An Arabian Night (1960)

UK, 9 June 1960
85m
videotape, black and white, 4:3
mono, English

A British fantasy television play directed by Mark Lawton.

Credits

Crew
Director: Mark Lawton
Associated-Rediffusion
Producer: John McMillan
Associate Producer: Lloyd Williams
Script: Stanley Miller
Story Research: Vyvienne Moynihan
Assistant Director: J. Murray Ashford
Lyricist: Jimmy Kennedy
Conductor: Muir Mathieson
Music Arranger: Muir Mathieson
Designer: John Clements
Choreography: Philippe Perrottet

Cast
Stanley Holloway (Ibrahim)
Robert Loggia (Nuri)
Orson Welles (storyteller)
Martin Benson (wazir Al-Muin)
Henry Kendall (Mohammed)
Avice Landon (Sabiya)
Joseph O’Conor (caliph Haroun-Al-Raschid)
Sydney Tafler (Samit)
Alan Wheatley (Jafar, the grand wazir)
Susan Stranks (Anis)
Vic Wise (slave dealer)
Alan Edwards (Hamid)
Carl Bernard (wazir Al-Fazal)
Frank Sieman (steward)
Peter Baldwin (Hassan)
Carl Conway (Suleiman)
John Slavid (Said)
Michael Da Costa (Salim)
David Ludman (Omar)
Owen Berry (dhow captain)
Robert Lankesheer (chamberlain)
Bernard Spear (Karim)
Peter Bull (Kutayt)
Brian Moorehead (executioner)
Laurence Archer
Maurice Bannister
Denis Bernard
Alexis Bobrinskoy
Van Boolen
Robert Bridges
Noel Carey
John Citroën
Gladys Dawson
Aldwyn Francis
Leslie Glazer
Nancy Gabrielle
Andy Ho
Ivor Kimmel
Ray Marioni
Donald McCollum
James Plunket
Charles Ross
Charles Russell
Ramon Vernon
Richard Walter
Janet Overton, Richardena Jackson, Niloufer Pieris, Wanda Sinclair (principal dancers)
Rosalind Arnold, Wendy Atkinson, Diana Chapman, Fay Craigh, Antonita Dias, Carmen Dias, Sally Douglas, Minush Fabinah, Andrea Lawrence, Odette Nash, Marylin Rich, Judy Shearing, Barbara Smith, Brenda Tai, Thelma Taylor (slave girls)

Press

1960
The Daily Express 10 June 1960
They threw everything in from Orson Welles to a dejected elephant, a cast of 300, a genuine python- and every idea known to children’s television. I am not going to quarrel with John McMillan’s production or Mark Lawton’s ingenious direction. As a technical operation I have never seen anything like it on television. But take away its spectacle, take away its obvious straining effort to add a new dimension of spaciousness to television, and what was left ? A script, as solid as a pudding; a collection of performances, even from Stanley Holloway, which came over as stilted as pantomime. This kind of epic is just not for television. The cinema does it so much better. All the time the eye cries out for colour: the very lavishness of this project was its undoing. The Ben Hur treatment turns merely into an unfathomable blur on the small screen. […] All these pyrotechnics added up to so little. I wish they had used this new giant known as Studio Five to show us what can be done with this overgrown infant called television instead of trying to ape De Mille. Super, colossal, and a fearful waste of effort. An epic which should really have been screened when the kids were around at teatime. – from a review (Super-colossal TV: But it added up to so little on the screen) by James Thomas

Daily Mail 10 June 1960
It gave us exactly the sort of television that is produced by unlimited money, spent recklessly on whatever the audience can recognise as being expensive and begrudged on anything that a board of directors think unimportant, such as story, character or atmosphere. […] Nobody seems to have objected that in [Stanley Miller’s] version the hero did nothing heroic until he killed the villain (Martin Benson wearing what looked like a hair-drier), that the heroine was markedly soppy, or that the dialogue was nearer in style to Balham than Bagdad. […] [I]n general the choreography and the dancing were on the level of the script. I have before me the expensive hand-out in full colour which A-RTV distributed. It says somewhere: “The script would be dedicated to the proposition that there is nothing as good as the English language and that the play is the thing that matters.” The distance between the promise and the way it was kept offers a harsh moral for those humble enough to accept it. – from a review by Peter Black

The Times 10 June 1960
This sort of occasional piece is difficult at any time – magnitude is by no means always a guarantee of quality (we can hardly hope that every such commission will produce an Aida) and in many cases may actually work against it. No doubt, therefore, the company were wise to pick on a subject – a familiar tale of handsome young adventurers, wicked wazirs, and beautiful slave girls – which depended more on production values than characterization or strong dramatic writing. However, since this attempt to challenge the film on its own chosen ground inevitably lacked those very qualities (colour, sheer size of screen) which are the cinema’s greatest strength in this sort of thing, it might have been better advised to go the whole hog and turn the piece into the pantomime musical it seemed always on the brink of becoming. What we were left with was a rather pale, spiritless shadow of Hassan, with copious incidental music from Rimsky-Korsakov (the heroine was even given a romantic song derived a la Kismet from Scheherazade) and endless long crane shots to show how high and how wide were the stages being used, and how elaborate Mr. John Clements’s sets (the detail of which was in any case mostly lost on our small screens). […] Mr. Orson Welles, heavily bearded, brooded massively (if briefly) over the opening and conclusion, and the director, Mr. Mark Lawton, and the writer, Mr. Stanley Miller, did well enough what little could be done in the circumstances. – from an illustrated review (An Arabian Night only a Pale Shadow of Hassan) by an uncredited writer

The Guardian 11 June 1960
The 85 minutes of this extravagant affair seemed like hours of non-stop banality, and one can think it was designed for nothing but to show how much could be got into the biggest studio in Europe. Only the biggest aspidistra in the world was lacking. “An Arabian Night” should go down in television history as an object lesson in what to avoid. – from a review by Mary Crozier

The Observer 12 June 1960
An Arabian Night was a most depressing spectacle, witless, plotless, harmless as an old snake-charmer’s leading cobra. It was supposed to show you how live television can compete with the cinema but of course it didn’t really do anything they weren’t doing at Drury Lane fifty years ago when elephants and camels trod the boards in droves, and in natural colour too. If they felt absolutely compelled towards something oriental they might have done better with Fleeker’s “Hassan” or even “Chu Chin Chow.” The electronic “Scheherazade” score didn’t help much. – from a review (Money Down the Drain) by Maurice Richardson

Sunday Times 12 June 1960
It would be pleasant to forget the whole thing, shrug it off as an unhappy accident. But, in fact, the reality rather exceeded the worst that a modest pessimism permitted. “An Arabian Night” was unrelievedly boring from first to last, a text-book example of how not to use a million pounds’ worth of equipment. It is difficult to think of a single good reason for choosing such a story as the basis of this “mammoth spectacular.” It was jejune and feeble to a degree. The dialogue was so uninspired that performers so adroit and resilient as Messrs. Henry Kendall, Stanley Holloway and Sidney Tafler could only slog through it like men walking knee-deep in mud. The music of Scheherazade contributed less than I would have thought possible: it will be years before I can hear it again with pleasure, freed from these associations. Even the tights were pitiful. As for the promised big sweeping cinematic effects, I can only say that the closest comparison was a village pageant. Crowd scenes like these haven’t been seen since the silent film was in its infancy. […] To put it in a nutshell, Mr. Orson Welles was imported to act as “narrator.” Heavily and absurdly disguised (even the make-up was ridiculous – poor Henry Kendall looked like a burlesque pantomime dame) he uttered a few sentences to set the scene and, eighty-five minutes or a lifetime later, even fewer to dismiss us. Had he appeared in a lounge suit and told the whole story, singlehanded and without one prop, it would have been more engrossing. – from an illustrated review (An Arabian nightmare) by Maurice Wiggins

References

Newspapers

  • The Daily Express 10 June 1960 – review (Super-colossal TV: But it added up to so little on the screen by James Thomas)
  • Daily Mail 10 June 1960 – review (by Peter Black)
  • Daily Mail 23 June 1960 – note (by an uncredited writer)
  • The Guardian 8 June 1960 – note (Largest in Europe: New TV studio at Wembley)
  • The Guardian 11 June 1960 – review (by Mary Crozier)
  • The Observer 12 June 1960 – review (Money Down the Drain by Maurice Richardson)
  • Sunday Times 12 June 1960 – illustrated review (An Arabian nightmare by Maurice Wiggins)
  • The Times 8 June 1960 – note (£1m. television studio ready)
  • The Times 10 June 1960 – illustrated review (An Arabian Night only a Pale Shadow of Hassan by an uncredited writer)

Books

  • The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy by David Pringle (general ed.) p.111 – credits, review