“Musicals: With A Song And A Dance In My Heart (September 2021)” featuring… Kismet (1955)

Next up among the films that I’ve been looking forward to revisiting for the Musicals: With A Song And A Dance In My Heart blogathon, we’ve got the 1955 musical Kismet starring Howard Keel, Ann Blyth, Dolores Gray and Vic Damone!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Battle Of Gettysburg (1955)

(Available as an extra on the Kismet Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 29 minutes, 37 seconds)

The story of the Battle of Gettysburg is told using footage filmed at the Gettysburg National Military Park.  This short is narrated by Leslie Nielsen, with Frank Ferguson reading off Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address at the end.  This is one of those shorts where you will either love it or hate it, as it is filmed without any human actors or reenactors, just narration, some sound effects to help get the idea across, the actual locations and some of the statues of the military men involved.  Without any people onscreen, I personally find it to be very dull, and mainly for education or Civil War enthusiasts.  Of course, watching it on this disc doesn’t help, as it is an unrestored, non-anamorphic transfer that limits the size of the picture, while also not being as detailed as one would prefer.  Overall, I have to give this one a hard pass, as I just didn’t care for it.

Coming Up Shorts! with… The First Bad Man (1955)

(Available as an extra on the Kismet Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection or as part of Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 2 on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 6 minutes, 35 seconds)

This short tells the story of Texas, circa one million B.C., where Dinosaur Dan laid claim to being the first bad man in Texas. In some respects, a precursor to The Flintstones, with the caveman era combined with modern ideas. Granted, this cartoon seems to have two distinct halves, with the first introducing us to the world it’s taking place in, and then the second, mainly preoccupied with Dinosaur Dan (and the posse chasing after him). It works quite well, even if not quite to the level of some of Tex Avery’s earlier cartoons. Still, it’s a fun cartoon, certain to provide many laughs (it certainly did for me)!  Of course, given that the Kismet Blu-ray preceded the Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 2 collection by several years, the transfer therefore isn’t as restored as the later version, with some specks and dirt still remaining (and the color not quite as vivid).

And Now For The Main Feature…

In the city of Baghdad, the Poet (Howard Keel) and his daughter, Marsinah (Ann Blyth) go about trying to sell his rhymes. They have no luck, so they separate, with Marsinah trying to snatch some food for their empty bellies. The Poet finds himself kidnapped by some men, who bring him to the famous robber, Jawan (Jay C. Flippen). The Poet is mistaken for Hajj the beggar, who some years earlier had put a curse on Jawan, resulting in his young son being kidnapped from him. Sensing an opportunity, the Poet charges Jawan one hundred gold pieces to undo the curse, and promises Jawan that he will find his son that very day. Jawan gives him the money and returns to Baghdad to look for his son, while the Poet makes his way back to the city on foot with his new fortune in hand. Meanwhile, Lalume (Dolores Gray), the wife of Baghdad’s judge, the Wazir (Sebastian Cabot), has just returned from Ababu. The Wazir was seeking a much-needed loan from the ruler of Ababu, and Lalume brought the news that the Wazir would be given all the gold that ten camels can carry. The catch? A royal marriage for the three princesses of Ababu, quite specifically to the Caliph (Vic Damone), which could prove troublesome. Elsewhere, the Poet has returned to the city, and gives Marsinah some money to buy herself some new clothes and such. He does some shopping of his own, but he is arrested when the Wazir’s guards notice that the purse of gold bears the sign of a wealthy family that had been robbed. Meanwhile, the Caliph has been walking around the city incognito, and sees Marsinah. Falling for her, he approaches her (without revealing his identity), and, since they are both interested in each other, they promise to meet later that evening. Now in front of the Wazir, the Poet is accused of being a thief, and sentenced to have one of his hands chopped off. He pleads for his hand to be saved, attracting Lalume’s attention. However, his pleas fall on deaf ears, and the Wazir orders BOTH hands to be chopped off, resulting in the Poet calling down curses on the Wazir. Before anything further happens, Jawan is brought in. Upon seeing the Poet, Jawan immediately starts lashing out at him in anger for deceiving him. He quickly changes his tune, however, when he sees the amulet around the Wazir’s neck. As the Wazir claims to have had it since his youth, Jawan declares that the Wazir is his son. The Wazir has no interest in Jawan (and thus sends him to the dungeon), but he is interested in the Poet’s “powers.” Upon realizing that the Poet had cursed the Wazir, he wonders what will happen. The answer comes quickly, as the Caliph makes a quick visit to announce that he will be getting married that night. Frustrated at the prospect of not getting his loan from the ruler of Ababu, the Wazir listens to Lalume’s advice and restores the Poet’s freedom and gold, and even makes him an Emir in exchange for reversing the curse. Lalume, of course, knows the Poet has no powers, but she is intrigued by him (and complains to him in private how bored she is by her marriage to the Wazir). When they hear the Caliph’s procession as he goes after his bride, the Wazir orders the Poet to do something about it. Under threat of being executed, the Poet starts up a big curse reversal ceremony (with Lalume’s help) as a distraction so that he can escape (which he does). The Poet quickly finds Marsinah and tries to explain the situation to her as they run. When they hear that the Caliph didn’t find his bride-to-be, the Poet reconsiders, and decides to go back to the Wazir’s palace to be an Emir. With Lalume’s help, he sends for Marsinah and invites her to stay there, where she will be safe. While the Caliph has the Wazir’s people searching the city for Marsinah, he visits the Wazir’s home. The Wazir still tries to push the princesses of Ababu as a potential marriage alliance, when they both see Marsinah amongst the Wazir’s harem. Believing her to be one of the Wazir’s wives, the Caliph declares that he will instead choose a bride that night from among those seeking a marriage alliance. When the Caliph leaves, the Wazir marries an unconscious Marsinah (so that the Caliph doesn’t catch him in a lie), although upon waking, she declares that she will kill herself if he tries to take advantage of her. Will Marsinah survive this night? And will the Poet be able to see past his own ambitions for his daughter’s sake?

Edward Knoblock originally wrote the play Kismet, which made its debut in 1911. Over the years, it made its way to movie screens several times, in 1914, 1920, 1930 and 1944. MGM had produced the 1944 film, and afterwards, musical producer Arthur Freed made plans to put together a film musical of the play, but held back on those plans when he heard that a musical version was being readied for Broadway. MGM bought the film rights even before the show opened. Luckily for the studio, it turned out to be a hit. Arthur Freed intended to have the film version directed by Vincente Minelli, but Vincente declined at first, stating that he didn’t care for the show. He only came around when he was promised his pet project, Lust For Life, in exchange for directing Kismet. However, a lot of his focus while making Kismet was spent on preparing for Lust For Life, and Stanley Donen had to finish filming when the production ran over and Vincente Minelli left for Europe for his film. As a result, Kismet wasn’t well-received by audiences, which was enough to end Howard Keel’s career in film musicals, as he returned to the stage after this film.

Due to Vincente Minelli’s indifference to the show, this movie has a common complaint of spectacle being emphasized over the actors, and it does seem that way. I will admit, visually, this film is a marvel to look at (even more so on the Blu-ray release from Warner Archive Collection), with the various sets and colors. The acting is a bit more inconsistent, with Howard Keel and Dolores Gray taking a more tongue-in-cheek/theatrical approach, while a lot of the rest of the cast (especially Ann Blyth and Vic Damone) play it straight. Obviously, it boils down to preferences, but I prefer Howard Keel and Dolores Gray’s performances, as I feel like they fit the material better (and they also look like they are having fun doing it). I also think Monty Woolley, who plays Omar (the Caliph’s advisor) leans more towards the theatrical, but he has so little to do beyond his initial two appearances, interacting with the Poet (in Hajj’s place) and walking through the market with the Caliph. Quite frankly, I consider Monty Woolley’s character being relegated to the background a minor strike against the movie.

Regardless of the performance styles one thing I can say about this movie: the music is absolutely beautiful to listen to! For the stage show, the music was adapted from themes of Alexander Borodin, with new lyrics and music written by Robert Wright and George Forrest. While I don’t think their acting style works as well for the film, I DO think that both Ann Blyth and Vic Damone have wonderful singing voices, particularly for the song “Stranger In Paradise,” which is probably my favorite song from this film. I also like the song “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” which is sung (and quite beautifully, I might add) by Ann Blyth. Howard Keel has some fun with stuff like “Fate” and “Gesticulate,” and Dolores Gray has the really fun “Not Since Nineveh” and the sensual “Bored” (even if the way that the song’s ending is staged comes across as a little stiff and unnatural). I first saw this movie on DVD as part of the Classic Musicals From The Dream Factory: Volume 3 set (and saw it twice then), but after upgrading it to Blu-ray after it was released in 2014, it’s become an almost yearly viewing, I’ve enjoyed it so much! So, if you can get past the disparate styles of acting, there is a good film and a wonderful musical to be found here (and one that I would certainly recommend)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 53 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Deep In My Heart (1954) – Howard Keel

Dolores Gray – The Opposite Sex (1956)

Hit The Deck (1955) – Vic Damone

Since You Went Away (1944) – Monty Woolley

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2 thoughts on ““Musicals: With A Song And A Dance In My Heart (September 2021)” featuring… Kismet (1955)

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