Review: The Brass Bottle – 1964

Tony Randall's character of Harold Ventimore in The Brass Bottle is an architect who purchases an antique brass bottle which, when unsealed, releases Burl Ives (as Fakrash, though his name sounds like "back-rash") in a genie suit. Fakrash has been locked up in the bottle for 3,000 years, but is ready and willing to magically produce any wish his new, young, 20th century master has for him. On the surface, this seems like just what Ventimore needs, a poor nebbish up against professional failure and the expectations of his girlfriend (Barbara Eden, who is not a genie in this film) and her overbearing family.

A significant part of this film is Randall simply refusing to utilize the genie's power, so Fakrash takes matters into his own hands and creates a variety of comedic scenes involving unasked for wishes with gold bars, an army of slaves, clients for Ventimore's architectural skills, and of course, belly dancers (particularly "Lulu Porter, International Dancing Sensation" as she is listed on the trailer and advertising materials).

Fighting against this windfall of wealth and success is Ventimore's primary duty for most of the movie, and in this way The Brass Bottle mimics a similar problem plaguing Tony Randall in the 1957 Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? which had the same dilemma of Randall's character getting everything his ambition seems to want, but seeing it hilariously destroy his life. This was far better demonstrated in the earlier movie, and in The Brass Bottle the tale never really establishes its phantasy world beyond the level of a TV sitcom (in fact, the later I Dream of Jeannie TV Show did this aspect better), and aside from Burl Ive's energetic portrayal and Randall looking effortless playing a character type he'd already done many times before (and would do many times again), plus a veteran cast of character actors like Edward Andrews and Philip Ober, the script simply turns into a series of episodes about the peculiar effects a genie has on Ventimore's world, and there's no question made about where all of this power is coming from, and what the implications are for a world like Ventimore's.

At some point the ironic twist of the film would be how to put the genie back in the bottle, and the point of the genie would be the temptations of the world against the desires of a "saint" (though only the Hollywood version of one, which is Randall's character). But none of this really happens, and though there is plenty of wit in the dialogue and the cast is fine (though Kathie Browne and Richard Erdman as beatniks Hazel and Seymour Jenks seem bizarrely more artificial than even Burl Ives in a genie getup) the film simply lacks a certain amount of logical cohesion, even for the rather looser-standards of a fantasy film about a genie, belly-dancers, and imaginative blue-screen projection special effects.

At times Fakrash is played gleefully by Ives, and is the best part of the film, and one can only wish the producers and scriptors (screenplay by Oscar Brodneyn from a novel by Thomas Anstey Guthrie) could have let Ives exploit the role further. But as it is, The Brass Bottle is undercut by its own lack of ambition, never getting completely free of the bottle.

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Original page September 2022