A towering figure both because of his impressive height and because of his unique screen presence, the British actor Christopher Lee—best known for playing Count Dracula in myriad pictures from Hammer and other companies, and whose massive presence in fantasy and science fiction films spans The Wicker Man to the 007, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars franchises and beyond—has died at the age of 93. His melodious voice and his stately manner of personifying menace rightfully earned Lee generations of fans. RIP.
Made in the UK by the same folks responsible for At the Earth’s Core (1976) and other such Saturday-matinee silliness, Arabian Adventure is as generic as its title, providing little more than 98 minutes of brainless distraction. The story is a shameless pastiche of elements from myriad sources—The Prince and the Pauper, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Thief of Bagdad, The Wizard of Ox, and the adventures of King Arthur and Sinbad the Sailor, to name but a few—while the casting of American and English actors as Arabs is ridiculous. That said, credibility and originality aren’t generally the qualities that viewers seek in kiddie-cinema escapism, and Arabian Adventure delivers the goods with archetypal characters, elaborate special effects, and robust adventure. Hell, the movie’s got Christopher Lee as a moustache-twirling villain and the climax involves a mid-air dogfight between combatants on magic carpets, so why complain?
Set in some vague mythical version of the Middle East circa the Middle Ages, Arabian Adventure revolves around the evil caliph Alquazar (Lee), who needs a magical object called “The Rose of Ilyl” to consolidate his power. Various clichéd characters orbit the caliph. The virginal Princess Zuleira (Emma Samms) lives in Alquazar’s castle, unaware of his insidious nature. The heroic Prince Hasan (Oliver Tobias) wanders in exile, unable to claim his throne. The innocent street urchin Majeed (Puneet Sira) lives off scraps, waiting to discover his destiny. Eventually, Hasan agrees to find the Rose of Ilyl for Alquazar, in exchange for Zuleira’s hand in marriage, and he begins a quest accompanied by Majeed and by Alquazar’s evil henchman, Khasim (Milo O’Shea). Encounters with genies and monsters and other such things soon follow, with one of the goofiest episodes featuring Mickey Rooney (!) as the keeper of a mechanical dragon’s lair. The whole affair culminates, predictably, with Hasan leading a revolution against Alquazar, hence the aforementioned magic-carpet dogfight.
Costumes and sets in Arabian Adventure are fairly opulent, the special effects are okay (some of the flying-carpet scenes are quite persuasive), and the pacing is fairly strong. The acting is not as impressive, though it’s a hoot to see Lee’s frequent costar, Peter Cushing, turn up for two quick scenes, and it’s strange to watch future Cheers regular John Ratzenberger play a thug named Achmed. The leads deliver forgettable work, though Lee, as always, strikes a great figure and Samms—well, if nothing else, she has a great figure. Pulling the whole thing together is a characteristically rousing score by the reliable UK composer Ken Thorne.
Arabian Adventure: FUNKY