Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Adventures of Hajji Baba

If you want to see a Hollywood movie set in the Middle East that's a darn sight more entertaining than John Goldfarb, Please Come Home, you could do worse thna to watch The Adventures of Hajji Baba tomorrow morning at 11:50 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.

John Derek plays Hajji Baba, a barber in Persia at some unspecified point in the past. (The movie provides conflicting references as to when it's set: there's a reference to the Taj Mahal, which was built in the 16th century, but no guns.) Hajji is planning to go to the big city of Isfahan to make his fortune, and the people around him wager each other as to whether he's going to succeed. Meanwhile, in Isfahan, Princess Fakzia (Elaine Stewart) isn't happy. She wants to marry for love, but she lives in an era when women don't get to marry for love, but have to marry for political reasons if they're as high up onhte class ladder as a princess is. The Caliph intends to marry her off to another prince. Since she doesn't agree with this, she dresses herself up as a man and runs off to elope.

Now, it should be fairly obvious that Hajji Baba is going to cross paths with the beautiful Princess Fakzia. This happens as she's running away to elope, with the Caliph's men in hot pursuit. Hajji Baba, not quite realizing at first that he's got a princess, sees that she's wearing an emerald ring, and agrees to that as the price for delivering her to the man she wants. At least, that's the stated intention; as in a movie like It Happened One Night you know that more is going to happen.

Hajji soon realizes that the woman he's got it one high-maintenance woman indeed, and that he's got to keep her safe from herself almost as much as he's got to keep her safe from all the bad people out in the desert who might want to kidnap them or return her to the Caliph. Perhaps the biggest danger comes when they run afoul of the "Turkomen" women. These would be people who came from north of Persia, in what would eventually become Soviet Central Asia and now independent countries like Turkmenistan. It's geographicall inaccurate, but who expects accuracy from a movie like this? The Turkomen women are a band of not-quite-Amazon bandits in the mountains who prey on passing caravans, capture the people, and sell them into slavery in one or another of the Silk Road cities to the north. The Turkomens are led by Banah (Amanda Blake, later Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke), and if they don't enslave you, they're going to kill you in a process that looks almost like a crucifixion. It's curtains for Hajji Baba and the Princess....

Yeah, right. One of the things you know from watching a movie like this is that it's going to have a happy ending. The Adventures of Hajji Baba certainly doesn't disappoint in that manner, and provides some reasonably good adventure. John Derek is more than adequate in the title role, and looks photogenic playing it as well. Elaine Stewart is suitably beautiful and selfish, but a movie like this is more about the set-piece adventures than either the characters or the plot. In that regard, it succeeds in entertaining, although it's also nothing exceptional. If you're snowed in or have a rainy day, it's an enjoyable enough way to pass an hour and a half.

As for the bad news, the score seems mostly to have Nat King Cole singing, "Hajji, Hajji" to music that sounds like a composer trying to come up with something that sounds stereotypically Middle Eastern. Worse is that the print FMC showed the last time this movie aired was panned and scanned, at least following the opening credits. It's a shame, because there's a scene before the opening credits which has to be in widescreen so that the credits show up properly, and then it goes to 4:3 (not even 16:9). The movie looks like it's got some reasonably nice cinematography and color too, so why butcher it? The Adventures of Hajji Baba is also, as far as I know, not available on DVD.

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