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  • NIGHT IN PARADISE (1946) takes place in the kingdom of Lydia, governed by mad King Croesus, in 560 B.C. and involves a visit to the King by Aesop, the famed spinner of fables, who serves as ambassador from Samos. Aesop falls for the King's intended bride, the Persian princess, Delerai, who also falls for him, and complications ensue. Things get dicey for Aesop when the King is urged by his high priests to attack and conquer Samos and he must use his wits to avert disaster. Turhan Bey, star of several exotic Universal B-movies, plays Aesop, while the beautiful Anglo-Indian star, Merle Oberon, plays Delerai. Thomas Gomez perks things up with a lively performance as the lusty and temperamental King Croesus. Gale Sondergaard plays a scorned sorceress who influences the outcome of things by making mystical appearances in mirrors and steam baths to taunt both Croesus and Aesop. In most of Aesop's scenes, Bey plays the character in old-age makeup, coming out of it first at the 43-minute mark for his "night in paradise" scene with Oberon.

    This is a rare medium-budget foray by Hollywood into the societies of Ancient Greece and Asia Minor and, as far as I can tell, the only Hollywood film about Aesop. It's a romantic drama, with a bit of court intrigue thrown in, and doesn't have much in the way of excitement. Produced by Walter Wanger (ARABIAN NIGHTS) for Universal Pictures, it's got lavish production design and beautiful, well-mounted sets, all photographed in gorgeous Technicolor by the eminent team of Hal Mohr and W. Howard Greene. Considering that Universal never made a big-budget spectacle in all the years of its heyday (not until SPARTACUS in 1960, that is), the evocation of the ancient world here, as seen in its sprawling cities, spacious temples and luxurious palaces, is quite effective for the budget they were given, $1.6 million, a high amount at the time for Universal, but medium for any other studio. (Despite the effort, the film lost money for the studio.)

    Unfortunately, the script doesn't provide much in the way of compelling drama, nor much in the way of Aesop's fabled storytelling gifts. He tells one tale, making up a metaphor on the spot for the king, the princess and himself (as a grasshopper), to get himself out of a jam, but it's not a real Aesop's fable. He spews out a lot of flowery love talk to the princess and gives the King lectures on his ethics and behavior, but it's never terribly interesting. The extended nighttime love scene with Merle Oberon in her most seductive finery could have been hot stuff indeed, had it featured a more viable male lead than Turhan Bey, who may have been sincere but lacks the vigor and passion needed to strike the sparks necessary to bring it off. Had this film included some action scenes, it might have made a suitable star vehicle for Jon Hall and Maria Montez, Universal's star duo of mid-budget Technicolor historical romps (ARABIAN NIGHTS, ALI BABA AND THE 40 THIEVES, SUDAN). Interestingly, Bey does a somewhat better job in his romantic scenes with Montez in SUDAN, also reviewed on this site.

    I saw this in a cut TV print, courtesy of syndicator King World Productions, taped off broadcast TV many years ago. The print was dark and grainy and a pale echo of how the film must have looked when seen on the big screen some 64 years ago. I had to view the tape on different monitors to find one with the right brightness level to offer even a hint of its original Technicolor glory. While it's not a particularly good film, I would love to see a restored print just so I can revel in all the splendid Technicolor imagery.

    ADDENDUM (Feb. 19, 2012): This film ran on Turner Classic Movies on January 17, 2012, so I finally got to see it uncut. There is, for instance, a very cute and beautifully shot early scene involving attractive serving girls wading in a pool in Croesus' palace that was cut from the earlier showing. Also, a singer named Juli Lynne performs the title song in a lovely festive palace sequence in the film. The quality of the cablecast was a considerable improvement over the local TV broadcast from the mid-1980s that I'd originally taped, yet the print was not much better than the one I first saw. It was much too dark and, as a result, a little soft. I don't believe an original 35mm print of the movie would have been this dark. I'd still love to see a new Technicolor print of this.
  • JohnSeal23 February 2012
    Warning: Spoilers
    Here's a colorful and enjoyable Universal fantasy feature that recently showed up on TCM after a lengthy absence from television. Dapper Turhan Bey (who turns 90 this March) headlines as fable-spinner Aesop, here relating the story of ol' King Croesus (Thomas Gomez) and his efforts to remove an ancient curse placed upon him by wicked witch Attosa (eternal Hollywood villainess Gale Sondergaard). The story is lighter on the supernatural elements than one might hope, but 1945 was a terrible year for fantastic cinema, so allowances must be made. Night in Paradise makes up for this oversight with a surprising amount of sexual innuendo (the Breen Office must have been closed the day Universal submitted the script for approval) and features a fine supporting cast, including Merle Oberon, Jerome Cowan, George "father of Mickey" Dolenz, and John Litel.
  • This film was made at the end of the war and most of the big name stars were out of Hollywood contributing, however one star that was around at the time was Merle Oberon, at 39 years of age, she had lost 15 pounds and was in excellent shape and was called to do this film. The story in itself was very poor and the film as lavished as it was with a low budget for Hollywood, but extreme for Universal at the time of 1.5 million dollars was at times boring. The only thing for fans and movie goers that kept the interest was Merle Oberon with its luxurious costumes and accessories and make up and hair dressing. The movie was a money looser for Universal, but maintains its status of a classic film for those fans of Merle Oberon and new star for Universal the male counter part. It is a film that on DVD through TCM Movie sales is a must have and should give you some entertainment. Overall the rating I am giving this film for its star and effort is a 5. Again the only thing that makes me watch it over and over is Merle Oberon.
  • Superficially A NIGHT IN PARADISE is simply another entry in the apparently limitless procession of Technicolor fantasies produced by Universal in the mid-Forties. Conceived on a larger budget than customary, Arthur Lubin's romance takes place in a fantasy Mediterranean island and involves the love-affair between Delarai (Merle Oberon) and the faithful poet/ philosopher Aesop.

    Initially it seems as if the course of romance will never run smoothly. Aesop is relegated into the background, wearing a hirsute face-mask reminiscent of Universal horror films rather than its fantasies. Meanwhile Delarai becomes the object of materialist lust from mad King Croesus (Thomas Gomez), as well as the subject of revenge from evil sorcerer Attosa (Gale Sondergard). The film is gorgeously shot, emphasizing the rich sweetmeats and other goodies on offer that could tempt anyone - excepting Aesop, that is.

    Yet the old poet undergoes something of a magical transformation as he throws off his mask and becomes Jason, the noble suitor in search of Delarai's hand. Turhan Bey instantly becomes a clean-shaven young man in white toga with dashing looks, just the kind or romantic property that anyone could wish for. The plot-development might seem ludicrous, but it has a serious point to make, as it asks us to reflect on the relationship between inner integrity and outward show: which quality really matters to the survival of humanity?

    The answer, of course, is straightforward. Delarai and Aesop/ Jason fall in love, but are condemned to death by a jealous Crassus. As they are about to die, they are miraculously rescued by Attosa, who pays tribute to their "love and faith" that remained undimmed. People matter more than things, and the two lovers deserve to be recognized for this.

    Such was the optimistic message disseminated at the end of World War II, when the studios looked to forge harmony among previously warring nations. The point might look a bit hackneyed now, but it was meant sincerely in a highly entertaining piece.