This article was written by Rebekah Brannan as part of the Breening Thursdays series.
For this week’s Breening Thursday article, I, Rebekah Brannan, have chosen to breen the 1955 film Kismet. Although this film should have been virtually free from Code-violations, since Mr. Breen had just left, I found it to be riddled with problems. Although this film is slightly goofy, as most Arabian movies from the 1940s and 50s are, the level of the film is largely raised by the songs, which are all adapted from music by the classical composer Alexander Borodin. This film has many exciting elements, including a handsome Caliph, a scheming Wazir, a bored wife, a case of mistaken identity, exotic music, and, of course, a beautiful girl. With just a few small changes, it could have been an exciting but fully acceptable film for the whole family. Now, the lights dim, the theater hushes, and the screen swirls to life. Get ready for a journey of breening in paradise, because here comes Kismet!
1. The first problem occurs when the leading character, who is known only by the assumed name Hajj, is trundled out to the tent of the infamous criminal Jawan. Jawan threatens Hajj with a red hot iron and, not knowing why he is deserving of torture, Hajj exclaims, “In Allah’s name, what have I done?” This is disrespectful to another religion’s god and must be changed. He should instead say, “In Heaven’s name.”
2. The second problem occurs when the Grand Wazir’s Wife of Wives, Lalume, is first seen. Her costume is very indecent and must be changed. The skirt is too thin and has two huge slits which show practically all of her legs, and the top is too low cut. The neckline must be raised, sleeves should be added, the skirt must be thicker, and the slits must be removed.
3. The next problem is also related to the character of Lalume. Her entire attitude throughout the film is extremely loose and trampy. The way she walks, the way she stands, the way she speaks, and the way she sits all add to her characterization as a tramp and a temptress. This is entirely unacceptable and must be changed. She must not seem like such a vamp and a loose woman. Her only characterization should be as regal, perhaps slightly aloof, and a bit bored, since she is weary of her husband, whom she has never loved.
4. The next problem occurs during Lalume’s song “Not Since Nineveh,” which contains the lyric, “Not since Jericho turned to mire/For a sin of a kind we never mind here.” The italicized section is unacceptable and must be changed. Perhaps she could instead sing, “For a sin of a kind you’d never find here.”
5. Later in the song, she sings the lyric, “Our palaces are gaudier;/Our alleyways are bawdier.” Once again, the italicized section is unacceptable. Instead, she should sing something like, “Our alleyways are shoddier.”
6. Throughout the song “Not Since Nineveh,” Lalume’s tone, gestures, and manner are entirely unacceptable. She should not sing every phrase as though it contains a double entendre, and her suggestive gestures, particularly her persistent habit of putting her hands right above her chest, running her hands down her torso, rubbing her hands on her thighs, and putting her hands on her hips, must be removed.
7. This song is followed by a dance number between the three princesses of Ababu and two unidentified men. At the beginning of the dance, the princesses place their hands on their hips rather suggestively for a moment. Also, throughout this dance, they continually place their hands on their chests. Such continual emphasis on these two parts of the female anatomy is unacceptable. All movements in which they place their hands on their chests or hips must be removed. They should either keep their hands away from their torsos or place their hands on their shoulders and waists instead.
8. During “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads,” the first song of the leading lady, Marsinah, a few women in the background are rather scantily clad. One is wearing a low-cut top and pants with large slits in them, another two are wearing very scanty brassiere tops with no straps and noticeable gaps between the two sides, and a third has a rather low neckline. The first woman’s neckline must be made higher, and the slits in her pants must be removed; the second two must be given fully-covering tops with sleeves of some kind; and the third’s neckline must be raised. It must be noted here that all the women in the film, even ones seen in the background for a few seconds, must be wearing fully-covering outfits.
8. Later during the song, several women hold up a long cloth to cover Marsinah as she is changed into a beautiful new outfit. However, the cloth is held low enough that she can be seen taking off her top and revealing her shoulders. The cloth must be held high enough to cover everything except her face, if it’s absolutely necessary that she be shown at all here.
9. The outfit into which Marsinah is changed during the afore-mentioned song is fully acceptable, except that the neckline is just a little too low, especially in certain shots. It must be made high enough that her chest is never unduly revealed.
10. In a later scene, Hajj is seen with some female slaves he has recently bought. A couple of them are wearing scanty tops, low necklines, revealing pants and skirts, etc. It must be ensured that they are all properly covered.
11. The next time Lalume is seen, she is wearing a new outfit. However, it is no better than the first one in terms of decency. The main problem is the lowness of the neckline, but, more than this, the overall look of the costume is rather indecent. The large bangle hanging down between her top and her pants somehow looks worse than just a space, and the pants are too tight. The top must be entirely redesigned so that it is more along the lines of Marsinah’s. The neckline should be higher, it should be in one piece rather than having two conical sides like an undergarment, and the sleeves should cut in farther on her shoulders. The pants should either be made looser or be changed to a skirt, and they should cut slightly higher on her torso.
12. In the scene when the afore-mentioned costume is first seen, Hajj sings the song “Gesticulate,” in which he explains how hand-movements tell half of a story. There is a phrase in this song which goes, “Should Scheherazade/Undulate her body,/That can be expressed if you gest-/Can be assessed if you gest-/She’ll be undressed if you gesticulate!” This entire phrase and the accompanying gesticulations are completely unacceptable and must be changed. Instead, he should sing something like, “Should Scheherazade/Tell tales to somebody,/This can be expressed if you gest-/Can be assessed if you gest-/They’ll see it best if you gesticulate!”
12. Later, the infamous thief Jawan, from whom Hajj previously promised to remove a curse, is brought in by the Wazir’s guards. He sees Hajj and exclaims, “Let me tear out his liver! Let me cut his belly to ribbons!” This is violent and should be eliminated. If he must say something, he should merely say something like, “Let me just get my hands on him!”
13. From the moment they meet, it is evident that Lalume is very attracted to Hajj. She makes this attraction very plain in all of their scenes together, since she is constantly touching him, making eyes at him, and generally showing very lustful feelings toward him. Lust is forbidden in any situation, but it is especially bad in this case, since she is a married woman. She seems very bored and romantically frustrated, since she can’t stand her husband and obviously can’t wait for Hajj to move into the palace so that they can have an affair. Her entire attitude toward him must not seem so lustful, and she can only show an innocent fascination toward him. It also should be made evident through her behavior and dialogue that she is very bored and longing for true love, not only because she does not love her husband and never has, but because she is merely one of many wives and doesn’t believe that he truly loves her. In a particular scene, when Hajj and Lalume are alone in a room, they are lounging suggestively on a settee. This is unacceptable and must be changed. They may sit on the settee and talk, but their position should not even hint at lying next to each other. Also, all kissing between the two characters must be removed, and Lalume must not have her hands on Hajj’s person excessively.
14. Lalum and Hajj’s first scene together takes place after the Wazir has agreed to make him an Emir if he casts one more spell. After he has has left, Lalume tells Hajj, “You know, when really angry at someone, my husband usually drops him alive from a high battlement onto a long hook. Thus will you be impaled when he discovers you’re a fraud.” This is unduly violent and must be changed. Instead, she should say something like, “When really angry at someone, my husband usually turns him over to his best torturers. Thus will you die, etc.”
15. When Lalume and Hajj are alone together for the first time, she sings a song entitled “Bored,” in which she tells Hajj how dull and boring her life was until she met him. This song is entirely unacceptable and must be eliminated. After the afore-mentioned dialogue, Lalume’s discourse on how dull her life is may remain. However, before she can say anymore, the guards should come right in, thus eliminating her song and their kiss.
16. In the next scene, the Wazir’s harem gathers on the palace’s terrace to watch the Caliph’s wedding procession, exclaiming at the wondrous spectacle. The Wazir approaches and shouts, “Silence, you caterwauling trulls.” The italicized word is a term for women of the oldest profession and must be changed. He should call them some insulting term such as idiots or imbeciles.
17. Several of the women in the Wazir’s harem are wearing clothes with low necklines and other revealing elements. It must be noted here that all of his wives must be properly dressed at all times.
18. In this same scene, Hajj stages a dramatic spell to keep the Caliph from marrying his true love. As he spins his spell and sings, the Wazir’s harem gathers around him and begins doing a strange dance along with his ritual. Their movements are a little too isolated, and they are once again putting their hands on their chests too much. This choreography must be made less spasmodic with less isolated movements of the shoulders, and the women must not put their hands on their chests.
19. During Hajj’s ritual, the three princesses of Ababu are seen again. They are now wearing outfits which consist of transparent harem pants and skimpy brassiere tops. These outfits are indecent and must be changed. Normally, I would merely say that the tops must be made one-piece midriff tops with sleeves, like Marsinah’s, but, since these three women are princesses, I think they should be wearing full tops which do not show their midriffs at all. Also, the pants must not be transparent.
20. In the next scene, Hajj is reunited with Marsinah and tells her that they must flee, since he knows that the Wazir will kill him for not preventing the Caliph’s marriage. She doesn’t understand his distress and jokingly says, “Some angry husband again?” This implication that Hajj has previously been involved with married women is unacceptable and must be eliminated. She should instead say, “Some angry father again?”
21. In the next scene, Lalume is seen again, now in yet another indecent costume. This dress is rather like her first one, since it has a low neckline and huge slits in the skirt. The neckline must be made higher, the skirt must be made thicker, and the slits must be removed.
22. In the next scene, when Hajj returns to the palace, having unwittingly made his spell come true, the Wazir tells Lalume to entertain him. She takes him to the Wazir’s harem and sings the nonsensical song “Rahadlakum,” which is about an ambrosia-like food. However, the lyrics make this food seem like either a representation of amorous pleasures or some sort of drug. The entire idea of this food and its connotations are completely unacceptable. The song and all other mention of “rahadlakum” must be eliminated. In fact, the entire scene in the harem is completely unnecessary, since there is nothing left if the song is cut out.
23. In a later scene, Hajj and Lalume are about to kiss, but she suddenly says, “Not now. Not here.” When he asks her “when,” she tells him of “The Oasis of Delightful Imaginings” and suggests that they go there. This too-pointedly suggests an illicit affair between the two of them and must be changed. Instead, Lalume should wistfully say something like, “Oh, if only I were not the Wazir’s wife, we could be married and go away together. I’ve heard of an oasis….” the rest of the dialogue could remain the same, as long as it is not said suggestively. Also, Hajj should not run his hand over her arm or look at her so lustfully.
24. In the next scene, the Wazir opens a secret window to show the Caliph the three princesses of Ababu in his harem. They are wearing white brassiere tops and skirts which look far too much like undergarments. They should be wearing opaque white sheath dresses with sleeves.
25. In the same scene, the Caliph also sees Marsinah in the harem being fitted for a new red and gold outfit. She is wearing a plain white top and skirt which shows far too much of her. The neckline needs to be raised, and the skirt must be made longer, so that her legs are not shown.
26. To keep the Caliph from marrying Marsinah, the Wazir has her brought to him and marries her while she is unconscious. After she has regained consciousness, he says that he will visit her later. She replies that she will kill herself if he does. He replies, “Really? Oh, this may be the first interesting wedding night I’ve had in years.” This line is suggestive and must be eliminated.
26. In a later scene, when the candidates for the Caliph’s hand are being presented to him, the princesses of Ababu are once again wearing indecent brassiere-tops and skirts with openings on either side to reveal their legs. They must either be wearing full tops with sleeves and decent necklines and covering skirts with no slits, cut-outs, or openings, or dresses with the same requirements.
27. During the dance sequence that follows, the three candidates, that is to say, the three princesses of Ababu and two other candidates, dance for the Caliph. The first princess does a rather spasmodic dance, in which she shakes her shoulders and hips far too much. Her assistant makes it even worse by constantly gesturing toward her hips and legs, than teasingly covering her with her cloak when she turns her back toward the camera. The assistant also place her hands rather suggestively over her chest at one point. The princess should not shake so much or turn her back toward the camera while shaking her posterior, and the assistant should not draw such attention to her lower torso or place her hands on her chest. Also, the princess’s jumpsuit should not be so tight over her posterior. The second princess does a strange but no too spasmodic dance. However, she also places her hands over her chest continually. Once again, this must be removed. The three princess of Ababu have essentially the same problems as the other two, as they place their hands on their chests several times and shakes their hips while turning away from the camera. As before, they must either place their hands on their shoulders or avoid this area altogether, and they must not shake their hips.
28. Later, when Hajj learns that the Wazir has married Marsinah, he exclaims, “In the name of Allah, what have I done?!” This is disrespectful and must be changed to, “In the name of heaven.”
29. In the final scene, Marsinah is seen in her new red dress. Although the neckline is filled in by a large necklace, it is still too low.
30. At the end, after Hajj has tried to kill the Wazir, the Caliph learns that he was indeed deserving of death and intends to pardon his future father-in-law. However, Hajj suggests that he instead sentence him to exile in a distant oasis and force him to take the widow of the Wazir with him. She says that he has sentenced himself for life, but it is not stated that they are definitely going to marry. It must be plainly stated that they are going to be married as soon as the Wazir has been executed.
That concludes my breening of Kismet. As you can see, with just thirty changes, this could have been a perfectly decent and enjoyable film for people of all ages. It’s a shame to see such flagrant violation of the Code just the year after Mr. Breen’s retirement. Films from 1955 are more telling of how much Mr. Breen was needed than films from any other post-Code year. Films like this show how unsuited Geoffrey Shurlock was for his job, and how quickly bad management can destroy a wonderfully-working system like the PCA. Perhaps, someday, we will one again see films the way Mr. Breen and all the other men who promoted the Code wanted them. Only we, the people, can bring back the Code and all its wonderful effects on society. Thanks for reading my article. I look forward to seeing you on my next breening journey!
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