Kismet Blu-ray Review
The idea of making a musical which takes place in Baghdad would be a non-starter in the 21st Century, but it made perfect sense when Kismet was released by MGM in 1955. The story had actually been filmed as a drama several times before, the first being a silent movie which was made in 1920. Subsequent versions included an MGM romantic drama in 1944 which starred Ronald Colman and Marlene Dietrich. Kismet was turned into a hit Broadway musical in 1953, where it ran for 583 performances, featuring music adapted from the works of Russian composer Alexander Borodin. The success of the Broadway show inspired MGM to make a lavish Cinemascope musical, which has now been released as a gorgeous Blu-ray by Warner Archive.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 53 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Standard Blu-ray Keep Case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 06/10/2014
The Production Rating: 4/5
As dawn breaks in Baghdad, Hajj (Howard Keel) and his daughter Marsinah (Ann Blyth) awake in a stable for camels, where they have been sleeping on a pile of hay. Hajj ekes out a bare subsistence living by making up rhymes for people who are shopping in the marketplace, but on this morning he and Marsinah do not even have money for breakfast. As the morning progresses Hajj accidentally discovers that begging is more profitable than rhyming. He has a sharp mind and a quick wit, attributes which serve him well in what proves to be a momentous-found luck takes a turn for the worse when, due to a case of mistaken identity, he is kidnapped and taken to the desert to be confronted by Jawan (J.C. Flippen), a robber and brigand. Jawan believes that Hajj had, years earlier, placed a curse upon him and caused him to lose his son, whom Jawan had not seen since the boy was very young. Hajj cleverly turns the tables by telling Jawan that he will cancel the curse and guarantee that he will find his son that very day if he pays Hajj a hundred pieces of gold. In the course of a few hours Hajj goes from being penniless to a possessor of great wealth.Meanwhile, back in Baghdad the Wazir (Sebastian Cabot), the polygamous chief law enforcement officer of Mesopotamia, greets his first wife Lalume (Dolores Gray), who is returning from a mission to the northern province of Ababu. The Wazir is in need of gold, and he sent Lalume to Ababu to negotiate a loan. She reports that the Sheikh of Ababu is prepared to loan the Wazir “all the gold ten camels can carry,” but there is a catch. In return for the loan, the Sheikh wants the Wazir to arrange for the marriage of his three daughters to the Caliph of Baghdad (Vic Damone).The young Caliph has been in mourning for a year following the death of his father, and he is now ready to assume his duties as the ruler of Mesopotamia. He has been circulating among his subjects incognito to get the pulse of the people and he is prepared to return to his palace. However, as he walks through the marketplace with his servant Omar (Monty Woolley), his eyes capture a glimpse of Marsinah, and for the Caliph it is love at first sight. However, he loses her in the crowd, and when she catches up with her father she learns that he now has more money than they had ever dreamed of. Hajj celebrates by turning Marsinah loose on a shopping spree, which gives Ann Blyth the opportunity to sing “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads.” Hajj then buys a house for them and several female slaves for Caliph finds Marsinah and follows her to the new home. She initially brushes him off, as she is unaware of his true identity and mistakenly believes that he is a common gardener. However, he wins her over when he sings the film’s signature tune, “Stranger in Paradise,” which evolves into a duet by Vic Damone and Ann Blyth. By 1955 Damone was already an accomplished recording artist with four solo albums to his credit, and Frank Sinatra famously declared that he had “the best pipes in the business.” Damone reportedly turned down the role of Johnny Fontane in The Godfather because he felt that the character was disrespectful to Old Blue Caliph returns to his palace and declares that he has found the woman who will be his wife, an announcement which sends the Wazir into a state of despair because he will not get the gold that he needs if the Caliph does not marry the daughters of the Sheikh of Ababu. A series of amusing twists and turns involving Hajj and Marsinah spared no expense in making Kismet, and it shows. Director Vincente Minelli had already worked on such musical hits as Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris, The Band Wagon, and Brigadoon (parts of Kismet apparently were directed by Stanley Donen, who received no on-screen credit). Howard Keel exudes charm and exhibits a booming baritone voice as Hajj, and Ann Blyth is lovely and displays a fine singing voice. Dolores Gray is suitably wily as the seductive Lalume, and the corpulent Sebastian Cabot is menacing as the treacherous Wazir. The character of the Caliph is not well-developed, but Vic Damone shows why Sinatra loved his voice with his performance of “Stranger in Paradise.” The supporting cast is universally excellent.A couple of trivia notes about Ann Blyth – she was born in the same hospital as me in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and as a teenager she was discovered for Universal Studios by director Henry Koster, the grandfather of Home Theater Forum reviewer Kevin Koster.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
Kismet was filmed in the always-problematic Eastmancolor, but Warner has done a superb job of restoring it to its original glory. The colors are vivid and accurate and there is not a hint of age-related damage to be seen. Readers of this review are encouraged to check out the high praise bestowed upon this Blu-rayby our resident expert, Robert A. Harris.
Audio Rating: 5/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio is the equal of the picture quality. The instrumental version of “Stranger in Paradise” which plays over the opening credits fills up the room, and the rest of the film’s musical numbers receive the same outstanding treatment. Dialogue is confined to the center channel and it is clear, understandable, and free of noise or distortion.English SDH subtitles are available for those who need them.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
There are number of enjoyable extras on this Blu-ray release. They are shown in standard definition but all of them are watchable, although not always in exemplaryup is a letterboxed, non-anamorphic version of The Battle of Gettysburg, an Academy Award-nominated documentary short which was released in 1955 and is narrated by Leslie Nielsen. The film was made entirely on location at Gettysburg. The transfer unfortunately displays a considerable amount of jiggle and video noise, but the elements are in good shape and it is watchable. It has a running time of just under 30 minutes.The First Bad Man is a Technicolor cartoon from 1953 by Tex Avery. It tells the story of Texas in prehistoric times, where the peace is ruined by the notorious Dinosaur Dan. The cartoon is narrated by Tex Ritter. It is in very good shape, with reasonably vivid color and fine “MGM Parade” promotional shorts about Kismet are in black & white and are hosted by George particular interest is a partially deleted outtake of the song “Rahadlakum” which is performed by Howard Keel and Dolores Gray. I can only assume that the censors deemed this introductory part of the song to have been excessively risqué, because it takes place in the Wazir’s harem and appears to be mocking the concept of virtue. The outtake portion is letterboxed in black and white and has a couple of moments where the picture has some also is an audio outtake of the song “Rhymes Have I,” sung by Howard Keel. The song obviously was intended to be part of the first scene but ultimately was not used. The audio outtake is in superb theatrical trailer for Kismet is letterboxed in standard definition. Howard Keel introduces various scenes from the film.Finally, there is the color trailer for the 1944 version of Kismet, which is available on DVD from Warner Archive.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Kismet has never been as highly regarded as some other MGM musicals of the fifties, but it is an enjoyable romp thanks largely to an exuberant performance by Howard Keel and excellent singing by Ann Blyth, Vic Damone and Dolores Gray. The Warner Archive has done a superb job of bringing the film to Blu-ray with a magnificent transfer and outstanding sound. It can be purchased directly at the Warner Archive website.
Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher
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