The Wizard of Baghdad (1960)


USA. 1960.


Director – George Sherman, Screenplay – Jesse L. Lasky Jr & Pat Silver, Story – Samuel Newman, Producer – Sam Katzman, Photography – Ellis W. Carter, Music – Irving Gertz, Photographic Effects – L.B. Abbott & Emil Kosa Jr, Makeup – Ben Nye, Art Direction – Duncan Cramer & Theobold Holsopple. Production Company – Clover Productions/20th Century Fox


Dick Shawn (Ali Mahmoud), Diane Baker (Princess Jasmin), Barry Coe (Prince Husan), John Van Dreelen (Sultan Jullnar), Robert F. Simon (Shamadin), Vaughn Taylor (Noradin), William Edmondson (Asmodeus), Don Beddoe (Caliph Raschid), Michael David (Meroki), Stanley Adams (Kvetch)


The genii Ali Mahmoud has spent too much time carousing with women and drinking wine and is about to be demoted unless he can go to Baghdad and help the dying Caliph Raschid choose his heirs. Raschid names Jasmin and Hasan, the two children of his viziers, before dying. However, while Ali Mahmoud is drunk, the Sultan Junar of Cairo invades and captures the city. Junar then announces his intention to marry Jasmin when she comes of age and become the rightful ruler. For allowing this to happen, Ali Mahmoud is demoted to a human being and ends up becoming the court magician. Meanwhile, Hasan has become a desert bandit but despises Jasmin because Junar has conducted many executions using her unwitting signature. Hasan sneaks into the city and impresses Jasmin enough for her to hire him as her bodyguard. There the two start to become attracted to one another, she unaware of who he is.

The Wizard of Baghdad comes from Sam Katzman. During the 1940s, Katzman produced a host of very cheap serials, Bowery Boys comedies and mad scientist movies. Here Katzman was trading on a short-lived fad for Arabian Nights and Arabian Nights-styled adventure during the late 1940s and early 50s that was popularised The Thief of Baghdad (1940), and was of kicked off into high gear by the success of Ray Harryhausen’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). Katzman had himself produced several other cheap Arabian Nights ripoffs including The Thief of Damascus (1952), Prisoners of the Casbah (1953), Siren of Baghdad (1953) and Slaves of Babylon (1953).

Where Harryhausen with 7th Voyage and Michael Powell and the various directors involved with The Thief of Baghdad had crafted Arabian Nights elements into epic adventure, The Wizard of Baghdad instead turns it into little more than a shabby cabaret burlesque. The tone of the film is fairly much set from the opening credits scenes where Dick Shawn’s genie appears on a flying carpet belting out the song Eni Menie Genie, which features such lines as “Eni Menie Minie Mo, catch a genie by the toe … I’m the jerky of Araby.” It is a moment that achieves a spectacular vulgarity that you know is going to propel the film well into the annals of bad filmmaking.

There is little conviction at all to Dick Shawn’s smartass anachronism-spouting genie, or for that matter the horse that talks with a New York accent. There is a thorough pedestrianness to the plot and its flights of fantasy – although the film has been modestly budgeted, you can see the wires on the flying carpets (which come accompanied with skidding sound effects when they stop). The anachronisms grate – an astrologer talks about the alignment of Pluto, even though Pluto was not discovered until 1930. All the Arabic roles are clearly cast with Caucasians.

Director George Sherman had made nearly a hundred Westerns between the late 1930s and the 1970s. His only other genre film was the classic disembodied brain film The Lady and the Monster (1944).

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