Handsome street urchin Aladdin (Cornel Wilde) falls hopelessly in love with beautiful Princess Amina (Adele Jurgens). His attempts at a musical courtship land him in jail alongside his friend, Abdullah (Phil Silvers), the wisecracking thief. Unbeknownst to our heroes, the Sultan (Dennis Hoey, who played Inspector Lestrade in the 1940s Sherlock Holmes movies) has been abducted and replaced by his evil twin brother Prince Hadji (also Dennis Hoey) with the aid of duplicitous Grand Wazir AbuHassan (Philip Van Zandt) who wants Princess Amina for himself. Aided by the princess’ handmaiden (Dusty Anderson), Aladdin and Abdullah escape to the desert where a wily sorceror (Richard Hale) sends them into a dangerous cavern to retrieve the fabled magic lamp...
Back in the Thirties colourful fantasies like those from the Arabian Nights were a source for exotic romance but come the post-war period, audiences could no longer take such things seriously and prefered a more irreverent approach akin to the popular Road movies starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Hence, A Thousand and One Nights opts for an altogether more irreverent tone than say, The Thief of Bagdad (1940), with Aladdin recast as a kind of Arabian crooner. Girls swoon at the sound of his silky smooth voice, no doubt sung by someone other than Cornel Wilde, an affable matinee idol but no singer. While a few of the male characters could just about pass as Middle Eastern heroes, the glamorous ladies on view - including Adele Jurgens’ as the screen’s only platinum blonde Arabian princess! - look like they’ve stepped straight out of a Hollywood salon. It’s all part of the film’s vintage charm, corny but lovable as only Technicolor Hollywood fantasies can be.
Most of its hit-and-miss humour arises from reliable comedian Phil Silvers - in one of the many comedy sidekick roles he played before The Phil Silvers Show gave him TV immortality as Sgt. Bilko - who makes anachronistic wisecracks throughout the film, referencing Forties pop culture and slang (“Oh Aladdin, why don’t you find yourself a new tomato and forget about her royal nibs”), but the shift in tone away from pre-war romance to post-war irreverence is signalled by another significant presence. Although Rex Ingram cameos as a menacing giant much like the one he played in Thief of Bagdad this time round the genie is not an awesome mythological monstrosity but a feisty, appealing red-head called “Babs” played by Evelyn Keyes.
Still best known for her role as Scarlett O’Hara’s younger sister in Gone with the Wind (1939) and her tempestuous marriage to legendary director John Huston, Keyes never quite graduated to the big leagues of Hollywood stardom but remained a vivacious, often memorable presence throughout an array B movies at Columbia Pictures. She’s quite engaging here as the spirited genie who transforms Aladdin into a wealthy prince, so he can woo his beloved, and later on into a dog so he can sneak into the harem. Babs takes a serious shine to her handsome master and conspires to keep him for herself. Of course Aladdin is solely devoted to Princess Amina and the film isn’t about to follow the Arabian theme so closely as to permit him two love interests, but a little magic engineers a happy ending for all concerned.
An engaging cast ensure the film races energetically along, at least for its first two thirds, but it lacks swashbuckling excitement for the most part and runs out of pep towards the end. Then again, where else can you see Phil Silvers lip-synching to Frank Sinatra as he performs for a horde of screaming harem girls, wearing bobby socks?