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Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (1953)

Courtesy of Primrose Productions

Main image of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (1953)
35mm, black and white, 14 mins
DirectorLotte Reiniger
Production CompanyPrimrose Productions
CollaboratorsCarl Koch, Alexander Kardan, Stanley Newby, Gerry Lee
MusicFreddie Phillips

A poor tailor in Baghdad wins the hand of a princess thanks to a series of adventures involving a magic lamp and the genie that lurks within.

Show full synopsis

One of the first films that Lotte Reiniger made for Louis Hagen's London-based company Primrose Productions, Aladdin and the Magic Lamp was made with US television screenings in mind - hence the narrator's American accent. Like its companion-piece, The Magic Horse (1954), it develops themes (and recycles some footage) from her groundbreaking feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Abenteuer von Prinz Achmed, Germany, 1923-6), where the Aladdin story formed a minor subplot.

Reiniger's silhouette technique is particularly well suited to this Arabian Nights atmosphere, the harsh brightness of the desert settings and the Middle Eastern architecture naturally offsetting the foreground characters. The depth of the cave into which Aladdin descends to find the lamp is effectively conveyed via a blend of stalagmites, stalactites and seemingly endless creepers, and the fact that the lamp, when lit, can't quite illuminate every corner. Later, when Aladdin is trapped on the storm-tossed sea, Reiniger layers the waves so that their translucency relates to the threat that they pose: they become increasingly dark as the storm gathers pace.

Meanwhile, the fine detail of the various costumes sported by Aladdin's bride Dinarzade are almost invariably offset by some equally decorative framing (arches, curtains), and the film almost breaks into science fiction when their palace is bewitched into flight, temporarily assuming a classic UFO shape of a kind that would shortly become an all too familiar motif of 1950s cinema.

In contrast with many other adaptations of the classic tale, notably the 1992 Disney version, the genie is a relatively minor character: the focus here, as with many of Reiniger's fairytales, is on the moral consequences of the human characters' actions.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation Lotte Reiniger: The Fairy Tale Films.

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Video Clips
Complete film (13:57)
Reiniger, Lotte (1899-1981)