What can it be this time?
Gini is tackling a musical out of the Turner Classic Movies vault with 1955’s Kismet.
As with Topper I saw this movie on TV when I was younger. Unlike how I felt about Topper the first time around, I hated Kismet the first time I saw it. I felt that it was hugely racist, and I was outraged that the actors portraying people from the Middle East and Orient were played by white people. Seriously, I was pissed about that stuff way before it was cool. But, my job is to watch these things NOW and tell you what I think of them. Therefore, the hubs and I watched Kismet.
Kismet is about a poor storyteller/poet (Howard Keel) whose real name we never actually learn, and how kismet (fate) ends up changing his life and his daughter’s life all in a couple of hugely eventful days.
The Poet and his daughter, Marsinah (Ann Blyth) are basically penniless. Due to a comic misunderstanding, the poet is mistaken for Hajj the Beggar, which first earns him money, then gets him kidnapped. And so it goes – first good fortune, then bad. However, Hajj, as he’s now called, is clever, and he manages to turn kismet to his fortune more often than not.
Along the way, Marsinah catches the eye of the young Caliph (Vic Damone) without knowing who he really is and he, of course, thinks she’s a woman of the upper class. They fall into instant love because it’s a musical and that’s just the way things work in musicals.
The evil Wazir (Sebastian Cabot) needs money that will flow in if the Caliph marries the three princesses from Ababu and he’s enlisted the help of his Wife of Wives, Lalume (Dolores Gray) to help him get this marriage arranged. But Lalume isn’t all that excited about helping her husband, especially after she meets Hajj who, by now, is being touted as a sorcerer supreme.
Will kismet work in Hajj and Marsinah’s favor often enough for a happily ever after? It’s a musical, not a tragedy, so…
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was a surprise hit for MGM and it created the musical subgenre of manly men singing manly things in manly ways. Kismet wasn’t nearly as successful as Brides, in no small part because the director, Vincent Minelli, didn’t want to do the picture, got sort of blackmailed into it – do this picture and you can do the one you really want to do, Lust for Life – and basically phoned it in. How much did he phone it in? Keel complained about it in a day and age when actors were a lot more careful about complaining than they are today.
In a shocking change for Hollywood, Ann Blythe was only nine years younger than Keel, even though she was playing his daughter. We get this all the time but it’s usually the women playing the mother of a man who is less than ten years younger.
Keep your eyes open for a brief view of Jamie “Klinger” Farr and Aaron “MegaProducer” Spelling both in uncredited roles. Acting in Kismet made Spelling leave acting and go into producing. So, you have Kismet to love or hate for “An Aaron Spelling Production” and Tori Spelling’s acting career.
The songs are all fine. Not great – it’s hard to think of one I could turn around and sing or hum without the movie playing, and a couple of numbers go on WAY too long, but the singing and dancing (mostly uncredited) is excellent. The sets and costuming are also good. And while I found several of the actors – Damone, in particular – to be extremely bland, Cabot chews his scenery with the best of them, Gray has languid sex appeal, and Keel has great screen charisma.
What truly shocked me was that I didn’t hate Kismet this time around – and I went in expecting to hate-watch it. As an adult, I was able to agree with the hubs that, for a movie from this day and age, there were an amazing amount of actual Asians and Middle Eastern people in roles. Oh, sure, not BIG roles, but still it’s amazing that there were any, considering we’re talking about the era that gave us Mickey Rooney’s unbelievably racist depiction of a Japanese man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The representations in Kismet are, for the most part, complimentary. Sure, the Wazir is evil, but that’s practically a mandatory skill for that job and not a slam against any race or religion. For today it’s not “woke” but for 1955, man, Kismet was inclusive.
The highest praise I can give this movie is that I’m glad I gave it another chance and I’d be willing to watch it again – and if that isn’t Kismet, I don’t know what is.
4.5 stars out of 5
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