1964 (December 14, 2021)
Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film / program rating: VS
- Video quality: B +
- Audio level: A
- Category of extras: B
Movies about geniuses are plentiful and have appeared almost every decade since the films began. Notable examples are The Thief of Baghdad (1940), Sinbad’s 7th Voyage (1958) and the animated and live-action versions of Disney Aladdin (1992 and 2019). The brass bottle Likewise relies on the premise of a mysterious entity that sprang from a magical object to grant wishes, but follows the path of comedy.
Young architect Harold Ventimore (Tony Randall) is a junior member of an established California cabinet headed by the disapproving Mr. Beevor (Phillip Ober). Harold is engaged to the sweet and alluring Sylvia Kenton (Barbara Eden), but his father, Anthony Kenton (Edward Andrews), a very conventional Egyptology teacher, considers him fickle and bohemian. To convince Mr. Kenton, Harold buys him a huge antique brass bottle, allegedly an ancient Arab vessel. Finding his belittled gift like a cheap fake, Hiccup brings the bottle home, opens it, and sees a distinctly portly genie (Burl Ives) emerge amid clouds of green smoke. The genie presents himself as Fakrash, imprisoned in the bottle by King Solomon 3,000 years ago.
Delighted and grateful for his release, Fakrash swears to serve Hiccup by arranging for him to improve his status at work and impress Sylvia’s parents. The well-intentioned efforts of the genie backfired, of course. Fakrash has a knack for fantasy and enjoys playing tricks while providing his master with useful ideas which only make his life more difficult. Harold must face the bewildering results and explain the genius, who conveniently makes himself invisible, to Sylvia, her future in-laws, her boss, and the local police.
The major problem with The brass bottle is that it only elicits a handful of laughs. Oscar Brodney’s script features long stretches of uninspired dialogue, delivered slowly under the direction of Harold Keller, and most of the jokes are pretty lame. The premise might have lent itself to some sharp comedy, but the film lacks the necessary wit, sophistication, and pace. The best visual gag comes when Fakrash turns Mr. Kenyon into a mule. Whether she’s sitting in the back of Harold’s convertible as she weaves through the city streets, bawling and baring her teeth, or just reacting comically in a much more convincing way than her co-stars. human, this mule steals all its scenes.
Randall is a bland prominent man and his performance isn’t very funny. When you think about how Cary Grant would have played the part, a sense of the potential unrealized forms. Looking distracted, even nonchalant, Randall performs the movements but never convinces his Hiccup is thrown into a maelstrom. The closest to exasperation is raising your voice and widening your eyes. His understatement in a large comedy dulls the jokes even more. He shows none of the comedic expertise he would amply employ as Felix Unger in The strange couple TV shows.
Ives, best known as a folk singer and for his Oscar winning performance in The big country, seems totally wrong. Fakrash is believed to be devoted to his deliverer, but he seems oblivious to the hardships he is causing Hiccup and considers everything a frolic. Shouldn’t a genius who owes his freedom to Hiccup be more attentive to his feelings? Rather than take on his role of personality and motivation, Ives is content to recite his lines with a broad smile.
The special effects are quite rudimentary by today’s standards. Fakrash appears in a cloud of colored smoke, breaks through walls and climbs invisible stairs, wants a fire hydrant to move on its own, fly over people’s heads and conjure up entire lush dwellings worthy of a sultan. At one point, he shrinks three avocados to the size of mice. Quaint and simple, the effects diminish rather than enhance the film.
Barbara Eden has a small role as Sylvia but herself would go on to become famous as a genius in the longtime television comedy I dream of Jeannie. Eden is lovable and lovable, but the role is so guaranteed that Sylvia becomes a plot point rather than a real character. With better material to work on her TV show, Eden would make her genius funny, playful, and sexy.
Director Harry Keller, whose work was primarily on television, never gives The brass bottle a sense of theatrical functionality. Looking more like an extended sitcom, the film lacks the quick, precise timing and editing that could have made full use of the jokes. Some scenes go on too long, others are dying, and still others depend on worldly gags.
The brass bottle was shot by cinematographer Clifford Stine on 35mm film, photochemically finished and presented in 1.85: 1 aspect ratio. Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents the film on Blu-ray for the first time. The Eastmancolor palette is mostly in soft, muted hues, but primary colors dominate in the genie’s clothing, the green smoke that escapes from the open bottle, and the dangling, gold-toned dangling ornaments on the revealing outfit of a belly dancer. Clarity and definition are both very good, with costume detail, a camel caravan, Fakrash’s mustaches and beard, and well-defined decor. Skin tones are pleasant and creamy, although Randall’s makeup looks heavily applied and mushy. The room Fakrash magically creates is more of Arabian Nights Via Hollywood than the actual Middle East, with wispy curtains, patterned rugs, a multitude of male and female servants, and purple lighting. Camera movements are dull and limited to a few tracking shots, giving the film a TV movie look. The actors are usually stuck in one position and deliver their dialogue in a non-cinematic way.
The soundtrack is in English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio. SDH English subtitles are an available option. The dialogue is clear and precise throughout. A metallic clang is heard as a belly dancer performs her routine, and the bray of a mule creates some whimsy. Burl Ives’ cheerful and relentless line delivery sounds like his genie is at home playing Santa Claus. There is a brief car chase with the sound of squealing and screeching police sirens.
The following extras are included:
- Audio commentary by Lee Gambin
- Theatrical trailer (HD – 2:37)
- Bedtime trailer (SD – 1:37)
- Completely modern Millie trailer (SD – 2:39)
- 40 pounds of trouble trailer (SD – 2:24)
- Arabesque Trailer (HD – 3:30)
Lee Gambin provides insight into the career of Tony Randall, who is typically a supporting actor. Randall generally played an educated, nervous, anxious man “in a constant state of hesitation”. Harold’s relationship with Fakrash foreshadows Randall’s team with Jack Klugman on TV The strange couple. The brass bottle, based on a 1900 novel by F. Anstey, has already been shot twice during the silent era. In the tradition of genius films, a genius helps an average person to whom he is devoted. Harold tries to make the genie understand that some of his magic has consequences. An added bonus is a lengthy interview with Barbara Eden, which takes up the remaining half of the commentary. The actress opens up about her early career, working with Lucille Ball, working in the film, and starring on the TV sitcom. I dream of Jeannie, created by Sidney Sheldon. She doesn’t believe Sheldon based the TV show on The brass bottle due to the many differences between the two. She was surprised when she won the role because they picked dark and slender beauty pageant winners, but Sheldon approved of her. She talks about the professionalism of the actors who worked on The brass bottle.
The brass bottle is an unimaginative film that doesn’t use its fantasy premise to make things shine. Randall and Ives have little onscreen chemistry and the jokes are often laborious and lame. An actor more present on the screen could have sold the gags better. With a director failing to breathe life into the film, it’s just a mildly fun comedy.
– Dennis Seuling