Thursday, October 10, 2019

Howard Hughes Presents Omar Khayyam, 40 Thieves and the "Son of Sinbad"!

There's more action in the "Son of Sinbad"s movie poster than in the actual movie.

Hi keebah and hello, movie lovers.

Howard Hughes was one of the most colorful characters in 20th century America.

He set speed records as a pilot, created the Spruce Goose, founded TWA, discovered Jane Russell, dated Katherine Hepburn and cataloged his urine.

In between all that, Hughes found time to make movies. Some were good, but most were bad. Very, very bad--like "Son of Sinbad" (1955) which, by sheer coincidence, is the subject of today's article.

Before we dive into the movie itself, here are a few points to keep in mind:

Vincent Price--yes, Vincent Price--is Sinbad's BFF poet Omar Khayyam.

1) The actors are hilariously miscast. Dale Robertson, normally a fixture in cowboy pics, is Sinbad, Jr. Meanwhile, the "Khalif of Baghdad" has a very prominent German accent. Sinbad's best buddy is horror movie mainstay Vincent Price, shamelessly mugging like Urkle on "Family Matters."

2) The film is full-to-bursting with scantily clad starlets who possess the protein acting talents of a dead squid.

3) Although Sinbad's father made his name sailing the seven seas, Sinbad, Jr. spends all his time chasing girls. In fact, the closest he gets to water is when he barges into "royal favorite" Lady Nerissa's bathroom while she's soaking in her tub.

4) Because this movie takes place long, long ago, the dialogue is ornate, flowery vomit delivered so badly it becomes a show within itself.

All of which add vital layers of American Cheese to this supposedly exotic fable.

"Oh, hi! Fancy meeting you here!": Nerissa (Lili St. Cyr) welcomes frequent visitor Sinbad (Dale Robertson) into her boudoir. 

The fun begins in the bustling market place of Baghdad, where Omar Khayyam(!) is wandering around, looking for his BFF Sinbad. Eventually worn out, he sits down to rest and suddenly out pops Sinbad (Dale Robertson, his chest shiny smooth, with just a hint of a spray tan), looking a bit like Robin Thicke.

"Why so dejected my friend?" Sinbad declares. "You should be happy as a poet, not sour like a tent maker!"

Author's Note: Omar makes tents for a living when he can't sell his poetry. Sinbad ribs him about this a lot. However, that's not historically accurate; Omar never worked as a tent maker. He made a comfortable living as a mathematician, astronomer and, yes, a poet.

Sinbad, however, doesn't have time to shoot the breeze with his friend. He plans on scaling the walls of the Khalif's palace so he can "visit the fair Nerissa" (Lili St. Cyr, a famous stripper of the era).

Omar tries to talk him out of it, pleading, "For once, Sinbad, let your brains be where they seldom are!"

                       "Can I scrub your back?": Sinbad hopes to join Nerissa in the bath.                   

Nerissa, meanwhile, has been soaking in her tub for hours anticipating Sinbad's visit. When Sinbad does arrive, Nerissa pretends to be shocked: "How dare you intrude in my private chamber", she says in a flat, nasal monotone (I bet she and Sinbad go through this charade as a kind of weird foreplay thing). Then she asks her maid for a towel and orders Sinbad "to turn around."

"If I only had the good fortune of that towel, just to touch that ivory skin," Sinbad replies.


Seconds later Nerissa is magically dressed and she and Sinbad get busy on a pile of pillows. Little do they know, a palace snitch has sounded the alarm that Sinbad is "visiting". This leads to a swashbuckling/slapstick scene where the royal guards burst into Nerissa's room, Sinbad leaps into a tree to escape and a rotund guard gets kicked into Nerissa's tub--as the "royal favorite" casually stands aside dabbing perfume behind her ears.

Alas, poor Sinbad and Omar end up arrested and dragged before the Khalif of Baghdad, a bejeweled ninny played by Leon Askin of "Hogan's Heroes" fame. Among the other unfortunates waiting to plead their case are an unidentified "unprincipled son of an unchaste she-camel" and Simon Aristides (Raymond Greenleaf) and his daughter Kristina (Mari Blanchard), falsely accused of stealing. By sheer coincidence, Simon was a friend of Sinbad's dad and Kristina and Sinbad frolicked as children. Now that she's all grown up, our hero wastes no time trying to hook up.

"Haven't we met before?": Sinbad puts the moves on Kristina (Mari Blanchard) while her father Simon (Raymond Greenleaf) and Omar look on.

However, more important matters soon take center stage.

"Oh exalted one! Right hand of Allah! Commander of the Faithful! Oh mighty one!" a breathless palace guard exclaims, "Murad the Tartar, ambassador of Tamerlane the Cruel, is at the palace gates demanding admittance!"

Tamerlane the Cruel! Say it isn't so! The news causes everybody on screen to collectively wet their pants. However, this is especially bad news for the Khalif because A) he's basically a coward, B) he fears his army isn't strong enough to defend the city and C) he has a carbuncle on his hinder and "he can't find a cushion soft enough" to sit on--this tidbit coming from harem housekeeper Ameer (Sally Forrest), who also has the hots for Sinbad.

Seconds later Murad (Ian MacDonald) stomps in, sporting a drooping 'stache and a bad attitude. When the palace chamberlain timidly reminds him to show the Khalif the proper respect, Murad barks back, "I am Murad the Tartar, in service to Tamerlane! I bow my head to another!" Then he has the nerve to demand the best palace accommodations for himself and his men, snarling, "I do not plead! I command!" He even hints that Tamerlane might allow the Khalif to "live--as his slave"  provided he's in a good mood when he arrives.

With everyone in such a dither over the approaching Tamerlane, Simon sees his chance. He tells the Khalif that he can rid him of Tamerlane if he agrees to free himself and his daughter. Once he does so, Simon promises to show the mousy monarch the power of "Greek Fire", an early version of gun powder. Because he's all out of options (and suffers from a throbbing carbuncle, remember) the Khalif says yes.

The Khalif of Baghdad (Leon Askin) in one of his more understated ensembles. 

Thus Simon busily sets up an elaborate demonstration reminiscent of those Ronco infomercials which breathlessly hawked "Ginsu Knives" and "Londonaire Hose" back in the day. Simon, a crafty fellow, has nestled the recipe for Greek Fire in the subconscious of Kristina. The only way to retrieve the formula is to put her in a deep trance (using a spinning, bejeweled lava lamp). Once this is done, she tells how to mix the Greek Fire formula using the multi-colored liquids Simon keeps in a locked tackle box. When he has his sample, Simon claps his hands and Kristina wakes up out of her trance, no worse for wear. Simon then hands the lighted mixture to the Khalif, who is so unimpressed, he throws it out the nearest window, claiming in his heavy German accent that he was ripped off. KABOOM! Suddenly the palace is rocked by a huge explosion. The Khalif quickly changes his mind, frees Simon and his daughter and orders up a batch of Greek Fire.

Still following along? Good.

Unbeknownst to the Khalif and Simon, the royal jester Jiddah (Jay Novello) is in cahoots with Murad. The two watched the Greek Fire demo from a secret palace peep-hole and were duly impressed.  "For the secret to conquer the world, our master would give an empire!" Murad exclaims. So the two baddies set out to get their paws on the recipe.

Meanwhile, in another part of the palace, the newly freed Kristina is lolling about her room, thinking about Sinbad. She's convinced they are madly in love and will get married. This doesn't sit well with Ameer, who, as noted earlier, also has the hots for Sinbad. In fact, when Kristina asks Ameer to tell Sinbad he and Omar will be freed at dawn, she balks. "The torturous thoughts of a man facing eternity are far more terrifying than death itself," Kristina reminds her. Unable to argue with such logic, Ameer says OK.

However, when the harem housekeeper returns to Kristina's room, she notices the guards are dead, the chamber is a mess, Simon has a knife in his gut and Kristina is missing. Hmmm, what could that mean? Could Jiddah and Murad have kidnapped Kristina and escaped into the desert, where they plan to meet up with Tamerlane and unlock the secrets of Greek Fire?

The Khlaif's Chamberlain asks Murad (Ian MacDonald), "Do you realize how much you look like James Brolin?"

Plucky Ameer sends a message (via dove or carrier pigeon, I couldn't tell) to her Forty Thieves cohorts--oh, did I forget to mention that Ameer is a member of the Forty Thieves of Ali Baba fame? Well, she is! She even has a tattoo to prove it! Never the less, baddie Jiddah has her arrested and the Khalif has her banished from Baghdad because, hey, nobody wants to mess with the famous Forty Thieves.

Exhausted, the Khalif retires to his harem, where Nerissa tries to soothe his depressed spirit (and throbbing hinder) with a totally gonzo dance of the seven veils. When she's through, Sinbad and Omar burst in, insisting they have a cunning plan to get the Greek Fire back in time to defeat Tamerlane the Cruel. When the Khalif shows little interest, the scantily clad Nerissa (in an outfit Kim Kardasian would die for) pleads, "Oh, Khalif! Listen to Sinbad! If a mortal man can save Baghdad, it is he."

To please his cuddlemate, the Khalif hears Sinbad's plan, which is a rather convoluted. However, in the interests of full disclosure, I will give you the highlights:

1) Sinbad, Omar and an extra horse ride out into the desert and magically pick out the very spot Murad and company will pitch their tents for the night.

2) Sinbad buries himself in the sand using a reed to breathe. He will wait there until everybody goes to sleep and then quietly free Kristina.

"Where's the headliner?!": Murad appears unimpressed with the evening's entertainment (as does the gal sitting next to him).

3) Sinbad's instincts are spot on about everything until Murad's tobacco pipe doesn't work. Then one of his "wives" yanks out Sinbad's breathing reed so Murad can enjoy a smoke.

4) While yet another "wife" performs a dance that looks as if she's being attacked by fire ants, Sinbad, who can't breathe without his reed, rises up out of the sand. This totally freaks out the dancing wife, who runs off screaming. Murad is so miffed, he has his guards go find her so he can whip her.

5) With everyone else otherwise distracted, Sinbad sneaks into Kristina's tent and frees her. There is a minor scuffle with another guard, but that's over PDQ.

6) Once Murad realizes Kristina is gone, he and his troops ride off to find her. While they are gone, the Forty Thieves, who are dressed like a high school drill team, besiege the camp and kick the remaining soldiers in their collective fanny. They also snatch up the Greek Fire chemicals and the bejeweled lava lamp, too.

7) Sinbad, Omar and Kristina arrive at the Forty Thieves' secret hide out. It's there we learn the Khalif of Baghdad had all the male Thieves (including their sons) killed. The remaining wives and daughters of the Forty Thieves thus went into hiding and started their own version of the Forty Thieves. This has worked out surprisingly well, from a financial stand point, anyway. The down side is the Forty Thieves gals must stay hidden because there is a price on their heads, which has put a real crimp in their dating habits.

This is what the fashionable female 40 Thieves are wearing this season.

Eventually, the 40 Thieves agree to help Sinbad defeat Murad (and Tamerlane). The catch? They want the Greek Fire recipe to ensure the Khalif stops harassing them. It's agreed--and none too soon, as Tamerlane's troops are right outside!

This leads us to the obligatory "battle scene" where Tamerlane's troops and the 40 Thieves duke it out for the Greek Fire fixings. Unfortunately, not since the Monty Python skit where the Batley Town Women's Guild reenacted the Battle of Pearl Harbor will you witness such a slap stick hodge podge freak-out. Amid a shower of flaming arrows courtesy of the 40 Thieves, Tamerlane's men scream, grab their chests and fall to the ground with a loud "thunk". Meanwhile, horses rear up, stampede, topple over and run off. The gals then hurl rocks dipped in Greek Fire, causing their targets to literally go up in flames. Of course, a couple of Tamerlane's men have to be kicked or pushed off cliffs so they can yell "Ahhhh!" as they plummet to their deaths. Once the whole free-for-all is complete, the score is Tamerlane 0, the 40 Thieves 15 and everybody heads back to the Thieves' secret hide-out to celebrate.

It's here that Sinbad and Omar learn that they will have to stay with the 40 Thieves indefinitely. That's because the Khalif  has a price on their heads and the gals can't chance it that Sinbad or Omar might rat them out. Sinbad, of course, is more than happy to bed down with the Thieves, but Omar is not. That's because he and Kristina have fallen in love and want to get hitched. So Omar counsels the 40 Thieves that the last thing young ladies in their prime dating (and mating) years should be doing is sitting around without any male company. If Sinbad can promise to end the Khalif's grudge against them, will the 40 Thieves return to Baghdad with them to announce the news that Tamerlane the Cruel is dead and the Greek Fire is safe and sound?

Thus, with the 40 Thieves decked out in their most bedazzling ensemble yet, the whole gang returns to the Khalif''s palace to announce the good news about Tamerlane and unmask Jiddah as the baddie he always was. As a reward, Sinbad becomes the Khalif's second-in-command and Omar becomes the official court scribe/poet-in-residence. The 40 Thieves are duly freed and become Sinbad's personal honor guard. As if that's not enough, Sinbad proposes to Ameer and vows to be a faithful husband. So, with visions of an Omar/Kristina--Sinbad/Ameer double wedding dancing in our heads (with the 40 Thieves as bridesmaids), "The Son of Sinbad" ends on this happy note. Want to wager if Lady Nerissa catches one of the bridal bouquets?

While watching "The Son of Sinbad", I couldn't help but think viewers were getting a glimpse inside producer Howard Hughes' head. Hughes was notorious, after all, for putting dozens of young starlets under personal contract, providing them with acting lessons and a decent salary, all the while promising them important parts in his (someone else's) films--parts that rarely materialized. In short, Howard had his own harem going, not unlike the Khalif in today's picture. Clearly Hughes relished this kind of control over women and the sexism of the day meant he could get away with it. Anywhooo...

Sinbad and Ameer and Omar and Kristina: Happily never after?

The movie. "The Son of Sinbad" is a bright, shiny, over-produced piece of junk. However, it might be your only chance to see Vincent Price in a turban or to hear Sally Forrest as Ameer snarl, "My uncle's prayer rug!" when Sinbad insists he can be a faithful boyfriend. So I say, give it a whirl, but don't forget you've been warned.

So, movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, just because you're a top notch businessman, pilot and "idea guy" doesn't mean you should dabble in films--because the results could be disastrous. "The Outlaw", "The Conqueror" and "Underwater!" are just a few of the golden gobblers Hughes lovingly stuffed over the years. My personal favorite is "Underwater!", which Howie produced for Jane Russell. This "seagoing stinker" (according to the Brothers Medved) was about deep sea diving and, to bring home this point, Howie had "Underwater!" shown underwater to a group of film critics who were kitted out in scuba gear the occasion. Honest! And Save The Movies!

"Idea Guy" Howard Hughes: "I have no idea what I'm doing!"