The Magic Carpet (1951)
The film that Lucille Ball made for spite!
This Sam Katzman production released through Harry Cohn’s Columbia Studios casts Lucy in this sword and sandals “epic” that wouldn’t even have been picked up by Universal International as a film worthy of Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie. Yes it’s that “bad” but I suppose in a good way.
Far from original, the film directed by Lew Landers begins as many others of this ilk do. The current Caliph and his Queen are murdered to make way for a new regime. Thankfully their infant child is placed on a magic carpet along with his royal necklace and whisked into the skies to escape the dagger of the evil Raymond Burr. Yes, once again Burr is slumming as a force of evil until Perry Mason turned his persona around.
Thank heavens that carpet lands at the doorstep of a kindly physician and his wife who raise the child until SURPRISE he turns into genre favorite John Agar. In no time at all the film morphs itself into a Zorro like tale. The new Caliph aided by Burr as his number one henchman are bleeding the peasants dry with insurmountable taxes. Agar not yet knowing his true identity takes to a flaming red outfit and in a Robin Hood kind of way is known as The Scarlet Falcon throughout all the land. He’s got his very own Little John to join him. Sadly Alan Hale had passed away the year prior to this production so the studio had George Tobias step in. In just a few short years George would marry Gladys Kravitz and move in next to the Stevens in the role I most often associate him with.
After a good twenty minutes of screen time we finally meet the top billed Lucille Ball. She’s been cast as the evil Caliph’s plotting sister. I kid you not, from here on in it’s almost as if her performance is saying to me, “Is Bob Hope about to show up anytime soon?” Top billed and receiving a paycheck that might well have put Katzman out of business, Lucy isn’t even the romantic interest! That prestigious honor goes to Patricia Medina who is a feisty warrior in her own right and wants to fight the Caliph and his army right alongside her beau Agar.
Agar is about to go undercover in the palace by winning over the Caliph’s trust as his own personal physician which sits perfectly well with the Caliph’s harem. Cue the line, “The harem flourishes with sickness lately.” Yes John proves to be somewhat of a ladies man here as all female eyes are upon him. This includes Lucy’s and that doesn’t sit well with Burr who seeks to claim her for his own to secure his own power ploy.
Yes it’s strictly a comic book adventure for the kiddies but it’s just so hard to swallow the fact that Lucille Ball appeared in this picture. As to the reasons why, it’s all about “sticking it” to Harry Cohn, a man very few people in Hollywood seemed to like. Apparently Lucy was about to land a part in De Mille’s The Greatest Show On Earth but Cohn refused to let her take the part until she finished one more movie for him under her three picture deal. If he offered her a film and she refused it, he could tear up the agreement and save himself $85,000. Hence the script for this pedestrian Arabian Knights wannabe that surely was meant to score Agar an Oscar nomination. “cough ahem cough ahem” sorry, I almost choked on that statement.
Not one to be pushed about, Lucy apparently agreed to do the picture out of spite which shocked Cohn and nearly bust the film’s meager budget. Alas the DeMille picture wasn’t meant to be. Lucy had to pull out as she had become pregnant and it shows in this film with her looking a bit chunky under the veils and silky see thru material.
While Bob Hope never did show up, the film would have been best served as an outright comedy with Lucy involved but we do have John Agar. He’s so wooden he comes off as hilarious. If there had been Razzie Awards back in this era, Agar would have been the front runner to claim the lofty prize. He’s that bad. But once again, so bad I found it hilarious.
See this one for all the wrong reasons that include Burr attempting to woo Miss Lucy and some atrocious low budget effects that we should expect in a Sam Katzman production. Heck, I almost expected the comical looking puppet from his stellar The Giant Claw to swoop in and snag Agar and Medina off the flying carpet at the fadeout.
I’m not sure I was even aware of this Lucy flick but it turned up in a Lucy 4 Pack on the budget label Mill Creek so all of a sudden it was in my collection prompting me to check it out and see just how “bad” it really was. Bad? Maybe. Fun, kind of and probably outright hilarious if watched in a room full of those who enjoy a good-bad film.