Sinbad the Sailor (1947) has something for everyone: swashbuckling romance, action and adventure, mystery, fantasy, and lavish costumes and sets. This RKO Radio Pictures release stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Maureen O’Hara in a good, old fashioned popcorn movie filmed in eye-popping, glorious Technicolor.
In Persia, during the time of the Caliph Harun-Al-Rashid, lived Sinbad the Sailor (played with great style and verve by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) As the film begins, Sinbad regales a group of men with tales of his many adventures. When they grow tired of listening to the same old stories, Sinbad spins a yarn about his “eighth voyage.”
The Story of Sinbad the Sailor
One day near Basra, Sinbad and his friend Abbu (the amusing George Tobias) salvage a baggala (or ship) whose crew has been mysteriously poisoned. Exploring the baggala, Sinbad discovers a map with directions to the lost treasure of Alexander the Great located on the island of Deryabar.
He also notices that one of the ship’s stained glass windows contains the royal seal of Prince Ahmed, the lost ruler of Deryabar. Since the royal seal matches the pattern on the medallion he has been wearing since childhood, Sinbad (who doesn’t know who his parents are) wonders if he could be Prince Ahmed!
Sinbad decides to follow his fate and sail to Deryabar but the map suddenly disappears.
As the story unfolds, Sinbad becomes involved with other characters that can help him find the way to Deryabar. He falls for the beautiful Shireen (Maureen O’Hara), mistress of the ruthless and powerful Emir of Daibul (Anthony Quinn), but she and Emir both want to claim the treasure.
Shireen has shifting loyalties, between Sinbad, the Emir and her own self interest, and can Sinbad really trust her?
Sinbad’s barber Melik (played by Walter Slezak in a skillfully acted supporting role) claims to have seen and memorized the stolen map to Deryabar. Melik also wants to get his hands on the fortune. Then there is a shadowy murderous figure known only as “Jamal” who will stop at nothing to seize the treasure of Alexander the Great (Jamal is revealed near the end of the movie.)
The storyline revolves around this quest for lost riches. The film culminates with the main characters arriving in Deryabar at the ruins of Alexander the Great’s palace. There Sinbad meets his father the Aga and learns his true identity, Shireen must decide between the Emir and Sinbad, and Melik and Emir seek tremendous wealth.
Sinbad’s father says that true happiness (the real “treasure”) is found in the mind and the heart, not in material things, and that’s the moral of the story. Indeed, we see that characters greedy for money and power are destroyed, while those who love unselfishly without a thought to gold and priceless treasures are rewarded with joy and fulfillment.
Sinbad the Sailor (1947) was Douglas Fairbanks Jr.’s first film after five years in the Navy. With The Prisoner of Zenda, The Corsican Brothers and Sinbad the Sailor on his acting resume, he moved firmly into swashbuckling territory. However, box office results for Sinbad were modest, reflecting the post war audience’s declining interest in the type of swashbuckler films that made his father Douglas Fairbanks a superstar.
Sinbad has some swashbuckling, but it’s hampered by a script that emphasizes verbosity over thrilling action, so it never reaches the level of a masterpiece like Fairbanks Sr.’s The Thief of Baghdad (1924).
Some aspects of the film feel uncomfortable: the stereotypes, the whipping of galley slaves and scenes of women confined to a harem. Emir treats feisty Shireen like a possession. It’s ludicrous the way the actors are done up in heavy dark makeup to play Arabs and an Asian.
Despite these problems, I still recommend this film.
If you can overlook its flaws, this is an interesting movie which glides along as silky smooth as Sinbad the Sailor’s satin cape.
Directed by Richard Wallace, this film offers stunning cinematography by George Barnes, a lush, sweeping score by Roy Webb, dazzling set design and glorious 40s Technicolor!
The production values are astonishing yet a little quaint, which adds to its appeal, as the film’s atmosphere couldn’t be duplicated with modern digital effects.
From the sapphire tones of the sea to Ms. O’Hara’s bright red hair, the vibrant, saturated colors and images are unforgettable.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. radiates elegance and charm as Sinbad: lover, showman, adventurer, teller of tall tales. He has wonderful chemistry with Maureen O’Hara, who makes a fine Shireen, strong and gorgeous (O’Hara was the Queen of Technicolor!) Jane Greer shines in a small role as Shireen’s servant. It’s fun to watch veteran character actors like Alan Napier, George Tobias and Walter Slezak make the most of their supporting roles.
Sinbad the Sailor: Film Fashion
Sinbad the Sailor features beautiful costumes by Edward Stevenson. The actors and actresses wear dazzling Joseff of Hollywood jewelry. Here are some of Sinbad’s stylish film moments:
The silk gown worn by Maureen O’Hara sold at auction for $4,480.
(Images: The Movie Stills Database, Doctor Macro, eBay. All screen captures by Allison at CelluloidandLipstick.com)