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In Time for St. Pat's

Universal's release of three Maureen O'Hara films emphasizes camp, but better fare from her is available.

March 13, 1997|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you're hungry for some really bad movies, you'll devour Universal Cinema Classics' latest releases--three campy costume adventures ($15 each) starring Irish actress Maureen O'Hara: "Bagdad," "The Flame of Araby" and "Lady Godiva."

In the 1949 opus "Bagdad," O'Hara plays--believe it or not--the daughter of an Arabian sheik. Upon her return from boarding school in England, she discovers her father has been murdered and his followers have scattered to the four winds. Like any dutiful daughter, though, she decides to seek revenge for his death, only to discover the Turkish ruler (Vincent Price) she has confided in may be her enemy.

Even more outlandish is 1951's "The Flame of Araby." This time around, O'Hara is cast as a Tunisian princess named Tanya. After her father is poisoned, she learns she's in danger of losing the throne and being forced to marry an extremely ugly member (Lon Chaney Jr.) of a neighboring tribe. Her only hope for freedom is a beefcake Bedouin (Jeff Chandler) and a beautiful black stallion.

O'Hara stars as the famed naked English lady in the 1955 snooze "Lady Godiva." George Nader gives a one-note performance as her Saxon hubby. Even her infamous ride through Coventry is, so to speak, a bust. A young Clint Eastwood appears as the First Saxon.

But let's not forget the numerous wonderful O'Hara movies currently available on video. With St. Patrick's Day around the corner, it's the perfect time to celebrate the Irish colleen's six-decade film career.

O'Hara, Walter Pidgeon, Donald Crisp and Roddy McDowall star in the stirring, Oscar-winning 1941 drama "How Green Was My Valley" (FoxVideo, $20). John Ford directed this film, which spans 50 years in the lives of a Welsh mining family as told through the perspective of the youngest child (McDowall).

With her peaches-and-cream complexion and vibrant red hair, O'Hara was the queen of Technicolor movies in the 1940s and '50s. One of the most fun is the rousing 1942 swashbuckler "The Black Swan" (FoxVideo, $20). O'Hara, playing the independent-minded daughter of the former governor of Jamaica, falls in love with a handsome pirate (Tyrone Power).

In the 1947 classic "Miracle on 34th Street" (FoxVideo, $15), O'Hara turns in a believable performance as a working single mom who learns the true meaning of Christmas from an elderly man (Edmund Gwenn, in his Oscar-winning role) who claims he's Kris Kringle. A young Natalie Wood and John Payne offer fine support.

O'Hara and John Wayne made several films together with director John Ford. Their 1952 collaboration, "The Quiet Man" (Republic, $20), is their best effort. This near-perfect film stars Wayne as an American ex-boxer who returns to the Irish hamlet of his childhood. He runs into problems when he sets out to woo and win the hand of the spirited, beautiful O'Hara. Winton C. Hoch and Archie Stout's beautiful cinematography won the Oscar, as did Ford's direction. This is the film "E.T." watches on TV.

Three years later, O'Hara teamed up with Ford and her "Black Swan" romantic interest Tyrone Power for the sentimental drama "The Long Gray Line" (Columbia TriStar, $20). O'Hara makes the most of her smallish role as the wife of an Irish immigrant (Power) who becomes one of the most beloved instructors at West Point.

O'Hara seems to enjoy her role as a divorced mother of twin girls (both played by Hayley Mills) in the fluffy 1961 Disney comedy "The Parent Trap" (Disney, $20). Brian Keith co-stars as her ex-husband.

After an absence of nearly two decades, O'Hara made a very welcome return to the silver screen in the 1991 comedy-drama "Only the Lonely" (FoxVideo, $15). She received nice reviews for her performance as a strong-willed, racist Irish mother of an overweight, unmarried Chicago cop (John Candy, in his best performance).

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