George Méliès

film 68 of 70

The Palace of the Arabian Nights

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 19, 2015

The Rajah’s daughter? There they go, disrespecting their sources again. Or rather, Méliès is as phantasmagoric as the original composers and compilers, so he can do whatever he wants. We could use a close up here, or a detail in the midst of all that composition and proliferation. Beautiful colour pop, mind you. And look at them describe a little zig and a little zag as they clear that first tableaux. Good theatrical blocking isn’t bad theatrical cinema. Pretty semaphoric acting, though.

“The prince’s friends determine to follow him in his quest”? Shiva, after the Buddhist priests leave, draws an extraordinary Indian pavilion from the ground—“oh reason not the need”—out of which the boatmen of the sacred river emerge, to grant Prince Charming his wishes. A Brahmin is summoned to deliver the main guy out of a sacred plant. Mash up! A real mess. Or, very ecumenical.

There’s a wonderfully leisurely procession when they get to the sacred forest. Lots of people, most of whom have nothing to contribute to the story, stroll gracefully by. More masques, as has already been observed. Did I count right? Thirteen layers of covering, or thirteen theatrical flats are removed to reveal the ruined entrance to the fabulous cavern. Love the forest animals! The prince goes into the cave, but Méliès doesn’t follow hi in until the high priest and his attendants have all left, and each theatrical tree has returned to its original place. If it was worth watching once, he reasons, it’s worth watching twice. Quite right! Descending from a crystal grotto to the flaming bowels. Nice use of hydraulics, terrific fire effects, and a lovely mock battle between the prince’s retinue and the dancing specters that suddenly appear. (Disney’s Skeleton Dance?)

Cool dragon, then dancing frogs, which become impassable monoliths, from behind which Caliphar comes to congratulate the prince for his courage. This viewer should confess that he had lost track of the story’s, these characters’ original objective. More importantly, the three structures open up to reveal more ladies, ensconced. He always does this beautifully, and the same when a temple rises up, and transforms into a fountain, out of which dancers emerge. Real dancers too, as usual.

Here comes another procession. The colour goes out, leaving us with a really sharp black and white image. The golden lady gives the prince a ton of treasure. Harmless wish fulfillment. Colonial implications. I am suddenly wondering. How many people appear in this movie? The prince comes back on time to save the Rajah’s daughter from having to marry an old guy. Oh yeah! There’s a story here. Fair to point out that this endangered maiden doesn’t really register at all.