Baubles, Bangles but no Musical Paradise
A poet (Howard Keel) who each day heads to the market to sell his poems finds him being mistaken for a sorcerer by the name of Hajj. It leads to the poet being rough handed and taken to the desert tent of an elderly thief (Jay C. Flippen) who has for years has been under a curse put upon him by the real Hajj, a sorcerer. It is not the only scrape which the poet finds himself in as whilst all this goes on he tries to find his daughter, Marsinah (Ann Blyth), a wealthy husband. The thing is that whilst her father has been off on his own adventure Marsinah has fallen for a handsome caliph (Vic Damone).
Before "Kismet" even starts you get a beautiful orchestral version of "Stranger in Paradise" over the opening credits and to be honest it lifts your expectations. Sadly what follows ends up crashing those expectations right back down as for some reason MGM took a huge step backwards with this musical. Now what I think may have happened is someone spent more money on the sets and costumes than they should have which had the knock on effect of the camera being held back giving us lots of distance shots so that it can show off as much of those colourful sets as possible. But by keeping you at arms length from everything "Kismet" never establishes a connection between the audience and the characters.
It isn't just the production decisions which cause "Kismet" to struggle as this is not only a talkative musical but the flowery nature of that dialogue rarely grabs your attention because the delivery of it is not sharp enough. Sadly whilst Vic Damone could sing he struggled with making his lines spark in the same lyrical way that Howard Keel could and sadly this weakness shows up so clearly. In fact Howard Keel's booming delivery ends up feeling out of place as no one could work at that same level as he could.
The one saving grace when it comes to "Kismet" is the music and songs with such classics as "Baubles, Bangles, and Beads" and "Stranger in Paradise" and it is during these musical scenes that the production comes in to its own. Sadly not all the musical numbers are that memorable and in truth there are less than a handful of great musical numbers in "Kismet" with those few memorable ones making it as entertaining as it is.
What this all boils down to is that "Kismet" whilst having a few really great musical numbers tends to struggle due to it not only being a dialogue heavy musical but one which suffers because of the production keeping the audience at a distance from the characters.