Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves Review

“To the Pool of Midnight!”
“No wait! We must not rush headlong into danger!”

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is full of exchanges like that, mostly conducted by burly men in richly coloured robes and swarthy make-up. One of these men is the cherishable Andy Devine, who laughs with deliriously exaggerated jollity and gets to say lines such as “I haven’t killed a single Mongol all day!” This jolly band of heroes - the 40 thieves of the title who have raised Ali Baba as one of their own - fight against the yoke of Mongol oppression while Ali gets involved with the dusky Lady Amara who is promised to the cruel tyrant Hulagu Khan, who looks a bit like Yul Brynner and talks like Lionel Atwill.

The substantive stars are the boring Jon Hall and the astonishing Maria Montez, a woman whose mystique remains intact even if her actual talent remains in doubt even sixty years after her retirement. Few actresses could get away with dialogue like “Who would dare rob the betrothed of Hulagu Khan?” but Montez just about manages because in her clunky, awkward way, she seems weirdly authentic. Not that authenticity is a key word here, nor is anything resembling faithfulness to the original story. Director Arthur Lubin goes purely for rowdy, colourful incident, aided immeasurably by some stunning Technicolor cinematography and the semi-legendary Turhan Bey whose curses are on the order of “May Allah send you warts and give you bedbugs for company!”

It’s all immensely silly and the low budget is apparent in the poor process work and the sparsely inhabited sets. But there isn’t a single boring moment, the script is an unintentional comic delight and it comes in at a brisk 87 minutes. One should also bear in mind, before being too harsh, that these fantasies were lapped up by audiences during the war years, starved for colour and glamour, and deserve a certain amount of indulgence for their historical interest alone.

Eureka’s Blu-Ray disc of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is the first release of the film for home viewing in the UK. It offers a rather lovely viewing experience as long as you don’t expect a pristine restoration. There are some scratches and minor damage throughout. But the colour is vibrant and true and the level of detail is more than satisfactory. The level of grain looked fine to me and the only real problem is a certain degree of over-enhancement in some scenes. The mono soundtrack is very clear and crisp and is accompanied by an isolated music and effects track which does full justice to the excellent score.

There are no extras. English subtitles for the hard of hearing are provided.

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