Monday, February 21, 2011

Save me!

Today's selection on TCM is a movie that won an Oscar which is no longer awarded: Two Arabian Knights, coming up at 2:45 AM ET.

William Boyd (later Hopalong Cassidy) and Louis Wolheim play a pair of doughboys in World War I who get captured an put in a German POW camp. They escape by disguising themselves in Ottoman costumes, but get captured and sent to an Ottoman prison camp. They escape again, and eventually make their way to a ship heading for the Arabian peninsula, where they meet the lovely princess Mirza (a young Mary Astor in one of her earliest starring roles). She helps them, except that it turns out she has to get off the ship early, as she has been betrothed to a prince in another Arab principality. Meanwhile, our two American heroes jump ship too, partly out of love and partly because they're being chased by half the ship's crew (watch for Boris Karloff as the purser).

Matters don't get any better for them on dry land, as they've got a prince chasing them since it was a big mistake to fall in love with Mirza when she was betrothed and veiled, no less. Meanwhile, they can't get any help from their home country, as the ship's captain has told the American consul what happened aboard ship, and the Consul probably wouldn't want to start a diplomatic incident with the Arabs, either.

Two Arabian Knights won an Oscar for its director, Lewis Milestone. However, back in those days, there were actually two directing Oscars given; one for comedy and one for drama. Two Arabian Knights won for comedy. Despite a lot of the material being culturally inaccurate, if not offensive, the comedy still holds up very well. That's the good news. The bad news is that the movie itself hasn't held up so well. Literally. For many years, Two Arabian Knights was considered to be a lost movie, but a copy was found about a decade ago in the archives of Howard Hughes, who produced the movie back when he was first getting into Hollywood at the end of the silent era. Although a copy was found, parts of the print were in very bad condition, as the nitrate in those scenes had nearly completely disintegrated. It's quite evident in the restored print where those scenes are. Just as the two heroes escape "just in time", so the film escaped its own destruction just in time. The movie hasn't been released to DVD either, so you're going to have to record the overnight TCM showing.

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