31 August 2010 | JohnHowardReid
Abdulla Is Not So Great, But Kay Kendall Is!
Kay Kendall become a popular cult idol throughout the 1960s. After her tragic death from leukemia in 1959, movie lovers were dosed with constant repeats of Genevieve, Fast and Loose, Doctor in the House, The Constant Husband, Simon and Laura, Quentin Durward, Les Girls, The Reluctant Debutante and Once More With Feeling. In fact, every film she ever made from Genevieve (1953 onwards was constantly revived not only on television but even theatrically. With two odd exceptions! Meet Mr Lucifer (1953) was never shown. Nor was Abdulla the Great. Television executives had good reason to blackball Meet Mr Lucifer, a merciless satire on the whole TV industry, but Abdulla the Great? One of Kay's best roles, in which she is gorgeously photographed by Lee Garmes and most stylishly costumed? Even the usually hard-to-please Monthly Film Bulletin singled out her performance, describing it as "most persuasive".
Abdulla, of course, is meant to be taken as a blatant impersonation of King Farouk. But whether you get the satirical intent or not, doesn't really matter. Ratoff invigorates the role with his usual gusty pizazz. In his playing, in fact, he comes across as far more powerful a figure than is represented by his timid, rather routine direction, though perhaps he gave a few good acting tips to Kay Kendall who is absolutely outstanding here. These are easily her finest moments in the cinema, easily creaming her horn solo in Genevieve or her constant combats with a tempestuous Yul Brynner in Once More With Feeling or her decorative alliance with real-life husband Rex Harrison in The Reluctant Debutante.
The other main players are somewhat less than adequate, particularly Kay's love interest, Captain Farid (woodenly enacted by Sydney Chaplin). If memory serves me correctly, Alex D'Arcy as Abdulla's chief adviser is also disappointingly lackluster in a role that would seem made-to-order.
Abdulla was quite lavishly produced, obviously on authentic Egyptian locations, and superbly photographed by ace cinematographer Lee Garmes (who deserved an Academy Award for his work on Gone With The Wind—he photographed almost the entire first hour—but didn't get one).