When Yonda Met Fadda

Well, you needn’t twist my arm to get me to admit it.  I canNOT resist a film titled Son of Ali Baba.  A name like that promises a deliciously high cheese quotient; enough, probably, to turn all of France an envious green.  (Anyone check a satellite view recently?)  The title alone has endless possibilities.  Such as, for instance, adding a new turn of phrase to the language.  My own suggestion rings a change on a well-known expression indicative of canine maternity.  “Son of an Ali Baba!” we can now murmur whenever we feel mildly annoyed or peeved.  It’s that tangy little twist of the unexpected, right at the finish (Well, I’ll be a Son of a…n Ali Baba!), that will make your friends sit up and take notice.

Imagine the possibilities…

But to get back to the film itself.  It has, if you can believe it (Son of an Ali Baba!), a real plot.  The title offspring, named Kashma Baba—I was laughing already—attends a military academy while hosting luxurious frat parties, where fellow students lounge on sets cluttered with enough cushions, curtains, and drapes to stock a Bed, Bath & Beyond Labor Day sale.  There’s more going on, however, than Fast Times at Baghdad High.  You see, Kashma Baba (a name I expect any day to be marketed as a brand of exotic hummus) is a Hero of almost mythic breadth:  he rescues a princess, wields a sword, leads a rebellion, saves his father, defeats the baddies, and, enfin, gets the girl and the Happy End.  Along the way he becomes very good friends with certain lithe young lovelies, variously named Zaza, Kiki, Calu, Theda, and Tala.  Which makes the resulting dialogue between all concerned sound like a code.  “Tala!” cries Kashma.  “Kashma!” replies Tala.   You can’t make this up.  One young lovely pouts that Kashma takes too much notice of Zaza, which leaves Kiki, Calu, Theda, and Tala feeling mildly annoyed.  Even peeved, perhaps.  Son of an Ali Baba!, I can hear those lissome young ladies murmur, why can’t Kashma turn round and take notice of Us?  It’s not as if he would need a satellite to get a view.

I will debunk one famous myth about this film:  this is not the movie in which its star, Tony Curtis, says its most famous attributed line (notorious for its tang of Tony’s Bronx origins):  “Yonda Lies Da Castle of My Fadda.”  From what plate of cheese, or exotic hummus, did that myth spring I have no idea.  But a careful review of the scene in question separates fact from fancy (or, if you prefer, cheese from hummus).  “That is my father’s palace,” Tony Baba says as he gestures toward a matte painting, “and yonder lies the Valley of the Sun.”  I replayed the scene several times, taking farther note, if you will, of his pronunciation; and, to his credit, Tony does say Father and he does say Yonder, as in Wild Blue, getting that final –er in there each time.  I do appreciate the care he lavished on those ending syllables, obviously taking notice of those small details in which, we are assured, the gods themselves reside.  Son of an Ali Baba, Tony must have murmured to himself, I’m gonna work this line fadda than the boundaries of the Bronx, and take it yonda beyond my linguistic limits.  That oughta make ’em sit up and take notice!

One thing not known about the film, though, is that Tony frequently pronounces the word “shah” as “shaw.”  “Tonight,” Tony will say, “the Caliph will be feasting the Shaw.”  That line left me confused.  Shaw, I muttered with a baffled murmur, which Shaw is that?  Robert? Fiona? George Bernard?  And what would he be feasting this Shaw with?  I don’t know the dietary habits of Robert or Fiona, but George Bernard was a known vegetarian.  Might that influence the choice of menu?  I can picture the scene now—the caliph summoning Zaza, Kiki, Calu, Theda, and Tala, who bear trays of cheese and exotic hummus (the more Baba-ish the better) to the dining hall, festooned with plunder from the latest Bed, Bath & Beyond sale.  Meanwhile, Kashma Curtis delights the guests with a display of linguistic finesse that would make a Bronxian Henry Higgins turn green.  Look, if you’re gonna feast a Shaw—whether it’s Robert, Fiona, George Bernard, or even Artie (might as well take that fadda step and toss him in yonda)—then (Son of an Ali Baba!), you better do it right.  Just so they’ll sit up and take notice.

I’ll say one thing about this film:  it has that hobgoblin consistency of the small mind.  Near its end we meet Princess Kiki’s mother, whose name just happens to be … Karma.  Karma, eh?  That’s when I realized that someone was being paid to come up with these names (no doubt remunerated by the syllable) and inflict them on us.  We’ve got Kiki, Karma, Kashma, Calu, Zaza, Theda, Rama, as well as Tala; an IMDB check adds Babu, Baka, and Dragma, not to mention Ali Baba himself.  Was anyone keeping track?  Son of an Ali Baba, a peevishly annoyed audience must have murmured at this point, how much of this cheese-and-hummus can we be expected to take?  No doubt, had such madness gone much fadda, there would have been a mad rush to the exits, with a general trampling of any lithe young lovelies unfortunate enough to get in the way.  It’s enough to drive one yonda to the nearest Bed, Bath & Beyond sale.

That is, if anyone’s bothering to take any notice.

Take Me Yonda to My Fadda’s Palace:  you can watch Son of Ali Baba here — cheese and hummus not included (though plenty of lissome young lassies are, as well as a Shaw or two).

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5 Comments

  1. I wonder why the studio did not teach Tony Curtis how to speak? Every studio employed people to teach actors and actresses how to speak, how to move, how to sit, stand – even how to pick up a champagne glass. The list is endless. I suppose one must make allowance for unsuitable accents, when a certain screen presence – or – a particular talent more or less eclipses them, e.g. Elisabeth Bergner as Rosalind. Far better Mr. Curtis’s Bronx accent, than the horrible regional accents and misplaced cadences now prevalent on the English screen.

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    • Interesting point! Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner, for instance, did receive studio voice lessons to get rid of their Brooklyn and Southern accents, respectively. Barbara Stanwyck, however, always kept her Brooklyn accent; and Cary Grant always kept his Cockney one. It could be that Curtis did have vocal lessons but they were only partially effective. One thing is that actors under studio contract usually had no say in what movies they did; so Curtis would have to make do in such stuff as The Black Shield of Falworth (which took place in medieval England!). In any case, his Bronx accent does fit into his later movies, such as Sweet Smell of Success and The Rat Race (although it again sounds ridiculously out of place in Spartacus)..

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