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THE VEILS OF BAGDAD (George Sherman, 1953) **1/2
Bunuel197610 November 2008
Ever since childhood (i.e. the 1980s) I have been a fan of swashbucklers and Arabian Nights romps which proliferated in Hollywood and even European cinema between the early 1920s (THE SHEIK [1921], WAXWORKS [1924], THE THIEF OF BAGDAD [1924], etc.) up until the late 1970s (SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER [1977], THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD [1978; TV], ARABIAN ADVENTURE [1979], etc.). The genre's period of glory, however, came somewhere in between, during WWII – where it proved to be the perfect escapist fare, spearheaded by movies like THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940) and ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942) – and the decade following the end of the world-wide conflict. The latter movie was a particularly big success at the box office and, consequently, Universal became the film studio which specialized in similarly exotic Oriental extravaganzas. Three movies of this type and from this studio that I recall especially enjoying in my childhood days are ARABIAN NIGHTS itself (which I have since acquired on DVD-R and which I plan to revisit around Christmas-time), THE PRINCE WHO WAS A THIEF (1951; which, although it provided Tony Curtis with his first starring role, has yet to be released on DVD) and THE GOLDEN BLADE (1953; which, luckily, has already made it into a Rock Hudson DVD collection).

This extraneous introduction serves two purposes: it crystallizes my love of the genre (admittedly, more for its nostalgic flavor than for any intrinsic artistic merit of the films themselves) and also demonstrates that the city of Bagdad was more often than not at the center of intrigue found in these movies (in fact, there was yet another version of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, made in Italy in 1961 with American muscleman Steve Reeves in the lead that I recall catching as a kid – on Italian TV like the rest of them – which has virtually vanished off the face of the earth since then). It's truly a pity, therefore, that the negative modern-day connotations with the Arabic capital have apparently spelt doom for any prospective examples of the genre making their way onto DVD any time soon – a dilemma which brings us directly to the film at hand: thankfully, for old-fashioned local film buffs, there are still many serviceable 16mm and 35mm prints of this type of movies floating around in the basement or garages of avid, long-time film enthusiasts and collectors. The star of THE VEILS OF BAGDAD, Victor Mature, happens to be the all-time favorite film star of the collector in question, an acquaintance of my own film-buff father and the uncle of another film enthusiast friend of mine, and through whom I had previously managed to have access to a 16mm print of Paul Newman's maligned film debut, THE SILVER CHALICE (1954) and which, lo and behold, will be making its own DVD debut in a mere three months' time. Perhaps my viewing of THE VEILS OF BAGDAD augurs equally well for a potential future DVD release of it and others of its ilk.

Anyway, to cut to the chase: the basic story deals with a usurping, food-loving and harem-keeping Pasha (Leon Askin) and his equally ruthless – and seemingly impotent – Vizier (Guy Rolfe) and the opposition they face from various bands of outlaws (led by Mature and Ludwig Donath and numbering among its members James Arness and frequent Burt Lancaster foil around this time, the acrobatic Nick Cravat) which are still loyal to their official but absent Ottoman ruler, Suleiman The Magnificent; on the side of the evil-doers one can also spot frequent Frankenstein monster impersonator Glenn Strange and a boyish but mute Robert Blake. The film runs for a brisk 82 minutes with well-balanced pauses for action set-pieces on the Pasha's castle rooftop (although, given Mature's distinctive and seemingly automated eyebrows, his occasional substitution for a leaner stunt man is all too apparent on a larger screen) and exotic dance routines (performed by red-headed heroine Mari Blanchard) in the local tavern which drive every Arab onlooker wild. Unfortunately, Rolfe starts out as a formidable villain – showing uncontainable contempt towards his shrewish wife and gleefully overseeing the flogging of his enemies held captive down in the castle dungeons – but somehow his character loses focus along the way and the final confrontation with Mature seemed somewhat rushed to me. Understandably for a 55-year old movie, the condition of the print I viewed was not pristine and it displayed its age through a reddish hue which permeated parts of the movie but, as I said before in my introduction, one can only be grateful that these cans of film exist at all in this day and age and that they are still able to provide a colorful, undemanding evening's entertainment for filmgoers so inclined.

Looking through the filmographies of the main people behind this film, one realizes that they were all old hands at this type of thing: Mature would later star in two similarly exotic British-made costumers (both of which I should be getting to presently) ZARAK (1956) and THE BANDIT OF ZHOBE (1959), Rolfe would immediately go on to KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953) and later, of course, THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1960; which I've just seen), leading ladies Mari Blanchard and Virginia Field had (or would soon) grace, respectively, SON OF SINBAD (1955) and CAPTAIN FURY (1939; which, like the afore-mentioned ZHOBE, is also available to me via a theatrical print), distinguished cinematographer Russell Metty had lighted his fair share of similar Universal-produced adventures, writer William R. Cox (who penned the intermittently sharp script) had just come off the afore-mentioned THE GOLDEN BLADE and director Sherman had also called the shots on THE BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1946), AGAINST ALL FLAGS (1952; another childhood favorite) and the spoof THE WIZARD OF BAGHDAD (1960; with Dick Shawn, which I also recall coming across on Italian TV eons ago)!
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In every respect one of the best adventures in the genre
silverscreen8887 June 2005
Neither Victor Mature nor Mari Blanchard are ideal for their parts, in my judgment. But the main plot of this film, the secret mission of Antar and his spymaster boss to uncover the tremendous plot being hatched by Leon Askin and Guy Rolfe, is one worthy of a great movie. In league with a bandit chief, they are threatening the rule of Haroun-al-Raschid himself. Blanchard's identity is finally revealed in a beautifully-written scene that neither actor is quite master enough of classical acting to realize fully; but the scene and the film are complete with double-entendres, character revelations and the smoldering beginning of an important love relationship. The film also has fine parts for: a seller who becomes Mature's friend; Mature's boss (Ludwig Donath) who is stalwart, intelligent, loyal and liable to capture and torture; and the wife of the Wazir's brother, beautifully played as always by Virginia French, who provides Blanchard with a rival and the film with some great lines. Mileage is even gotten out of a band of wrestlers of whom Mature is in command to complete his mission, including young James Arness and Dewey Martin. If you don't like this one, lively films with intelligent adventure that are well-directed and with very good dialogue are not for you.
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Treachery lurks in Bagdad for Suleiman the Magnificent
bkoganbing31 March 2013
Dashing Victor Mature all decked out in Middle eastern attire plays Antar, a confidential agent of Suleiman the Magnificent sent to investigate and put down a brewing insurrection in the Empire stemming from Bagdad. There the ruling Pasha is planning a revolution and he's taxing the people dry to pay for some freebooting desert tribes to join his movement.

In the meantime Victor Mature has gathered his own group of Merry Men to join him and you would have to be quite blind to not see the parallels with the Robin Hood saga transposed to the Middle East. The sheriff of Nottingham in the piece is Guy Rolfe and that's only right I suppose is Guy Rolfe who was Prince John in Ivanhoe. Rolfe is always a great villain as he was in that film and in this one. He's got a wife with a roving eye played by Virginia Field who Mature woos as part of his overall plan. And there's dancing girl Mari Blanchard with her own agenda regarding Rolfe.

The pasha stirring all this trouble up is Leon Askin who commits the horrible sin of trying to make a deal with the Venetian Republic. Mature speaking for his employer is aghast at the prospect.

This part really got to me because in history Suleiman the Magnificent had no problem at all in dealing with unbelievers. His main foreign policy concern was his battle with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and to try and keep him in check made an alliance with the Kingdom of France and its King Francis I. Among other things Toulon was practically a Moslem naval base. In real life you take your allies as you find them. But Mature's horror at what Askin was doing threw me for a bit.

Usually Universal would cast Rock Hudson, Jeff Chandler, or Tony Curtis of their contract stable for these Middle Eastern epics. Why they brought Mature in is beyond me because this is nothing special as regard to product from that studio. Still Vic's fans will be pleased.
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what? where? x 2 here!
ptb-825 April 2004
As much as I hate to admit it.....this ghastly Yvonne De Carlo bargain counter costumer had TWO releases in Australia......the first with a Jungle Jim epic CANNIBAL ATTACK......imagine that on the cinema marquee or worse, having to answer the telephone and say THAT to a prospective client.........the first in 1954 at the crumbling CAPITOL THEATRE a 2500 seat atmospheric soon to be the home of AIP extravaganzas......then it was re released AGAIN here in 1965 as a double feature with.....wait for it......can it be......the much demanded........COME September again all at The Sydney CAPITOL. What madness decided this? Wouldn't it be reasonable to expect PILLOW TALK to be reissued instead !? with COME September. ......God only knows why VEILS OF BAGDAD copped it so sweet because it helped the population of Australia be so attracted to costume epics and want to make them ourselves.
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Unexciting costumer enlivened by vivid dance scenes
Sleepy-1725 January 2001
I'm not recommending this movie, it pretty much dies during the endless running around the palace, but I always enjoy the exotic dance scenes in these films, they're so laughable yet stimulating. Mari Blanchard looks great while she's dancing (this being the fifties, it's all in those bare beautiful arms), and then there's the staging, the costumes etc. This one's right up there with Gina in "Solomon and Sheba", Rita in "Fire Down Below", but nowhere near Shirley in "Can-Can".
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