Two Arabian Knights (1927) is one of those silent movies anyone who avoids them should see. This buddy comedy, directed by Lewis Milestone, is more evidence that every genre owes a debt to films made more than 90 years ago.
Although made less than a decade after World War I ended, the first part of Two Arabian Knights is a POW comedy in the vein of Stalag 17 or Hogan’s Heroes. Rivals W. Dangerfield Phelps III (future Hopalong Cassidy William Boyd) and Sgt. Peter O’Gaffney (Louis Wolheim) are captured by the Germans. While being held prisoners, the two agree to put their differences aside and start plotting ways to get out. After a series of failed attempts, the two finally get out and somehow land in Arabia.
While on the boat to a nameless Arabian country, the two Americans rescued a beautiful Arabian princess, Mizra (Mary Astor). Once they arrive, the two learn that Mizra’s father has already picked the man she is to marry and he wants the Americans dead. Hilarious hi-jinks ensues, and since this is a Hollywood movie, you all know who gets the girl.
Of course the screenplay (which has five credited writers!) is not Two Arabian Knights‘ strong suit. It’s the well-crafted comedy set-pieces directed by Milestone. Many of these great scenes are not split up by inter-titles – in fact, there are not all that many in this movie, proving how easy it is to get involved in a story even without dialogue. We’ve seen enough buddy comedies that we know what Phelps and O’Gaffney are arguing about anyway.
Milestone won the only Oscar for Best Comedy Direction for Two Arabian Knights, beating the only other nominee (Ted Wilde for Harold Lloyd’s Speedy). But the film does include several tender romantic moments and tense, edge-of-your-seat drama. It is easy to see how Milestone could go from directing this comedy to making Universal’s All Quiet On The Western Front just three years later.
Although obscure today, Two Arabian Knights is fun escapism and a look at the best comedy Hollywood had to offer at the time. It’s now streaming on FilmStruck.