Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

FLAME OF ARABY. Universal International, 1951. Maureen O’Hara, Jeff Chandler, Maxwell Reed, Lon Chaney Jr., Buddy Baer, Richard Egan, Royal Dano, Susan Cabot. Director: Charles Lamont.

   Imagine you’re pitching a movie project about a Bedouin tribesman in an obsessive pursuit of a wild black stallion. And that Bedouin happens to fall in love with a Tunisian princess threatened by her malevolent cousin.

   Now, ask yourself: whom would you want to see cast for the two leading roles?

   Perhaps you’d consider choosing a Brooklyn-born Jewish actor less than a decade out of U.S. military service and a redheaded Irish actress perhaps best known to the public for her starring role in Miracle on 34th Street. Then you’d think to yourself: nah, that couldn’t work. That wouldn’t work.

   But you’d be wrong.

   In Flame of Araby, an entertaining work of pure escapism, Jeff Chandler stars as Tamerlane, a Bedouin chief in hot pursuit of a wild black stallion in the North African desert. His pursuit is initially interrupted when he is forced to save the Tunisian Princess Tanya (Maureen O’Hara), from a horse stampede. The push and pull, loathing and attraction, between these two characters propel this adventure story forward.

   Joining these two major Hollywood stars on their wild gallop through an Arabesque fantasy world are Lon Chaney Jr. and Buddy Baer, who portray two Barbarossa brothers in competition for Princess Tanya’s hand in matrimony. Chaney definitely plays it to the hilt, making Borka Barbarossa a memorable, although not particularly evil, big screen villain. He seems to be having fun with this character, making him just a delight to watch.

   Now I’m not going to say that Flame of Araby is somehow a neglected classic or a gem hiding in plain sight. In many ways, it’s quite dated and doesn’t stand up to the test of time all that well. The costumes occasionally appear more silly than stylish. And some of the dialogue, including the overabundant usage of the term “wench,” while not particularly offensive, only detracts from the narrative and visual flow of the production.

   Still, there’s something to be said for a time when Hollywood studios were turning out innocently fun adventure tales that successfully transported the viewer to foreign, exotic locales, desert lands that never truly existed outside the imagination of poets and artists from long ago.