Network, out now
A treacherous vizier, a nimble young thief, a wrongfully deposed prince and a beautiful princess – what more could you ask for from a tale pulled from The Arabian Nights?
Well, you could ask for gorgeous Technicolor filming, or some cracking special effects which belie the fact that they’re three-quarters of a century old. You could ask for a fabulous score by Miklós Rózsa that underpins virtually the entire 109 minute running time yet rarely feels as if it’s trying to manipulate your emotions. You could ask for a dog that out-acts everybody in the scene with him. You could ask for a film that still entrances a 12 year old who’s into the darkness of the Game of Thrones novels. You get the picture…
Alexander Korda’s wonderful fantasy film stands the test of time as well as its near contemporary, The Wizard of Oz. Sure, there are moments which test the credulity, and there are times when it feels as if all the characters – bar Abu – are either arrogant or stupid (or, in some cases, both). But against those, there’s wonderful derring-do, sequences which have been homaged in everything from Disney films to Indiana Jones, and an incredible sense of fun.
Of the leads, Veidt and Sabu stand out: Veidt’s Jaffar, so clearly the basis of the character in Disney’s Aladdin, never needs to go over the top, while Sabu carries much of the picture with cheeky charm. The chromakey (blue screen) moments may stand out to our CGI-knowledgeable eyes, but they’re a heck of a lot better than many uses of the technique even as far forward as the 1990s (there’s an horrendous scene in Starship Troopers, subsequently corrected for home video release, that would make you think the technique was fifty weeks old at that point, not fifty years!).
Network’s transfer of this brings out the colour beautifully – compare it with the trailer on the disc – and although it’s a shame that the Criterion Collection commentaries couldn’t be licensed for the disc, the movie alone more than justifies the purchase price.
Verdict: A classic piece of fantasy cinema. 9/10