Saturday, June 1, 2024

The Golden Arrow (1962)

The Golden Arrow is a 1962 Italian Arabian Nights adventure/romance directed by the usually reliable Antonio Margheriti.

I guess, given the release date, that I was expecting something with more of the flavour of the wonderful Italian peplums. What you actually get is something rather blander and more wholesome. It’s like freshly baked bread, if you like freshly baked bread.

The first thing that strikes the viewer is that the plot seems very familiar indeed. That’s because the plot is essentially that of the magnificent 1924 Douglas Fairbanks Thief of Bagdad with a few bits from the very very fine 1940 British remake as well. Both those movies are a whole lot better than this one.

Hassan (Tab Hunter) is the leader of a band of thieves. Their latest caper is the kidnapping of the beautiful princess of Damascus, Jamila (Rossana Podestà). She will bring a rich ransom. In the course of the kidnapping Hassan finds himself competing in a contest. Jamila is the heiress to the principality - the man who marries her will become sultan of Damascus. The various suitors for Jamila’s hand must each try to draw a golden bow and fire a golden arrow. The man who can do this is destined to marry Jamila and become sultan. Hassan claims to be an obscure foreign prince. He succeeds in firing the arrow but he is disqualified when it is discovered he is a mere thief rather than a prince. The golden arrow disappears.

Hassan carries Jamila off but he’s too much of a nice guy to stick to the plan. He is overwhelmed by her beauty and sweetness and returns her unharmed, without the ransom.

Jamila has three main suitors, none of whom please her. She stalls for time by setting them a new contest. They must each bring her an extraordinary gift. She agrees that she will marry the man who brings the finest gift.

The three suitors set off in search of rare magical items.

Meanwhile Hassan has acquired three strange comrades who literally just appeared out of thin air. Perhaps they are djinns or celestial messengers. They want him to find that golden arrow and marry the princess because it is his Destiny - he is in fact the rightful sultan.

This movie certainly looks sumptuous and expensive. It may not have been that expensive but the Italians could make a modest amount of money go a long long way. Some of the special effects are pretty decent. The flying carpet looks reasonably convincing. Others are not so good. The sets look terrific. The movie was shot in Technicolor and in the ’scope aspect ratio. The location shooting is very impressive.

Tab Hunter does seem a bit out of place, a bit too all-American. I guess it’s plausible that the princess could be swept off her feet by his blond California surfer guy good looks. His voice was dubbed in both the Italian and English language versions so his performance is difficult to judge but it is obvious that he lacks the charisma and the loveable rogue quality that Fairbanks brought to the role. Rossana Podestà is very pretty and looks the part of a sweet good girl princess.

The chief villain is the vizier Baktiar (Mario Feliciani) who wants to keep power in his own hands. He’s the movie’s major weak link - he just isn’t sufficiently sinister and menacing and he’s pretty dull.

This movie has a Disney family movie wholesomeness and tries to be too whimsical. That is perhaps an unfair judgment since it does give the impression of being aimed at a young audience. There’s nothing here to upset the kiddies. Hassan’s pursuit of Jamila is very chaste. The violence is very very mild indeed.

There are some fine visual moments but a bit more action and excitement would not have gone amiss. This is the kind of movie that offers a full-scale battle scene in which nobody actually gets hurt.

Sadly this movie lacks the craziness and inspiration that Antonio Margheriti brought to his best movies. There’s too much lame comic relief. The chemistry isn’t quite there between the two leads, mostly because Rossana Podestà looks like an Arabian Nights princess and Tab Hunter looks like a refugee from an AIP beach party movie.

We don’t get enough of a sense that the princess is ever in any real danger.

It’s not terrible and it’s reasonable undemanding entertainment and if you treat it as a kids’ movie it’s not bad. But it looks lovely so it’s recommended, with reservations.

The Warner Archive Blu-Ray is of course barebones but the transfer is excellent.

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