From Columbia Pictures by way of frugal producer Sam Katzman, who fans of Monogram cheapies with Bela and the Bowery Boys are sure to recognize, comes a pair of titles that feature the one time romantic leading man of Warner Brothers films like Casablanca and Now Voyager, Paul Henreid, opposite the lovely brunette, Patricia Medina, who easily found a home in costume adventures as the damsel in distress being saved by the likes of Henreid, Alan Ladd and Louis Hayward.
With his contract at Warner Brothers over and the romantic leading roles opposite the likes of Bette Davis relegated to the past, Paul Henreid, found himself emerging from the blacklist and slumming in a quartet of pirate adventures for Harry Cohn and Katzman aimed at the matinee crowds of youngsters looking for action and escapism.
Siren of Bagdad (1953)
Filmed in technicolor under the guidance of director Richard Quine and producer Katzman, Henreid stars here as the jovial Kazah the Great. A magician who takes his pleasures as they come while entertaining sheiks and kings with feats of magic and a harem of dancing girls. For a sidekick he has Hans Conried as the film’s comic relief and all around idiot. It’s in a desert oasis that he and his troupe are raided by black robed bandits who steal the women and put them up for auction in the center square of Bagdad. In hot pursuit of the lovely ladies are Paul and Hans.
Not surprisingly there is an evil sultan on the throne and a group of underground freedom fighters looking to place the rightful heir back in power. The lovely Queen in waiting, Miss Medina. Charles Lung as the Sultan has a taste for the ladies and it’s at the palace that Henreid will find his circus gals. This will lead to a comical bit where Henreid’s magician will turn Conried into a bosomy blonde played by Vivian Mason whom the Sultan’s evil number two man sets his sights upon.
It’s not quite Joe E. Brown chasing after Jack Lemmon but it has a certain charm.
When Paul makes contact with the underground he’s to be quite taken with Median’s beauty setting the course of romance and his picking up the sword to defeat evil and put his fair lady on the Queen’s throne. I know this is a 73 minute programmer but truthfully it’s like there’s a whole act missing with these two firmly entrenched in a full on romance.
I guess it should come as no surprise that good will conquer evil and a kiss awaits us at the fadeout.
Director Quine was on the verge of bigger things. One year later he’d direct a pair of memorable Noir entries, Pushover and Drive a Crooked Road before moving on to light comedy fare with some major stars. Among them Bell, Book and Candle, It Happened to Jane and How To Murder Your Wife. All three titles starring Jack Lemmon for those keeping scores.
Prior to this adventure Henreid had starred in Last of the Buccaneers and Thief of Damascus for Columbia. According to his entertaining autobiography Ladies Man he and Quine believed they had a satirical hit on their hands but it wasn’t meant to be. In his words it was a flop. Either way today it makes for a diverting adventure from the past and worth a look if you can catch it on a TCM showing when on occasion they run all four of the Henreid-Columbia adventures back to back.
Pirates of Tripoli (1955)
Fast moving would be the key phrase to describe this seventy plus minute quickie that features a healthy dose of stock footage and narration to fill in the gaps when an evil warlord played by John Miljan overtakes a palace where the Princess Patricia Medina resides. What else is a princess to do but turn to a pirate leader she has heard of who resides in Tripoli to help her reclaim the throne. In a matter of on screen seconds she’s across a lush valley of green on horseback and walking into “The Inn of the Golden Feather” where the legendary pirate is said to party and adore the ladies.
This whole sequence leads to a wonderful bit where Medina is introduced to Henreid who then decides to take a bath in her presence. Not quite what you think but Henreid shines in this comical bit where he very clearly has his eye on the lovely Medina who he suspects is anything but a Princess promising riches. That’s all about to change when a trio of assassins following Medina across that green valley bent on killing her storm into his chambers forcing him to pick up his sword and save both their lives.
Now it’s become quite clear to our long in the tooth pirate that Medina is indeed a Princess and the wealth she promises to bestow upon the pirates is real. Hold on! The evil Miljan attacks and destroys all the pirate ships in the Tripoli harbor leaving Henreid and company stranded ashore. This explosive battle sequence is done using miniature ships and a fort with footage of Henreid tossed in ordering the cannons to fire amid the carnage that is to be inflicted upon the model ships and fortress.
Perhaps Medina, Henreid and his own version of a Little John played by the giant sized Paul Newlan can break back into the palace and steal the crown jewels to buy new ships. Time for the trio to ride back to the right of our TV screen through that lush green valley to the palace. This is followed by more swordplay and Henreid’s capture and subsequent assignment to the torture chamber. No worries as it’s an easy escape.
Have I mentioned Medina is falling for our heroic outlaw? That isn’t sitting well with Henreid’s saloon gal and temptress Maralou Gray. She’s about to enter the territory of Judas for a few pieces of gold and offer up some key plot points to Miljan’s spy.
Trust me it’s not going to take any sort of genius to figure out where this is all headed at the fadeout in glorious technicolor. While I’ve never been referred to as a genius (pause for applause and heads nodding in agreement) I pegged this plot’s finale from the get go. And please be prepared for some riders on horseback to cut back to the left of your screen across that green patch once again.
While this may be a picture best left to the kiddies at the time of it’s release, now it’s a nostalgic look back to simpler times when I Love Lucy was on TV and double bills were playing movie houses across the continent. And after all, I’m a kiddie at heart. Better check my watch again. Yup ten minutes have passed and riders are moving back to the right of my screen through that beautifully manicured green grassy area.
Clearly this is no Spanish Main of 1945 that saw Paul play opposite Maureen O’Hara in a big budgeted RKO adventure, yet it does offer Henreid a role that he is suited to and Medina has always looked ravishing when photographed in color. If you don’t catch this one on TCM you can always pick up a made on demand copy through Columbia. Just as yours truly did.
Henreid’s autobiography goes on to explain that he had a stake in the four pirate films alongside Cohn and Columbia and states he was pressured to sell them back to the studio. Unless of course he never wanted to work in Hollywood again as the threat of reinstating the blacklist upon him was being wielded. While Paul would only act sporadically in the next twenty years he’d come to focus more on his talents as a director helming numerous television episodes on shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Big Valley. He’d even reteam with Bette Davis directing her in the thriller Dead Ringer. Paul would also direct Miss Medina in an episode of The Californians in 1958 titled Lola Montez. Medina played the title character.
For more fun of the swords and sandals variety where the leading man tangles with evil Sultans and ne’er-do-wells to capture the heart of the fair maiden, check out an earlier edition of Popcorn Adventures that saw Jeff Chandler and Maureen O’Hara doing their best to heat up the screen both in Araby as well as on the western frontier.
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