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  Aladdin's Magic Lamp Wish Away
Year: 1966
Director: Boris Rytsarev
Stars: Boris Bystrov, Dodo Chogovadze, Andrey Fayt, Otar Koberidze, Ekaterine Veruleishvili, Georgiy Millyar, Gusejn Sadykhov, Valentin Bryleev, Yuri Chekulayev, Otar Bilanishvili, Sarry Karryev
Genre: Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In old Baghdad a humble peasant named Aladdin (Boris Bystrov) falls in love at first sight with fair Princess Budhur (Dodo Chogovadze). Alas, though Budhur is charmed by Aladdin's eloquence, her father the Sultan (Otar Koberidze) is infuriated by the upstart. He orders his immediate execution. Aladdin only escapes death thanks to the sorcerous intervention of his long-lost uncle Magribinets (Andrey Fayt). A grateful Aladdin agrees to assist the old wizard in infiltrating a mystical cave in search of a legendary magic lamp. Braving unimaginable peril Aladdin retrieves the lamp only for his so-called uncle to try to kill him. However the newly awakened Genie (Sarry Karryev) spirits Aladdin safely home. Aided by his new all-powerful ally Aladdin sets about making his wildest wishes come true by winning the heart of Princess Budhur.

Before Disney's much beloved 1992 animated adaptation (and subsequent divisive live action remake in 2019) most studios in the western world preferred to lift characters and elements from the Aladdin story for their own original scenarios 'inspired by' One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. From various versions of The Thief of Baghdad (including the peerless 1940 adaptation produced by Alexander Korda, the 1961 Italian-Hollywood co-production with muscleman Steve Reeves and the fun 1978 Anglo-American version pairing Bollywood matinee idol Kabir Bedi with Hollywood star Roddy McDowell) to the Fleischer Brothers animated Popeye vehicle Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1939) to the colourful kitsch of Arabian Nights (1942), A Thousand and One Nights (1945), The Wizard of Baghdad (1960) and the Donald O'Connor vehicle The Wonders of Aladdin (1961) co-directed by cult filmmaker Mario Bava. By comparison Aladdin's Magic Lamp, also known as Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, a Soviet era Russian production hews closer to the original tale. Largely because despite delivering its fair share of spectacle the film largely downplays adventure for satire and farce.

Produced by Russia's Gorky Film Studio but filmed largely on the former Greek colony of Chersonesus near Sevastopol (thus taking advantage of spectacular ancient ruins), Aladdin's Magic Lamp was part of a wave of Soviet era fairy tale films that ran from the mid-Forties through to the late Eighties. Yet while genre classics like Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors (1963), The Tale of Tsar Sultan (1966), Barbara the Fair with the Silken Hair (1969) and Ruslan and Lyudmila (1972) benefit from the colourful cartoon sensibilities of effects wizards Alexander Ptushko and Alexander Row, Aladdin is hampered by the more mundane eye of Boris Rytsarev. Rytsarev, who went on to adapt The Princess and the Pea (1976), has an earthier, more naturalistic style. Less dependent on stylized studio sets than Ptushko or Row, Rytsarev soaks up the stunning scenery and still pulls off some striking practical effects sequences. These remain impressive to this day. In particular a sequence with Aladdin trapped inside the enchanted cave while searching for the lamp that becomes a riotous montage of off-kilter angles, eerie disembodied voices and surreal set designs resembling a German Expressionist horror film.

Yet while the sets are lavish the plot is small scale. Though closer to the comic tone of the source material the meandering plot dawdles through sitcom-like scenes centred on Aladdin's family bumbling through various magical misunderstandings wrought by our hero's well-intentioned wishes. Or alternatively the comic interplay between the Sultan and his bumbling viziers (a lot of bumblers in this movie). One of whom is played by Georgiy Millyar, a staple of Russian fairy tale cinema who portrayed the wacky child-eating witch Baba Yaga through several films. Among these scenes an unnecessarily protracted sequence where the courtiers try to convince Princess Budhur her encounter with Aladdin was only a dream, cripples the plot's momentum. The film is interesting for offering offbeat characterizations for its fairytale archetypes. Boris Bystrov (later the voice actor for Homer Simpson in the Russian dub of The Simpsons Movie (2008)!) plays an unusually solemn, even sullen Aladdin who remains remarkably passive throughout. Dodo Chogovadze portrays an alternately stroppy and coquettish princess prone to bratty tantrums (she even bullies her father) but who nonetheless exhibits a pleasingly assertive streak.

Indeed the third act has Budhur grab hold of the lamp and try to engineer her own wedding while Aladdin inexplicably slinks off to sulk. The reason why is because while he wants to marry Budhur he does not want her wearing the pants in their relationship. A sour statement that undercuts whatever sympathy viewers invested in our hero. In a subplot courting either traditional Soviet or fundamentalist Islamic values, Aladdin's annoying mother (Ekaterine Veruleishvilli) takes a break from complaining about the Genie all day to try to curb Budhur's headstrong ways and make her a docile, dutiful wife. There is also an odd running gag wherein all of the out-of-touch royals prove deeply impressed by Aladdin's mother's goat that is very Soviet. Even Andrey Fayt's ostensible villain is not much of a threat. At one point he threatens to commit suicide unless Aladdin forgives him. To the film's credit, despite the cast performing in brown-face makeup that is problematic to say the least, none of the characters are crass caricatures but instead imbued with utmost dignity. Which unfortunately does not keep Aladdin's Magic Lamp from being any less meandering.


Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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