A hopeless genie with a liking for the wine jug is sent on a mission to Baghdad to ensure that Prince Hassan and Princess Yasmin ascend to the Caliph’s throne as prophesied. When he bungles the job, he’s condemned to a mortal existence until he can make the prophecy come true.
Dismal ‘Arabian Knights’ fluff from legendary low-budget producer Sam Katzman and starring nightclub entertainer Dick Shawn. Unfortunately, the film’s in trouble even before the opening credits have finished, with Shawn flying in on a magic carpet (supported by clearly visible strings) singing what is probably one of the most irritating ditties in film history. He’s our title character, a Iovably useless genie who prefers to get wasted than get on with tasks set by his chief William Edmonson. He ends up (literally) in the last chance saloon, but prefers to sample the juice of the grape rather than pay attention to invading Sultan John Van Dreelan, who murders the Caliph of Baghdad and forces the adolescent Hassan into exile.
After having his magic removed, Shawn hangs around hoping for a chance to put things right and regain his powers, but his clever strategy involves spending most of his time with a talking horse and pretending to be a wizard. Seven years pass and the adolescent Prince Hassan has turned into handsome Barry Coe, and the Princess Yasmin into dark-eyed beauty Diane Baker. Can our useless hero bring them together and frustrate the schemes of Van Dreelan and Baker’s toadying father?
If this was supposed to be a comedy showcase to launch Shawn’s burgeoning film career, it had the opposite effect than intended. This is truly a half-assed, juvenile experience, which attempts laughs by making knowing pop culture references and rehashing boring, obvious gags that were old a good two decades earlier. Production values are low, with the larger crowd scenes and one battle obviously lifted from another film, and the sets often somewhat threadbare, something you wouldn’t usually associate with the inside of a palace. The only mildly entertaining scenes are those in which Shawn is side-lined by what little plot there is; specifically the banter and romance between Coe and Baker, who tried hard to wring something out of the lifeless script.
The biggest surprise here is that the weak screenplay is from the pen of Jesse Lasky Jr, a Hollywood veteran who’d worked on several Cecil B DeMille productions, like ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ (1942), ‘Samson and Delilah’ (1949) and ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956). In later life, he wrote mostly for UK television, including episodes of hit shows like ‘The Saint’, ‘Danger Man’ and ‘Space:1999’. Strangely enough, this film is entirely omitted from his autobiography.
Shawn had a big following as a singer and entertainer on the nightclub circuit, but his acting career turned out to be mostly ‘gag appearances’ that traded on his name, most notably in ‘lt’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ (1963). His only notable credit is as the actor who plays Adolf Hitler in the show put on by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in ‘The Producers’ (1967). Baker had a long and successful career as a character actress, including parts in Hitchcock’s ‘Marnie’ (1964), ‘Courage Under Fire’ (1996), many guest roles on television and a bit in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991).
Coe’s subsequent exploits were considerably less notable, although he did have a leading role in weird horror indie ‘Dr Death, Seeker of Souls’ (1973). Director George Sherman managed 128 credits over a long career, but only one notable film; ‘Big Jake’ (1971) with John Wayne, although it’s rumoured that The Duke helmed at least some of that himself.
A dreary, tired and slightly wretched experience.