|Reviews & Columns|
TV on DVD
Reviews by Studio
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
The M.O.D. Squad
DVD Talk Forum
DVD Price Search|
Customer Service #'s
Son of Ali Baba
The houris can't help but fawn over Kashma Baba (Tony Curtis), and Kashma Baba sure can't get enough of those ladies. And this, of course, rankles Hussein (Hugh O'Brian). His father is the caliph (Victor Jory)! Where's his adoration? Where's his respect? And yet the son of a thief whose incalculable wealth bought him such power and privilege is seemingly beloved by all. Hussein would gladly seize upon any opportunity to expose Kashma for what he believes this undeserving fraud to be, and he may not have to wait long for it either. Kiki (Piper Laurie) has sought sanctuary in Kashma's home, having fled from the caliph's harem, and harboring a fugitive is an act of treason. And sure, whatever; it's not as if the son of a thief is all that beholden to the word of law. But the fallout that quickly ensues threatens to level the House of Baba to the ground once and for all.
After spending a good bit of the morning grousing and groaning about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves – which isn't bad so much as dispiritingly rote and routine – I slumped to my home theater, resigning myself to more of the same with this sequel. But damned if I didn't love every last minute of it. The standout battles in Forty Thieves basically bookend the film, without all that much in the way of noteworthy action in between. Son of Ali Baba, meanwhile, places a far greater emphasis on swinging scimitars. Its central villains are also far more loathsome, with their cruelty and heartlessness vividly depicted on film, whereas Forty Thieves was content to largely relegate that to descriptions in intertitles.
Oh, are we delving into the relationships between Kashma and his closest friends and most bitter rivals? Here's a belly dancer and a high-stakes game of tug of war to make sure your interest doesn't wane. Are we meeting Kashma's legendary father for the first time in these many years? Well, a couple of wrestlers are slowly writhing on the ground to spice things up. There's always something to feast your eyes on or marvel at, helping to ensure that its pace screams ahead for the near-entirety of the film's lean 75 minute runtime.
Forget those stale jokes about Tony Curtis muttering "yonda lies da castle of my faddah"; the actor's Bronx accent isn't nearly as pronounced here as some would have you believe. Though his delivery of the period-esque dialogue does still sound somewhat stiff and stilted, Curtis exudes far too much charisma for me to care. He embodies Kashma masterfully: his swagger, his athleticism, his unwavering loyalty, the balance struck between his temper and good manners, and, y'know, look at him. It's little wonder why the son of Ali Baba would leave every woman in sight swooning, command the respect of – and occasionally frustrate – his fellow cadets and instructors, and inspire such indignation in those few who find him unworthy. Curtis just goes for it in a way that Jon Hall couldn't match a decade earlier as Ali. That gusto...that spirit proves so infectious, and I can't imagine how Son of Ali Baba would've played with anyone else in the lead.
Sure, the film's gender politics aren't always the most enlightened, with constant references to "wenches", women frequently being described as disposable and readily available sex objects, and a couple of doe-eyed would-be-lovers – among them Against All Flags' Alice Kelley! – who aren't exactly the sharpest jambiyas in the drawer. But that doesn't extend to all of the film's pivotal female characters. Susan Cabot – soon to transform into The Wasp Woman – is a gifted archer who doesn't suffer fools gladly. She's as capable in battle as the sons of any of Ali's dozens of thieving brethren. And though between her fair skin and red hair, there's little about Piper Laurie to suggest that her character indeed hails from this part of the world, she is sensational in her leading role. I'm limited in what I can say here, but there's more to her than you think. And there's more to that "more." Multi-layered, compelling, and oooooh, do I love the sight of Laurie and Curtis together. There's a fire and chemistry there that far outclass that of Jon Hall and Maria Montez a decade earlier, and we're also treated to far more of them together than the young lovers of Forty Thieves.
Son of Ali Baba knows exactly what kind of movie it wants to be and precisely what it needs to do to get there. This is the popcorn matinee flick I'd been aching for, and better still, you don't have to slog through the previous movie to appreciate it either. Recommended.
Son of Ali Baba looks quite a bit better to my eyes than its predecessor – crisper, more detailed, bathed in more vibrant colors – though this disc is not without its problems either. A fair amount of speckling and the like continue to creep in, and again, in a rainbow of colors! This three-strip Technicolor production also struggles with color alignment quite often. When I was watching the movie, I jotted down the timecodes for quite a few eye-catchingly misaligned moments, and I've limited myself to just four examples in this review. The fringing around Piper Laurie's Kiki as captured in the largest of the images below is by far the most distracting:
There's some fluctuation in colors as well, but it's too infrequent and too mild to ever be terribly distracting. And though this is the sort of flaw that can only be conveyed in motion, it's also worth noting that Son of Ali Baba becomes warped and unstable around the 44:30 mark:
And its grain structure can look harsh at times as well:
It is, as ever, also worth noting that the AVC encode has been given ample room to play, just barely inching over onto the second layer of this BD-50 disc. Going to that added expense speaks to a commitment to quality, even if the disc is limited by the master that Universal made available.
I'm not sure what elements were used as the source or when the film was remastered; if the answer were "very recently", I'm sure KL Studio Classics would've listed as much on the flipside of the case. But still, of the three films I've reviewed so far in this wave of Universal Technicolor adventures, Son of Ali Baba is without a doubt the most visually impressive.
Son of Ali Baba's lossless audio – delivered in 16-bit, two-channel mono – is saddled with a pronounced hiss:
Dialogue can't help but suffer as a result, with each line delivered sounding as if Scotch tape is being yanked off a piece of notebook paper. And to help illustrate that, here's a legendarily misquoted, unfairly maligned line that Tony Curtis was never able to live down:
Rough-hewn though it is, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack still ranks at least as listenable.
Also included are a set of English subtitles and a newly-recorded audio commentary.
- Audio Commentary: When I hear Lee Gambin give The Manitou a well-deserved shout-out, I know I'm among friends. In this terrific commentary, the film historian leverages his extensive knowledge of...well, everything worth talking about, from an uncredited Jeff Chandler's opening narration to the evolution of fight choreography in these years. Gambin explores the backgrounds and film/TV work of much of the cast and crew, and the life and career of director Kurt Neumann (Rocketship X-M; The Fly) is a particularly favorite topic. Among other highlights are the very different ways in which Son of Ali Baba celebrates the bodies of its male and female characters, its underlying social commentary, and his reading of contemporaneous reviews.
As Gambin has spoken at length with Piper Laurie – about this film and a great many others – it follows that she's a focal topic of conversation. This includes her gift for physical expressiveness dating back to childhood, her time at Universal as a contract player, the guilt she felt as a serious actress about the financial rewards reaped from the likes of Son of Ali Baba, and the friendship between Laurie and Tony Curtis that was stressed during the making of this film.
And if you enjoy this commentary as much as I have, it's very much worth noting that Gambin also provides commentary for another of the adventure films in this wave: Buccaneer's Girl*. I got it right this time!
- Trailer (2 min.; SD): Riding alongside this standard-def trailer for Son of Ali Baba are trailers for Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, The Vikings, and Taras Bulba.
The Final Word
Sometimes it's okay for the apple to fall far from the tree, and it's to Son of Ali Baba's benefit that it's everything that Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves isn't: frenetic, thrilling, twisty, surprising, and unapologetically fun. Even the aspects executed less than brilliantly – say, Tony Curtis' stilted line deliveries – only make the film that much more of a blast to watch. This is exactly the movie I'd hoped to see when I spotted Son of Ali Baba in my mailbox, and KL Studio Classics' release on Blu-ray indeed comes heartily Recommended.