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Vivien Leigh, Ronald Colman, Kathryn Grayson, Arab Magicians on TCM: Arabs in Hollywood Movies

Claude Rains, Vivien Leigh, Caesar and CleopatraTurner Classic Movies’ look at Arabs in Hollywood movies continues this evening with six movies. Why exactly Gabriel Pascal’s film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) is one of the six, I don’t know. Caesar was a Roman-born emperor; Cleopatra, a descendant of Greek royalty, was an Egyptian queen long before the Arab conquest of Egypt.

Now, I may be puzzled about its inclusion, but Caesar and Cleopatra is very much worth watching chiefly thanks to Claude Rains’ brilliant performance as the first half of the title role and Vivien Leigh’s highly theatrical but enjoyable star turn as the second half of the title role.

Kismet (1944) would have been more enjoyable had it been directed by Henry Hathaway, Michael Curtiz, Frank Lloyd, or even Lloyd Bacon. William Dieterle, best known for several ponderous Warner Bros. biopics of the ’30s, had a heavy hand; that’s hardly the requisite quality for a tongue-in-cheek Technicolor romp. Ronald Colman is always fun to watch, but I couldn’t help but find him miscast as an "Arabian" King of Beggars. Strange, as he was flawless as the King of Vagabonds in If I Were King. Marlene Dietrich is all but wasted in what amounts to a supporting role. Mr./Ms. TCM, no Turhan Bey, Sabu, Maria Montez, Jon Hall Easterns?

As much as I like Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr (both star in Dream Wife), the highlights of TCM’s "Arab" evening as far as I’m concerned are two B movies that I haven’t watched, yet: The Magician’s Daughter (1938) and Chandu the Magician (1932). Those little thrillers/melodramas are oftentimes much more entertaining than the A fare produced by the Hollywood studios back in the day.

The evening comes to a close after the bosomy lady sings: Kathryn Grayson is paired up with Gordon MacRae in The Desert Song.

Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:

8:00 PM CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA (1945) Julius Caesar gives the famed Egyptian queen lessons in government. Director: Gabriel Pascal Cast: Vivien Leigh, Claude Rains, Stewart Granger. C-128 mins

10:15 PM DREAM WIFE (1953) For state reasons, a diplomat fakes an engagement to a Middle Eastern princess. Director: Sidney Sheldon Cast: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Walter Pidgeon. BW-99 mins

12:15 AM KISMET (1944) In the classic Arabian Nights tale, the king of the beggars enters high society to help his daughter marry a handsome prince. Director: William Dieterle Cast: Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, James Craig. C-100 mins

2:10 AM THE MAGICIAN’S DAUGHTER (1938) A magician’s daughter falls in love with a reporter, but heartbreak ensues when the reporter’s magazine runs a story exposing the magician’s secret methods. Director: Felix E. Feist Cast: Maurice Cass, Frank Albertson, Eleanor Lynn. BW-18 mins

2:30 AM CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932) A hypnotist fights to stop a madman from destroying the world. Director: Marcel Varnel. Cast: Edmund Lowe, Irene Ware, Bela Lugosi. BW-71 mins

3:45 AM THE DESERT SONG (1953) A French professor secretly leads a band of desert freedom fighters. Director: Bruce Humberstone Cast: Kathryn Grayson, Gordon MacRae, Steve Cochran. C-111 mins

Continue Reading: San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2011 Highlights: Stephen Horne, Matti Bye Ensemble, Mont Alto Orchestra

Previous Post: Producers Guild Awards’ 2012 Dates


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