Harold Ventimore's (Tony Randall) kumkum has arrived, but what is that exactly? It's a large brass bottle that back in ancient times would be filled with expensive oils, though nowadays advertising executive Harold wanted it for ornamentation, specifically to gift to the parents of his fiancée Sylvia (Barbara Eden) whose father Professor Kenton (Edward Andrews) is extremely sceptical Harold is the right man for his daughter. As pressure at work builds up and he really needs a new contract, he is looking forward to seeing Sylvia, but that evening when he shows up at the front door, the first thing he sees is a cheap replica of that self-same bottle on the hall table: so much for his good intentions...
But it would be a short film if Harold simply went home and put an ad in the paper to sell the bottle, so he decides to turn the thing into a novelty lamp which should offer an inkling of where this was going if you knew your Arabian Nights. The presence of Barbara Eden in the cast would be an even stronger hint if you knew your sixties sitcoms, for this was the production that inspired her main claim to fame, the lead role as the title character in I Dream of Jeannie, she being the genie who would grant her master Larry Hagman all sorts of wishes, often when he wasn't aware he actually needed any kind of wishes granted in the first place. But Barbara had no magic powers in this instance.
Nope, she was strictly the straightwoman to Randall's antics, and not only him as when Harold pops off the top of the bottle and in a puff of green smoke there appears... Burl Ives? Not everyone's idea of a performer who could be adequately replaced by Barbara Eden in more or less the same role, but there he was, and he wasn't everyone’s idea of a convincing Middle Eastern entity either with his red hair and less than dark colouring. That said, if you were prepared to watch a movie where a genie appeared in twentieth century Pasadena and cast numerous spells, then you would likely be able to swallow the notion that he would resemble all round entertainer (in more ways than one) Burl Ives possessed sorcery powers.
There was an interesting element to this the sitcom never broached, and that was the fact a genie granting all these wishes might not be goofy in the mayhem it created, but could be ever-so-slightly sinister instead. Ives' Mr Fakrash seems to have some hidden agenda for latching on to Harold, above what he appears to encourage a better life for him, indeed he might well be laying out the plans for a better life for a certain genie instead. In this modern world where he constantly has to be reminded that bureaucracy has essentially stopped any need for magic because there would be too many forms to fill out, not to mention the interested government agencies taking note, Fakrash could be something akin to a God.
Unfortunately, while all this potential goldmine of themes and musings was undeniably present, The Brass Bottle failed to capitalise on it, simply leaving Ives' avuncular persona a shade more menacing than we may have been used to in a comedy context, but going no further than allowing him to drive Harold up the wall, with Randall the king of the reproachful look and that particular expression getting something of a workout here. So his home is turned into a harem, including Indian-American starlet Kamala Devi in one of her few big screen appearances as a more persistent spirit for Sylvia to brood jealously about, and the Professor is turned into a mule out of the genie's spite, but more importantly Fakrash works out a scheme where he and Harold can become property magnates which provides the grand finale where in a decidedly non-fluffy development the new partners' legal wrangles become the focus (though there's still room for that magic courtesy of those shaky effects). It was more silly than funny, very much the sitcom humour of its day, and every time more serious implications arose they were nipped in the bud, but they were there. Music by Bernard Green.