‘Sinbad the Sailor’ (1947)

[8 March 2013]

By Michael Barrett

“I’m the biggest fraud in the Islamic world! I’m Sinbad the Sailor!” exclaims that titular hero, portrayed as a laughing, silver-tonged rogue by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.. He channels his father in the theatrical, gestural nature of his performance but less so when the film cuts to an obvious stunt double during leaps and somersaults. This RKO production is notable for two other qualities. One is the shocking color, which makes every moment a voluptuous dream. For once, the trailer’s hype is correct to herald a “Technicolor spectacle of dazzling splendor”. The other is John Twist’s elaborate dialogue, which sounds like it’s reaching for Shakespeare via baroque orientalism. In other words, this is a gloriously stylized movie, down to the painted backdrops and model ships.

The artifice extends to the actors (including the eminently duplicitous Walter Slezak and Anthony Quinn) in various shades of Middle Eastern makeup—except fiery-haired Maureen O’Hara, whose excessive makeup is of the standard type. Presented appropriately as a flashback or story within a story, it has the lying, bragging confidence-man set sail from some Never-Never-Persia in search of a lost treasure. He’s such a self-made infidel that he uses the muezzin’s call to prayer as an opportunity to escape from an unfriendly port. This is his previously untold eighth voyage, in which he will discover what has true value, according to the laws of Hollywood hokum.

Some modern viewers will consider this too BIG, too hokey, too outdated, too politically incorrect, and too slow, but it’s pointless to call it too phony. It’s just phony enough. The on-demand Warner Archive print comes with helpful English subtitle options so you can follow the ornate declarations. A 2007 copyright date in the package makes me wonder if this had been prepared as a regular DVD that never happened.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/168688-sinbad-the-sailor/