The Wonders of Aladdin (1961)
The Wonders of Aladdin (1961)

Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: December 13th, 1961 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Henry Levin, Mario Bava Actors: Donald O’Connor, Noelle Adam, Vittorio De Sica, Aldo Fabrizi, Michele Mercier, Milton Reid, Terence Hill, Fausto Tozzi

 


 

A

laddin’s mother (Adriana Facchetti) purchases a tiny, cheap, rusty bronze lamp for her son, complaining of his laziness during the day and his aimless wandering about Bagdad at night. The young man (Donald O’Connor, cast against type, playing the part like a twist on Pinocchio, and being arguably too old to play the famous “The Arabian Nights” hero, though his acrobatic aptitude is put to good use) is excited to see Prince Moluk’s (Terence Hill, using the name Mario Girotti) procession, headed for a royal wedding in Basrah (which O’Connor pronounces as Bassorah). When he discovers that his poor mother has spent all of her money on the worthless trinket and can’t afford to eat soup with her boy, he goes back to the marketplace to return the lamp.

Aladdin is caught stealing while in the city and must flee from hordes of angered patrons. He accidentally rubs the device to unleash the 1200 year-old genie (Vittorio De Sica), who grants him three wishes – the first of which is used to turn Aladdin into a giant that towers above the bulky leader of the mob, Omar (Milton Reid). Frightened of the man he believes to be a powerful wizard, Omar pledges to be Aladdin’s slave and offers up his money to pay for their caravan to the Excellency’s marriage. The plotting Grand Vizier (Fausto Tozzi) has his alchemic court magician (Raymond Bussières) prepare a gift for the ceremony, a lifelike dancing doll for the rotund Sultan (Aldo Fabrizi, looking very much the part), intended for use in murdering the prince and marrying Princess Zaina (Michele Mercier) himself. His scheme is bolstered by plans to switch the king’s newborn baby with a girl, which will force the princess to hurry a wedding for the sake of continuing the royal bloodline. Zaina is a mysterious woman that no man has seen (save for her father) and whose appearance is highly sought after by the vizier. Meanwhile, Aladdin’s lifelong friend Djalma (Noelle Adam), an underappreciated and beautiful woman who can’t help but love the careless gallivanter, pays to join Moluk’s riders to pursue her beau.

“The Wonders of Aladdin” is one of the most unique, unconventional, and offbeat adaptations of the Middle Eastern folk tale ever brought to the big screen. It’s more of a slapstick-filled comedy than an exciting tale of courageous feats and breathtaking magic (a memorable catapult stunt involves a clearly fake, soaring dummy, while one of the episodes of sorcery involves a giant rubbery flea). Comedic dialogue and humorous follies fill the misadventures (the best of which arrives when O’Connor switches places with the dancing male doll), which are regularly fueled by betrayals, death, a makeshift flamethrower, and threats of torture (some of which are vividly detailed), without anything serious ever befalling the whimsical lead. The story is pieced together with seemingly leftover ideas and the special effects are terribly dated, but there’s an accidental appeal to the pervasive nonsense.

Also uncommon for a lighthearted fantasy, the film features an abundance of only somewhat restrained sexuality. There’s an obvious preoccupation with exposed midriffs, a naked female doll that can crush men with her embrace, nude bathers, an insinuation of what ruthless marauders might do to an unguarded young woman, showgirl mirages, scantily-clad Amazon women warriors, a barbaric queen who uses men for sexual pleasures before purportedly skinning them and turning them into scarves, and the repeated torturing of Djalma by stripping her naked and dangling her in the dungeon. This is likely attributable to uncredited director Mario Bava, who perfected gothic Italian horror steeped with sexuality, including “Kill Baby, Kill,” “The Whip and the Body,” and “Blood and Black Lace.”

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10