It's all hokum surrounded by lavish sets, a fable brushed with rich color, but Dietrich's extraordinary performance and her Salome-like dance with her legs painted thickly with gold paint, along with Colman's satiric performance, makes KISMET good entertainment. Colman is the
beggar-magician Hafiz, a quick-witted rascal who tries to pass his daughter, Page, off as a princess so she can wed royalty. Page isn't interested since she and Craig, a gardener's son, are deeply in love. But Craig isn't really a gardener's son after all; he is the all-powerful Caliph of Baghdad,
who is in disguise so he can spy on Arnold, the local Grand Vizier who has been taxing Craig's subjects mercilessly. Moreover, Colman, who calls himself the "Prince of Hassir," has been seeing Dietrich, the sexy wife of Arnold and queen of the castle. Colman just about has Arnold persuaded to toss
Dietrich aside (so Colman can have her to himself) and take Colman's daughter as his wife and new queen when disaster strikes. The resplendent clothes Colman wears are stolen, it is revealed, and his charade is exposed. Arnold orders that Colman, now reduced to the status of ordinary thief, have
his hands chopped off. Colman offers a counter-proposal; he will murder Arnold's arch enemy, the young Caliph, if Arnold will free him and take his daughter as his wife. Arnold agrees and Colman goes to the Caliph's palace as a wizard to perform magical feats. As he is performing, Colman tries to
stab Craig but misses and then must run for his life, going back to Arnold's palace to retrieve his daughter. But Arnold is on to him and his guards attack Colman, who kills a number of them, including Arnold himself. Craig's guards then capture Colman and drag him back before the Caliph. When
Craig learns that Colman is Page's father, he pardons him and makes him a prince, ordering him to leave the city forever. Colman happily departs with his true love Dietrich, while Craig and Page find happiness together.
This film, though heavy-handed and offering an impossible plot, is marvelously photographed by Rosher, and the art direction by Gibbons and Cathcat, and the stupendous sets by Willis and Pefferle (all of whom received Oscar nominations) makes this an extravaganza that must be seen to be
appreciated. MGM spared no expense in this wartime production, pumping more than $3 million into the film, and it shows in every frame. The play and earlier movies were always synonymous with the flamboyant actor Otis Skinner, who first starred in this most durable vehicle on Broadway in 1911 and,
for years, in a touring show, and went on to film it twice, in 1920 which also featured his daughter, Cornelia Otis Skinner, and again for First National in 1930 as an early-day and somewhat creaky talkie. It would be filmed again, after the Colman-Dietrich romp, as a lavish musical, also by MGM,
in 1955, with Howard Keel and Ann Blyth. Colman plays the role of the shifty magician with all the elan Skinner ever produced but adds his own brand of camp which makes it all the more amusing. Dietrich is used sparingly, appearing in only five sequences, most notably to do her famous dance. The
studio had the Hays Office, the official Hollywood censor at the time, crawling over Dietrich's dance sequence like bees in a hive. Her skimpy costume was examined in detail and censors decreed that the bangles covering her arms and breasts had to be backed up with sheer skin-toned material.
Dietrich's navel could not be shown and had to be covered with chiffon, but censors insisted that her panty line be seen by viewers lest they think she was naked beneath the spangles encircling her lower parts. In addition, the makeup department created a towering Dietrich (standing more than six
feet) by placing her on high heels and adorning her head with a four-inch topknot hairpiece. Her fingernails were painted carmine and four coats of gold paint were brushed onto her legs, perhaps the most famous legs in the world. This was the first time in films that Dietrich actually did a full
dance and it was termed a "novelty" number. Actually, Dietrich more or less poses through the dance in seductive positions to give the impression of more movement than was actually performed. She did have some strenuous movements to perform, according to dance instructor Jack Cole, and suffered
some bruises from falls so that this number was postponed a number of times before completion. Dietrich's brief dance was what the studio promoted, showing stills of her and, in Times Square, on a huge billboard, as she slithered around pillars and reclined sensuously on divans. The censors were
not pleased with the advertising campaign but were able to forbid MGM from using the word "harem" in their production and subsequent publicity.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: It's all hokum surrounded by lavish sets, a fable brushed with rich color, but Dietrich's extraordinary performance and her Salome-like dance with her legs painted thickly with gold paint, along with Colman's satiric performance, makes KISMET good entertai… (more)