Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Six movies have been based directly or indirectly on the Arabian-Fantasy play Kismet: An "Arabian Night" in Three Acts (1911) by Edward Knoblock (1874-1945). Little is known about the French production (1919) – indeed, it is uncertain that prints survive.

1. Kismet UK movie (1914). Zenith. Dir Leedham Bantock. Screenplay Bantock. Starring Oscar Asche (Hajj), Lily Brayton (Marsinah), Herbert Grimwood (Wazir), Caleb Porter (Sheik Jawan), Frederick Worlock (Caliph Abdallah). B/w, silent.

Hajj, arrested for street-theft, makes a Contract with the Wazir of Baghdad: he will regain freedom in exchange for assassinating the new caliph, Abdallah. The assassination attempt fails, and Hajj is thrown into prison – where he finds himself sharing a cell with his old foe Jawan, whom he strangles. Dressed in Jawan's clothing, he escapes to discover his daughter, Marsinah, has been abducted into the Wazir's harem; meanwhile the caliph, who has been wooing her in the guise of a humble gardener, declares himself. All is solved when Hajj murders the Wazir, frees Marsinah, is banished by the caliph for his various crimes, and covertly returns to the Baghdad streets, where he continues his twin careers of petty theft and poetry.

Asche got the movie part of Hajj because he had premiered the stage role (1911) in London. We have been unable to trace a print of this movie. [JG]

2. Kismet US movie (1920). Robertson-Cole. Dir Louis Gasnier. Screenplay Gasnier. Starring Leon Barry (Caliph Abdallah), Marguerite Comont (Nargis), Elinor Fair (Marsinah), Herschall Mayall (Jawan), Hamilton Revelle (Wazir Mansur), Cornelia Otis Skinner (Miskah), Otis Skinner (Hajj), Rosemary Theby (Kut al-Kulub). B/w, silent.

This was a fairly faithful remake, but this time the role of Hajj was taken by Skinner, who had premiered the part (1911) in New York. Once more, we have been unable to trace a print. [JG]

3. US movie (1930). First National. Dir John Francias Dillon (with simultaneous German version dir William Dieterle). Screenplay Howard Estabrook. Starring Sidney Blackmer (Wazir Mansur), Mary Duncan (Zaleekha), David Manners (Caliph Abdallah), Otis Skinner (Hajj), Loretta Young (Marsinah). 90 mins. B/w.

Skinner reprised his role as Hajj in this sound remake, the last to show fidelity to Knoblock's play: the subsequent remakes altered the plot more considerably. Of interest is the fact that this was made simultaneously in English and German, with minor variations between the two versions. [JG]

4. (vt Oriental Dream) US movie (1944). MGM. Pr Everett Riskin. Dir William Dieterle. Spfx Warren Newcombe. Screenplay John Meehan. Starring Edward Arnold (Grand Vizier Mansur), Florence Bates (Karsha), Hobart Cavenaugh (Moolah), Ronald Colman (Hafiz), James Craig (Caliph), Harry Davenport (Agha), Marlene Dietrich (Jamilla), Hugh Herbert (Feisal), Joy Ann Page (Marsinah), Robert Warwick (Alfife). 100 mins. Colour.

Hafiz the Trickster, self-styled King of Baghdad's Beggars, spends his evenings disguised as a prince and conducting various clandestine liaisons, notably with Jamilla, enforced and unconsummated wife of the loathed Grand Vizier. Meanwhile the new Caliph enjoys wandering the streets at night in the guise of his gardener's son; as such he woos Marsinah, Hafiz's daughter. After a Gilbertian froth of a plot, the two pairs of lovers become officially recognized items. Owing considerable debts to The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and to The Prince and the Pauper (1937; based on the tale by Mark Twain), this bubbles along merrily enough for the first half-hour, then dissipates into a meringue of badly synchronized dance routines and astonishingly badly dubbed songs, almost always abjuring fantasy. Dieterle had been here before, directing the German version of 3. [JG]

5. US movie (1955). MGM. Pr Arthur Freed. Dir Vincente Minnelli. Spfx Warren Newcombe. Screenplay Luther Davis, Charles Lederer. Based on 1953 stage musical (itself based on both Knoblock's play and 4), by Davis and Lederer, with music and lyrics by George Forrest and Robert Wright based on themes by Alexander Borodin (1833-1887). Starring Ann Blyth (Marsinah), Sebastian Cabot (Grand Wazir), Vic Damone (Caliph), Jay C Flippen (Jawan), Dolores Gray (Lalume), Howard Keel (Hajj), Monty Woolley (Omar). 113 mins. Colour.

A broke Omar Khayyám figure in Baghdad discovers begging is more profitable than poetry, assumes the identity of the beggar Hajj, and is at once threatened by the bandit Jawan, who seeks his long-lost son. Jawan's son proves to be the pompous Grand Wazir ... Various plot complications ensue until various pairs of lovers are united. The hugely popular stage musical did less well as a movie. The settings are lavish, but cannot make up for the paucity of imagination and daring. Newcombe, responsible for 4's spfx, repeats the task here. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.