Sabu and the Magic Ring (1957)

Sabu and the Magic Ring (1957)‘Hold it still, king of the forest, or l will put a knot in your royal trunk.’

A lowly stable boy is accused of stealing a diamond from the headdress of the Caliph’s elephant. Looking for the gem, instead he finds an old ring that contains a genie. Hearing of a plot to murder the Caliph, he enlists the help of the magical spirit to save the day.

Typical ‘Arabian Knights’ fluff made in an attempt to relaunch the young star of Michael Powell’s classic ‘The Thief of Baghdad’ (1940). Sabu Dastagir was discovered at 12 years of age by a British film crew in India, looking to cast the stable boy lead in ‘Elephant Boy’ (1937). Sabu had a naturalistic screen presence and was actually doing the job in real life! The film was a smash and mogul Alexander Korda had ‘The Drum’ (1938) written for the young star. More hits followed with ‘The Thief of Baghdad’ (1940) and ‘The Jungle Book’ (1942). If that all sounds like the invention of an over-enthusiastic film publicist, by all account this ‘rags to riches’ fairytale is exactly what happened.

Moving to Hollywood was financially astute but studios found him difficult to cast. Called up to the U.S. Army Air Force, he became a tail-gunner and was decorated for bravery in World War Two. His film career stalled after the war and his only notable pictures were loan-outs back to the U.K. including the classic ‘Black Narcissus’ (1947) which reunited him with Michael Powell. His star was dim by the mid-1950s.

Most sources cite this film as two episodes of an aborted TV show designed to relaunch the star. After all, his name is in the title and he’s playing a version of ‘himself’ (Sabu, the Stable Boy). However, it doesn’t quite ring true. Yes, it looks made for the small screen. The budget is obviously very low, reflected in the total absence of location filming and the tiny number of sets employed, one of which does at least double duty as stables and ‘tunnels’ leading out of the city. There’s also little effort to hide the studio floor that appears in scenes supposedly taking place in the market outside the palace.

Sabu and the Magic Ring (1957)

‘And I thought you were supposed to be the Elephant Boy…’

However, the production runs just over on an hour, rather than the 50 or so minutes that might be expected from two episodes of a show stitched together. Also there’s no obvious cliff hanger or dramatic break around the halfway mark. The screen fades to black at times rather than cut straight to the next scene, presumably allowing for the insertion of commercials but add those and the film runs around 90 minutes. It’s more likely this was an unsold TV pilot.

There was an attempt at a ‘Sabu’ TV show around this time, and the star is credited with appearing in a 26 minute ‘short’ called ‘The Black Panther’ (1956) where he plays ‘Sabu, the Jungle Boy.’ It seems more likely that this was the failed show. There was also a movie called ‘Jungle Hell’ (1956) in which he’s identically credited, although he apparently appears for less than half an hour, the rest of the running time being made up of stock footage! It seems likely that this was ‘The Black Panther’ (1956) padded to (barely) feature length. Sabu successfully sued the filmmakers for using his footage without permission and blocked exhibition of the film.

So, after all that tangled history, how does this film hold up today? Well, it doesn’t really. Obviously, the story is limited by the paltry budget and the need to tick as many of the obvious ‘Arabian Knights’ boxes as possible. Sabu is a personable enough screen presence but is overshadowed (literally!) by 6 foot 5 inch William Marshall who plays the genie with some relish. Stardom – of a sort! – arrived for Marshall far later as ‘Blacula’ (1972) and with several other titles in the ‘Blaxp|oitation’ genre. Also in the cast is veteran character actor Vladimir Solokoff whose many, varied roles include the janitor in ‘l Was A Teenage Werewolf’ (1957) and the old peasant in ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960).

It’s a harmless enough hour but without a great deal of entertainment value.


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