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Arabian Nights (1942) (Blu-ray Review)


The Film
The Video
The Audio
The Supplements


Two brothers battle for the throne of Bagdad and the love of the beautiful dancer Sherazade in this Orientalist Technicolor spectacle.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

In the 1942 “Orientalist” film, Arabian Nights, “The Queen of Technicolor” Maria Montez stars as a beautiful dancing girl Scheherazade who is caught in indecision between love and riches as two half-brothers – Jon Hall as Haroun-Al-Raschid the deposed Caliph seeking to regain the throne usurped by nefarious Kamar (Leif Erickson —  battle each other over the throne– and for her love.

The first film by Universal in full three-strip Technicolor, the film is staged in rich colors, lavish sets and costumes by director John Rawlins. Looking beyond the unfortunate period use of brownface, even on the literal Asian actor, Turkish-born Turhan Bey, the film is a mixture of adventure, and cheeky references to the collection of folk tales, One Thousand and One Nights. Characters like Sinbad (Shemp Howard) and Aladdin (John Qualen) make appearances, but Sinbad is never allowed to tell his tales and there is no genie in the film.

The film has nothing to do with historical accuracy and more to do with spectacle and palatability for Western World War II era audiences looking for escapist fodder. And escapism they were given with this mixture of astonishing colors, stunning set designs, and gorgeous costumes. The beautiful women in exotic dress certainly did. Not hurt nor did the handsome men intheir “tan” makeup and shirts off. The action is moved along at a brisk pace and even the central conflict is kept quite light, with actors Jon Hall and Sabu as his sidekick bringing more comedic relief to the film than tension.

  • Tales of Adventure: Collection 1 – Imprint Collection #214 – #217
  • Maria Montez in Arabian Nights (1942)
  • Arabian Nights (Arabian Nights (1942) – Imprint Collection #214

The Video

Arabian Nights is listed as a “1080p high-definition presentation of a 2K scan from the original negative by Universal Studios.” Given this was Universal’s first all three-strip Technicolor production, one assumes it is a 2K restoration from the original three-strip negatives. Whatever the case may be, the image is beautiful. The color is really vibrant the way true three-strip technicolor should be. The primaries like reds and blues leap from the screen. There is that little bit of haloing that is typical of the format, but it is not distracting and just intrinsic to the film. The granularity is fine yet natural and grants the image a lot of detail. One might feel it may be slightly too suppressed, but there is no waxiness in textures or smearing in the motion or backgrounds.

The Audio

The original mono mix is provided in a competent LPCM 2.0 track. There is boxiness and some mild clipping inherent in the source due to the technology of the time, but it is a reasonably enjoyable track with little pops, clicks, or hiss.

The Supplements

The audio commentary by Schlesinger and Joyner is amiable giving lots of trivia on the film, Universal, and the cast and crew.  Then there is the interview on the film by the always affable Kim Newman that is a must-watch.

  • Introduction by Turner Classic Movies Host Robert Osborne (SD; 00:02:46)
  • Audio Commentary by Film Historians Michael Schlesinger and C. Courtney Joyner (NEW)
  • Author/Film Historian Kim Newman on Arabian Nights (1080p; 00:25:51) (NEW)
  • “Man of a Thousand Themes: Frank Skinner at Universal” (1080p; 00:14:11) (NEW)
  • “Maria Montez: Queen of Technicolor” (1080p; 00:23:22) (NEW)
  • Theatrical Trailer (720p; 00:02:05)

The Final Assessment

This film was successful for Universal back in the day kicking off a slew of further Orientalist films in Technicolor throughout the 1940s. By today’s standards the film may seem silly (and even offensive) but it is an awesome, delightful, and stunning visual treasure on this Blu-ray release. It appears in the Imprint Tales of Adventure Collection 1 box set.

Arabian Nights (1942) – Imprint Collection #214 is out on Blu-ray in Australia as part of the Tales of Adventure: Collection 1 – Imprint Collection #214 – #217, 10 May 2023. Available for purchase via the Via Vision Entertainment/Imprint website.

  • Studios & Distributors: Universal Pictures | Walter Wanger Productions | Imprint Films
  • Director: John Rawlins
  • Written By: Michael Hogan | True Boardman
  • Run Time: 86 Mins.
  • Street Date: 10 May 2023
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p
  • Primary Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Mono
  • Subtitles: English HOH

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Two brothers battle for the throne of Bagdad and the love of the beautiful dancer Sherazade in this Orientalist Technicolor spectacle.Arabian Nights (1942) (Blu-ray Review)