Arabian Nights (1942 film)

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Arabian Nights
Original film poster
Directed by John Rawlins
Produced by Walter Wanger
Written by Screenplay:
Michael Hogan
Additional dialogue:
True Boardman
Starring Sabu
Jon Hall
Maria Montez
Leif Erickson
Billy Gilbert
Turhan Bey
Shemp Howard
Music by Frank Skinner
Cinematography W. Howard Greene
Milton R. Krasner
William V. Skall
Edited by Philip Cahn
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 22, 1942 (1942-12-22) (U.S.)
Running time
87 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $904,765[1]
Box office $3,453,416[1]

Arabian Nights is a 1942 adventure film starring Sabu, Maria Montez, Jon Hall and Leif Erickson and directed by John Rawlins. The film is derived from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights but owes more to the imagination of Universal Pictures than the original Arabian stories. Unlike other films in the genre (The Thief of Baghdad), it features no monsters or supernatural elements.[2]

The film is one of series of "exotic" tales released by Universal during the war years. Others include Cobra Woman, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and White Savage. This is the first film by Universal to use the three-strip Technicolor film process.


The story starts at a harem (which strangely has the Taj Mahal in sight, even though it is supposed to be located in Persia), where the elderly overseer bids his young charges to read the story of Haroun al-Rashid (Hall) and his wife Scheherazade (Montez), unfolding the film's plot in the process.

Scheherazade, a dancer in a wandering circus owned by Ahmad (Billy Gilbert) - whose troupe also includes Sinbad the Sailor and Aladdin, who have seemingly fallen on hard times -, had captured the attention of Kamar (Erickson), the brother of caliph Haroun al-Rashid. In his infatuation with her, and because of a prophecy which names her as the future queen, Kamar had attempted to seize the throne, but was captured and sentenced to slow death by exposure. As Haroun visits his brother, for whom he feels pity, Kamar's men storm the palace and free their leader; outnumbered, Haroun is forced to flee. He manages to get near the plaza where Scheherazade's circus is performing and is spotted by the young acrobat Ali Ben Ali (Sabu), who finds out his identity and decides to hide him in the circus, confiding only in Scheherazade (though he does not tell her about the fugitive's true identity). Upon awakening from the wounds he had received in his flight, Haroun beholds Scheherazade and instantly falls in love with her.

Meanwhile, Kamar, thinking that Haroun is dead, assumes the throne of Baghdad, but to his chagrin Scheherazade is not to be found, and he orders the captain of his guard (Turhan Bey) to find her. But then the scheming Grand Vizier Nadan (Edgar Barrier) approaches the captain with the order to make Scheherazade 'disappear', and upon finding them the captain decides to sell the troupe into slavery. But due to a witness the captain is exposed, and in order to preserve his plans, Nadan first gets him to confess and then murders him.

Haroun, Scheherazade, and the acrobats manage to escape the slave pens and flee to the border, where they are found by Kamar's army and taken to a tent city in the desert. Kamar proposes to Scheherazade, but she has in the meantime fallen in love with Haroun. Also, Nadan recognizes the caliph and his affection for Scheherazade, and he uses this knowledge to blackmail Scheherazade into helping him in his scheme: in exchange for Haroun's freedom, she is to poison Kamar during the wedding ceremony, upon which Nadan would assume rulership for himself. In secret, however, he plans to have Haroun killed once he has crossed the border.

Upon learning of this insidious scheme, Ali confides in his fellow performers, and they rush to free Haroun; then Haroun decides to free Scheherazade with the help of the acrobats, while Ali is to summon the troops still loyal to him. Haroun and the others are quickly captured, and Scheherazade and the retainers learn of his true identity. Kamar engages his brother in a sword fight, while Ahmad and the acrobats set the tents on fire; the arrival of Ali and the caliph's army triggers a massive battle with Kamar's men.

Finally, as Kamar prepares to deliver the deathstroke to Haroun, Nadan shows his true allegiance by assassinating Kamar personally. But as he prepares to finish Haroun, Ahmad and Ali interfere, forcing him to flee. But a spear thrown into his back stops him, and he dies in a burning tent; Haroun, Scheherazade, their friends and the loyal subjects celebrate victory.


Maria Montez as Scheherazade and Jon Hall as Haroun-Al-Rashid, publicity photograph for the film.


Walter Wanger had just joined Universal for whom he had made Eagle Squadron. Looking for a follow up he noted the box office success of The Thief of Bagdad which starred Sabu, who was under contract to Universal. The studio announced they would make the film on 24 March 1942. Montez, Hall and Sabu were always meant to star.[3]

John Rawlins was assigned to direct and filming started in June.[4] Even before filming began Universal announced the trio of leads would appear in a follow up Cobra Woman.[5] Shortly after that the studio said they would appear in another film White Savage.[6]

The movie was the first shot in colour on the Universal lot in 12 years.


The film was a big hit and earned a profit of $1,851,921.[1]

It was one of the most popular films in France in 1946 with admissions of 4,498,985.[7]


Arabian Nights was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Sound (Bernard B. Brown) and Best Art Direction (Alexander Golitzen, Jack Otterson, Russell A. Gausman and Ira S. Webb).[8][9]


  1. ^ a b c Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p441
  2. ^ Article on Arabian Nights at Turner Classic Movies accessed 10 January 2014
  3. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: 'Arabian Nights,' Next Walter Wanger Film, to Star Jon Hall, Maria Montez and Sabu 'THE INVADERS' HELD OVER To Continue for Fourth Week at Capitol -- Double-Feature Bill at New York Theatre By Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 24 Mar 1942: 25.
  4. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Metro Buys 'A Thousand Shall Fall' -- Charles Brackett an Associate Producer NEW PICTURE AT CRITERION ' Remember Pearl Harbor' Is Arrival -- 'Take a Letter, Darling' Held Over By Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 03 June 1942: 27.
  5. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Mariene Dietrich, John Wayne and Randolph Scott to Be Co-Starred in 'Pittsburgh' FOUR NEW FILMS ARRIVE ' Mrs. Miniver,' 'Ten Gentlemen From West Point,' 'Broadway' and 'Almost Married' By Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 04 June 1942: 23.
  6. ^ DRAMA: Ann 'Oomphs' to Piano; Exotic Trio to Sail On Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 13 July 1942: 8.
  7. ^ French box office of 1946 at Box Office Story
  8. ^ "The 15th Academy Awards (1943) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  9. ^ "NY Times: Arabian Nights". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 

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