23 June 2006 | theowinthrop
Soft Simmering Breeze...Petals in the pool drifting....
KISMET was originally a play by Edward Knobloch written about 1910, and used as a vehicle for many years by the popular Broadway character actor Otis Skinner, playing the role of Hajj, the philosophical thief who saves the Caliph of Baghdad. Skinner even did a silent film version of the play. Two years after his death in 1942 a sound version of the film (in color) was made starring Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, and Edward Arnold. The movie was a success, but nobody realized it would shortly become extremely successful in a new way. A song writing team (Bob Wright and Chet Forrest) constructed a score for KISMET based on the melodies of Alexander Borodin. The score contained such songs that became standards as STRANGER IN PARADISE (from the "Polevetsian Dances" in the opera PRINCE IGOR), BAUBLES, BANGLES, and BEADS, THIS IS MY BELOVED, THIS WAS THE NIGHT OF MY LIFE, and others. Wright and Forrest would do this several times on Broadway (they composed reset themes by Heitor Villa Lobos in another musical, for example) but KISMET was their joint masterpiece. So successful were they at rejuvenating the old Knobloch play, it was eventually revived again in the late 1990s in a new form as TIMBUCTOO (reset from the Califate of Baghdad to the great African trade city).
Eventually the musical came to the attention to the Freed unit at MGM, and Vincent Minelli was chosen to direct this 1955 version. The musical expanded on the play a little. Howard Keel (as Hajj - the name was restored to the original one, not Hafiz as Ronald Colman was named in the 1944 version) is involved at the beginning with Jay C. Flippen as a violent bandit leader who is seeking his son, and whom Hajj suggests will be found in Baghdad. We see Flippen from time to time looking for his missing son. In the end he does find the son (who lives up or down to Flippen's own reputation).
Keel had the right voice for Hajj, as did Dolores Gray as Lalume, the Vizier's bored wife (Dietrich in the 1944 film). Ann Blyth played Hajj's daughter Marsinah (who falls for the Caliph, Vic Damone). The evil vizier was played by Sebastian Cabot, and his rival government figure Omar (played by Harry Davenport in the 1944 film) is now played by Monty Wooley, in his final major movie part.
Actually the musical is livelier than it's critical history suggests. The old creaky play may turn off many critics, but it had some color, and the Borodin-inspired melodies raised it. But like BRIGADOON, Minelli could not shoot the film on location as it would have been incredibly expensive. Possibly the studio sets may have effected how the film was received by the critics. But it is entertaining, and (because of the music) very memorable. If some numbers were cut most of the big numbers were saved. Besides, I'd rather hear Keel sing A FOOL SAT BENEATH AN OLIVE TREE than hear Cabot (a questionable singing talent) try WAS I VIZIR. I don't think Sebastian Cabot even tried to sing once on FAMILY AFFAIR...his was a distinguished speaking voice, not a singing one.