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NOT Available on DVD: PRINCESS OF THE NILE

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Article by Dana Jung

In 1959 director Fritz Lang (METROPOLIS, M) released one of his last works, a two-part film known as THE INDIAN EPIC. The films (THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR and its sequel THE INDIAN TOMB, both available on DVD but currently out of print) were part adventure and part travelogue. Today, these films are remembered (if at all) for two things: their incredible location photography, and the erotic dances of star Debra Paget. The scenes with a barely-clad Paget writhing seductively were considered so sexy at the time that the films received a write-up in Playboy magazine. But just five years earlier, as a 20th Century Fox contract player, Paget had played basically the same role (complete with dancing!) of an exotic beauty caught up in political turmoil. The film was the 1954 Fox B-picture PRINCESS OF THE NILE, which is sadly NOT available on DVD.

The movie opens with a long scene of Paget dancing. We soon learn that the dance is part of a disguise, because Paget is actually an undercover princess! Her character, Shalimar (love the name), is trying to protect her country from outside political forces in an ongoing power struggle between Egypt, Arabia, and the Turks. The movie follows B-film swashbuckling convention as Paget, playing the beautiful yet prickly heroine, has to deal with a smirking but intelligent villain (Michael Rennie), plus the handsome yet somewhat dull hero (Jeffrey Hunter) and his brave but humorous sidekick (Wally Cassell).

The film benefits greatly from this attractive cast, along with nice Technicolor cinematography, some solid direction, and a literate, fast-paced (and funny) script. Rennie, just a few years after his heroic turn with Gort in DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, is back playing the villain with a quiet menace that he perfected throughout the 1950s and later in television. Hunter, with his incredibly blue eyes, is fine as the hero who isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but is honest and fearless. He realizes the treasure he has discovered in the spritely princess, and Hunter has great chemistry with Paget (which served them well a year later in WHITE FEATHER). Hunter would move on to memorable A-list roles in such films as THE SEARCHERS and THE LONGEST DAY, and he played everything from Jesus (KING OF KINGS) to Captain Pike of the USS Enterprise in the original STAR TREK pilot. Tragically, Hunter died of a brain injury at the age of 42 after an accidental fall in his home.

Debra Paget also flirted with stardom in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, playing opposite some heavyweights such as Anthony Quinn, Cornel Wilde, and even Elvis in his first film LOVE ME TENDER. With her almond eyes and beautiful face, Paget was often typecast in exotic roles as Middle Eastern or Native American maidens, but she is most fondly remembered for her cult film appearances. Not only the aforementioned INDIAN EPIC (which incidentally was edited into one film titled JOURNEY TO THE LOST CITY for American audiences), but also a pair of Vincent Price Poe adaptations, THE HAUNTED PALACE and TALES OF TERROR. After marrying into wealth and to devote time to family, she retired from films just past age 30.

While not a great film by any stretch, PRINCESS OF THE NILE is colorful and entertaining, full of action and (sometimes unintentional) humor: the “harem” in the movie is full of blondes and redheads in full 1950s false eyelashes and makeup. And keep an eye out for some great character actors in small roles—namely Jack Elam, Michael Ansara, Merry Anders, and others. But the picture also returns us to a time in history when the major studios pooled their talent both behind and in front of the camera, to churn out these wonderfully cheesy yet somehow lovely programmers. It’s just too bad they have yet to find their way to DVD.

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