tobias as Abbu. He’s annoying but just about bearable.

This is a Sinbad story without magic or monsters which gives it a very different feel compared to the later movies with their Ray Harryhausen special effects. Sinbad does have a reputation as a magician but he’s really just a clever illusionist. This is a straight adventure film rather than a fantasy.

The Warner Archive DVD is barebones but looks terrific.

Sinbad the Sailor is a fine lively swashbuckler. The main reason to see it is Douglas Fairbanks Jr at the absolute top of his game. He really is superb. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Saw this a long time ago - it is very entertaining and pretty stylish. I do remember being surprised at the lack of magic and monsters. But I'd certainly like to see it again