Kismet (1955)

112-113 mins | Adventure, Musical | 23 December 1955

Director:

Vincente Minnelli

Producer:

Arthur Freed

Cinematographer:

Joseph Ruttenberg

Editor:

Adrienne Fazan

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Preston Ames

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

According to information in the M-G-M and Arthur Freed Collections at the USC Cinema-Television Library, M-G-M first became interested in adapting the Broadway musical version of Kismet as early as 6 Dec 1953, a few weeks prior to the musical's Broadway opening. Memos in the files indicate that by mid-Dec 1953, M-G-M sought to secure the rights to the musical and make certain that the studio retained all rights to the original Edward Knoblock play, which the studio had adapted in 1944.
       HR news items in Feb and Apr 1953 noted that Freed was intending to produce a new version of Kismet that would potentially star Ezio Pinza and Cyd Charisse, with a screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner and Arthur Schwartz. Although Lerner and Schwartz were initially involved in story conferences for what became the 1955 musical film, Charles Lederer and Luther Davis, who wrote the libretto for the Broadway show, were hired to adapt their work for the screen on 29 Sep 1954. File memos seem to indicate that the Feb and Apr 1953 HR news items refer to an earlier attempt by Freed to base a new Kismet film on the Knoblock play, but as word of the Broadway musical spread, he decided instead to use the Lederer-Davis libretto as the basis for the film.
       File memos confirm that Cesare Siepi tested for the role of “Poet” and that Robert Morley was sought for the role of “Caliph” but was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts. A HR news item noted that Sono Osato tested for the role of "Zubbediya" and ... More Less

According to information in the M-G-M and Arthur Freed Collections at the USC Cinema-Television Library, M-G-M first became interested in adapting the Broadway musical version of Kismet as early as 6 Dec 1953, a few weeks prior to the musical's Broadway opening. Memos in the files indicate that by mid-Dec 1953, M-G-M sought to secure the rights to the musical and make certain that the studio retained all rights to the original Edward Knoblock play, which the studio had adapted in 1944.
       HR news items in Feb and Apr 1953 noted that Freed was intending to produce a new version of Kismet that would potentially star Ezio Pinza and Cyd Charisse, with a screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner and Arthur Schwartz. Although Lerner and Schwartz were initially involved in story conferences for what became the 1955 musical film, Charles Lederer and Luther Davis, who wrote the libretto for the Broadway show, were hired to adapt their work for the screen on 29 Sep 1954. File memos seem to indicate that the Feb and Apr 1953 HR news items refer to an earlier attempt by Freed to base a new Kismet film on the Knoblock play, but as word of the Broadway musical spread, he decided instead to use the Lederer-Davis libretto as the basis for the film.
       File memos confirm that Cesare Siepi tested for the role of “Poet” and that Robert Morley was sought for the role of “Caliph” but was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts. A HR news item noted that Sono Osato tested for the role of "Zubbediya" and that Ned Packer would be in the cast, although his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A HR news item noted that actress Tina Louise was to have made her motion picture debut in Kismet , but information in the M-G-M files indicate that she left the production by mutual consent and did not appear in the released film.
       Although Robert Wright and George Forrest’s music for the Broadway show was based on themes by Alexander Borodin, two of the songs in the film, “Bored” and “Rahadlakum,” were not based on Borodin’s work. “Bored” and “My Magic Lamp” were new Wright-Forrest songs purchased by M-G-M for the picture, although “My Magic Lamp” was not in the released film. One song from the Broadway show that was mentioned in publicity for the film, “Rhymes Have I,” was to be sung by Howard Keel as Poet and Ann Blyth as “Marsinah,” but was not in the released film. Instead, some of the lyrics are spoken by Poet while strains of the music are briefly heard in the background. A few other songs from the Broadway show, including “Was I Wazir” and “Zubbediya,” were not in the film.
       The song “Stranger in Paradise” became the musical’s biggest hit. Its origins were from the “Polovetsian Dances” in the opera Prince Igor , music and libretto by Borodin, and completed by Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov after Borodin’s death. The piece was first performed at the opera’s St. Petersburg, Russia premiere on 4 Nov 1890. The melody also became the basis for the 1940 hit instrumental “My Fantasy,” performed by Artie Shaw and his orchestra.
       Jack Cole, who staged the dance numbers for the film, also created the dances for the Broadway musical. Dancer Reiko Sato recreated her role as one of the princesses from Ababu. In addition, male dancers Jack Dodds and Marc Wilder, whose dancing was featuring in various numbers in the film, were also principal dancers in the Broadway show.
       As noted in the NYT review, the name of the main character, known as Hajj in the earlier versions of the play, musical play and films, was somewhat altered in the film. In the 1951 film, the main character is only known as “Poet,” although a running theme is that he is mistaken for the beggar poet Hajj. According to memos in the Freed collection, Hajj was the name that Arabs gave to the pilgrims [as well as the pilgrimage] to Mecca and it was thought that the name would give offence to audiences in “Near Eastern countries.” Other file memos indicate that several lines of dialogue, prayers and character names were changed to avoid offence to Arab audiences.
       According to memos in the Freed Collection, when M-G-M production head Dore Schary submitted the story to the PCA, PCA head Joseph I. Breen found it to be generally acceptable but pointed out two areas of the Broadway play that would not be approved for the film: First, "Of primary importance is the manner in which the Poet disposes of the Wazir during the closing scenes of the play. The killing of the Wazir is, in fact, a justified and unpunished murder..." The second point concerned "the light manner in which they [Poet and Lalume] are considering an immoral relationship." In the final film, the Wazir does not drown, as he did in the play, but is revived, leading to a threatened punishment of Poet. The potential physical relationship between Lalume and Poet is always prevented in the film by the appearance of other characters at critical moments. A final warning from Breen was that any rendition within the film of the song "Gesticulate," "should not have any vulgar or unacceptable gestures."
       According to the files, the production cost $2,692,960, $9,100 over its first estimated budget. Because the production also ran a few days beyond schedule, director Stanley Donen had to take over for the last three or four days of the production, plus one day of additional shooting, when Vincente Minnelli had to leave for Europe to begin work on his next film, Lust for Life (see below). According to an M-G-M press release, the first preview for the film was held at the Fox Theatre in Riverside, CA, on 29 Sep 1955. Most of the preview audience rated the film either "Excellent" or "Very Good." Although the film received generally favorable notices, it received no Academy Award nominations and was not among M-G-M’s box office hits of the year. According to a DV news item, in 1989, the Frank Music Corp. and Robert Wright sued M-G-M over the studio's licensing of portions of Kismet for the stage show Hallelujah Hollywood , stating that their original agreement only authorized use of the material for the film Kismet . According to the item, the plaintiffs won the suit.
       Kismet was the last film made by actor Monty Woolley (1888-1963), who did not begin his screen career until 1937 and is most famously known for his Broadway and film portrayal of the lead character in The Man Who Came to Dinner (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). For information on other adaptations of Knoblock’s play and the Lederer-Davis musical, please consult the entry for M-G-M’s 1944, William Dieterle-directed film Kismet , starring Ronald Colman and Marlene Dietrich in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 . More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
10 Dec 1955.
---
Daily Variety
12 Feb 1953.
---
Daily Variety
6 Dec 1955
p. 3.
Daily Variety
2 Oct 1989.
---
Film Daily
6 Dec 1955
p. 5.
Hollywood Citizen-News
23 Dec 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Feb 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Apr 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Dec 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Dec 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Apr 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 1955
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jun 1955
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jul 1955
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 1955
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 1955
p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner
23 Dec 1953.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Dec 1955.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
10 Dec 1955
p. 698.
New York Times
9 Dec 1955
p. 32.
Newsweek
6 Jul 1953
pp. 49-50.
Variety
7 Dec 1955
p. 8.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Pat Barker
Bruno Ve Sota
David Bond
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Fill-In dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Asst cam
Stills
Gaffer
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Props
Asst props
COSTUMES
Asst cost
Ward sketch artist
Ward man
Asst ward man
Ward woman
Asst ward woman
MUSIC
Mus supv and cond
Mus supv and cond
Orch arr
Orch arr
Vocal supv
Mus coord
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd stage man
Sd stage man
Sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Title seq
DANCE
Mus numbers and dances staged by
Asst dance dir
Asst dance dir
MAKEUP
Hair styles
Hairdresser
Makeup created by
Makeup
Body makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
Scr supv
Casting
Asst casting
Unit pub
Trailer prod
Dir's asst
Prod's asst
Prod's secy
STAND INS
Stand-in for Dolores Gray
Stand-in for Ann Blyth
Stand-in for Howard Keel
Stand-in for Vic Damone
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the musical Kismet , book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis, music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, music adapted from themes of Alexander Borodin (New York, 3 Dec 1953), which was based on the play Kismet by Edward Knoblock (New York, 25 Dec 1911).
MUSIC
"Rhymes Have I," music by Robert Wright and George Forrest, adapted from themes of Alexander Borodin.
SONGS
"Fate," "Not Since Ninevah," "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," "Stranger in Paradise," "Gesticulate," "Bored," "Night of My Nights," "The Olive Tree," "Rahadlakum," "And This Is My Beloved" and "Sands of Time," music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, music adapted from themes of Alexander Borodin.
DETAILS
Release Date:
23 December 1955
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 8 December 1955
Los Angeles premiere: 22 December 1955
Production Date:
23 May--22 July 1955
addl shooting 8 August 1955
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
28 November 1955
Copyright Number:
LP5856
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Color
Eastman Color
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
112-113
Length(in feet):
10,155
Length(in reels):
14
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17658
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In old Baghdad, the impoverished Poet and his beloved daughter Marsinah go to the marketplace to sell Poet’s rhymes for food. When they separate, Poet finds a good spot for begging but is told by other beggars that his spot is reserved for Hajj. Poet receives alms from Omar, an advisor to the Caliph, who complains that Poet is not Hajj, then increases his donation when Poet asks for more. With his fortunes rising, Poet ponders the wonders of fate when he suddenly is abducted by men who take him to the desert tent of Jawan, an elderly, notorious thief. Poet thinks he will be sold as a slave, but Jawan, who assumes that Poet is Hajj, orders him to reverse the curse Hajj put on him fifteen years earlier. After the curse, Jawan’s beloved son was kidnapped and he has been looking for him ever since. Recognizing an opportunity, Poet asks for one hundred gold pieces to reverse the curse, and Jawan agrees. Poet then tells Jawan to go to Baghdad to find his son, and Jawan and his men break camp, leaving Poet with a purse filled with gold. In Baghdad, while Jawan looks for his son, a huge procession takes place to welcome Lalume, favorite wife of the Wazir, back from Ababu. Lalume tells Wazir that the king of Ababu is willing to give him a badly needed loan amounting to ten camels laden with gold, if Wazir arranges for one of his three daughters to be the main wife of the young Caliph. Meanwhile, Caliph, who has been traveling incognito during the yearlong mourning period for ... +


In old Baghdad, the impoverished Poet and his beloved daughter Marsinah go to the marketplace to sell Poet’s rhymes for food. When they separate, Poet finds a good spot for begging but is told by other beggars that his spot is reserved for Hajj. Poet receives alms from Omar, an advisor to the Caliph, who complains that Poet is not Hajj, then increases his donation when Poet asks for more. With his fortunes rising, Poet ponders the wonders of fate when he suddenly is abducted by men who take him to the desert tent of Jawan, an elderly, notorious thief. Poet thinks he will be sold as a slave, but Jawan, who assumes that Poet is Hajj, orders him to reverse the curse Hajj put on him fifteen years earlier. After the curse, Jawan’s beloved son was kidnapped and he has been looking for him ever since. Recognizing an opportunity, Poet asks for one hundred gold pieces to reverse the curse, and Jawan agrees. Poet then tells Jawan to go to Baghdad to find his son, and Jawan and his men break camp, leaving Poet with a purse filled with gold. In Baghdad, while Jawan looks for his son, a huge procession takes place to welcome Lalume, favorite wife of the Wazir, back from Ababu. Lalume tells Wazir that the king of Ababu is willing to give him a badly needed loan amounting to ten camels laden with gold, if Wazir arranges for one of his three daughters to be the main wife of the young Caliph. Meanwhile, Caliph, who has been traveling incognito during the yearlong mourning period for his late father, sees Marsinah and is immediately attracted to her. Now Poet, who is dressed in new finery, greets Marsinah and tells her they are rich and he can buy her anything she wants. She is worried that he has stolen the money, but he assures her that he has come by it honestly. After giving her money to shop, Poet buys several attractive female slaves but is arrested by Wazir’s guards because his purse carries the insignia of a wealthy family that was robbed. At the same time, Caliph approaches Marsinah in a garden but does not tell her his name, and she thinks he is a gardener. They fall in love and agree to meet in the garden that night. Later, in Wazir’s court, Poet is charged as a thief. Lalume, who is observing, is impressed with Poet’s looks and gift for words and convinces her husband to let Poet speak. As Poet tells the story of how he obtained the purse of gold, the recently captured Jawan is brought before Wazir and angrily confirms Poet’s story. Jawan is shocked to see half of an amulet around Wazir’s neck, and when Wazir says that he has had it since childhood, Jawan produces the other half, proclaiming Wazir to be his long-lost son. Wazir is impressed with Poet’s powers, but sends Jawan to the dungeon, reasoning that Wazir cannot have a thief for a father. While Wazir is thinking about a curse that Poet has just placed upon him, Caliph briefly enters the court to announce that the period of mourning is over and he will be assuming his royal duties and taking a bride that night. Wazir assumes that Poet’s curse has worked and, worried that his plans for the loan from the king of Ababu will be ruined, takes Lalume’s advice and offers to return Poet’s gold and raise him to the rank of Emir, if he reverses the curse. Poet happily accepts, and when Wazir leaves him alone with Lalume, the two realize they have similar temperaments. She says that her “so-called marriage” to Wazir has made her perpetually bored and she is attracted to Poet’s belief in fate. A short time later, trumpets are heard through the city, and Wazir tells Lalume and Poet that Caliph is going to claim his bride. Annoyed that the curse has not yet been reversed, Wazir orders Poet confined to the palace. Poet then orchestrates an elaborate curse reversal ceremony that enables him to sneak out of the palace while Wazir is distracted. Poet goes to the garden and finds Marsinah, who is curious about the lavish procession approaching. Although she wants to wait for her rendezvous, Poet convinces her that his life depends upon their immediately fleeing Baghdad. Poet relates everything that has happened until word spreads through the marketplace that Caliph came to claim his bride but the woman was not there. Overjoyed that his curse reversal ceremony seemed to have worked, Poet gives Marsinah his gold and, dismissing her apprehensions, returns to the palace to become an emir. At the palace, Wazir tells Lalume that he is now is certain Poet has supernatural powers and must be killed because of what he knows, but Lalume convinces him to keep Poet in the palace and use his power. When Poet returns, Wazir tells Lalume to care for him. Once Lalume and Poet are alone, he tells her that he is worried about his daughter and she suggests that he bring her to live in the palace. After sending for Marsinah, Poet enjoys Lalume’s company, but is careful to avoid incurring Wazir’s jealousy. When Marsinah arrives, she tearfully confesses to her father that she has fallen in love but does not even know her beloved’s name. Lalume then has Marsinah dressed in finery and hidden in the harem for her own protection. Unknown to them, while Caliph’s men are searching Baghdad for Marsinah, he goes to speak with Wazir, who suggests that he marry the three princesses and take pleasure in the harem. When Caliph sees Marsinah walk into Wazir’s harem, Wizar is shocked to discover that Caliph’s intended bride is there but happy that she cannot, therefore, marry Caliph. The disappointed Caliph then says that he will take another bride that night. Wazir quickly learns Marsinah’s identity and tells her that they will be married, with a certificate dated the previous month. Later that night, despite the beauty of the women presented to him, Caliph accepts none as his bride. When Wazir privately congratulates Poet on bringing Caliph’s true love to the protection of the harem, Poet realizes that Caliph is Marsinah’s beloved and pretends to do a trick that results in Wazir being held under water in a pool. As Wazir struggles, Poet asks Caliph what sentence would be given to a murderer and torturer who also cost him his bride. Caliph answers “death,” after which Poet says the sentence has been carried out then runs away. When the guards retrieve Wazir’s body, they find that he is still alive. They capture Poet, who is about to be put to death when Caliph arrives. At that moment, Caliph sees the weeping Marsinah, and Lalume explains everything. Caliph now sentences Wazir to death and tells Poet that he must go into exile. Poet agrees, but asks to take the soon-to-be-widowed Lalume with him. Caliph agrees and happily sentences himself to a life with Marsinah. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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