2 October 2005 | klg19
Terrific fun, but watch out for that blackface
In his second "back to the past" dream film (four years after "Roman Scandals"), Eddie Cantor skewered FDR and the New Deal in this satiric look at the Arabian Nights. Cantor and screenwriter Gene Fowler wanted to do a take on "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," with the difference that, as much as they poked fun at FDR's policies and oratory, the New Deal policies that Cantor institutes in Baghdad don't backfire quite the same way as the Yankee's did at King Arthur's court.
Hobo Aloysius Babson, a film fan and autograph hound, stumbles onto an Arabian Nights film set and gets made an extra. A miscalculation on his medicine sends him into a dream, however, and he finds himself at the court of the Sultan of Baghdad. Giving his name as "Al Babson," they assume he's the son of Ali Baba, and after surviving an assassination attempt made with his stunt knife, he's made an adviser to the king.
The film is full of Cantor's trademark humor, singing and dancing, and the obligatory rueful reference to Cantor's family full of daughters. A troupe of African musicians--who speak no language but Cab Calloway's--provides a terrific swing number (unhappily, Cantor performs it in blackface), and Cantor and Tony Martin deliver a catchy number, "Vote for Honest Abe," that works as a campaign song for Sultan Abdullah.
The production cost over a million dollars, not a little of which went to create an impressive flying carpet effect. Sadly, two of the crew were killed when the carpet fell on them, and Cantor himself got so knocked about and bruised in the scenes on the carpet that he was elected an honorary member of the Hollywood Stunt Men.
The film ends with Al Babson attending a film premiere in which he sees Eddie Cantor (another common Cantor touch), and a host of stars such as Victor McLaglan and Shirley Temple are also seen there (understandably: the premiere was for "Wee Willie Winkie").
All in all, the film is great fun, with fast-paced and topical dialogue and lots of great sight gags (a "W.P.A. Filling Station" for watering local camels). It's very much of its time, so if you're at all familiar with the New Deal era, it will be an entertaining hour and a half.