Grade:  C+/B-
Not Rated (would be PG)

The mid-‘60s gave viewers two sitcoms featuring women with magical powers: Bewitched, an ABC-TV series about a witch married to a mortal, and I Dream of Jeannie, an NBC comedy about an astronaut who splashes down near a deserted island and finds a bottle containing a beautiful genie determined to serve (and exasperate) him.

As with “The Munsters” and “The Addams Family,” audiences were split over which show was better. It’s the fans of I Dream of Jeannie who are going to want to see The Brass Bottle, because it provided the inspiration for the TV show. After Bewitched became a smash hit when it debuted in October 1964, creator-producer Sidney Sheldon wanted to develop a similar property for NBC. Sheldon had seen The Brass Bottle, which opened in theaters in May of that year, and the concept seemed perfect. All he had to do was make a few changes, and the rest was television history.

The Brass Bottle was the third film inspired by the 1900 novel of the same name, and as it turns out, British writer Thomas Anstey Guthrie was probably born in the wrong century. The fantastic elements of The Brass Bottle drew praise from none other than George Orwell, and an earlier comic novel, Vice Versa, was about a father and son who change places because of magic. That novel was made into a 1981 British TV series and a 1988 American film. It also inspired modern retellings like Freaky Friday, Big, and Seventeen Again. In other words, the old Victorian writer would have made one heck of a good screenwriter.

Though The Brass Bottle doesn’t have the madcap mayhem of slapstick or screwball comedy, the plot and dialogue are clever. The film might have played out like a fable, but there’s more complexity here and it’s fun to see how similar yet totally different The Brass Bottle is from I Dream of Jeannie. It’s equally fun to see the star of I Dream of Jeannie as a mortal in this fantasy.

In one of his few starring roles, Tony Randall plays an architect who hopes to impress the father of his girlfriend (Eden) by giving the professor a brass bottle he went to great lengths to obtain—only to be laughed at by the Egyptologist and told it’s a mass-produced fake. Of course, this particular bottle ends up being the real McCoy, and rotund genie Fakrash (actor-folksinger Burl Ives) emerges, persistently determined to serve his master while mostly creating trouble.

It’s easy to see why the film inspired Sheldon. Bewitched’s Darren was in the advertising industry and Samantha often used magic to help him in his work. Fakrash does the same with Harold Ventimore (Randall), an architect hoping his designs will be a hit with clients. The special effects in this film aren’t bad.

The way the film is structured, Randall may be the star, but all the scenes worth stealing belong to Ives, who had already won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Big Country (1958). While not as manic, he has the same commanding presence as Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladdin—but in a strangely menacing way, at times. This genie has a little edge to him.For the better part of the film, Fakrash wanders here and there, marveling at how civilization has advanced over the past 3000 years. But if you don’t like what he’s done for you? That creates an uncomfortable situation.

I agree with Tony Mastroianni of the Cleveland Press, who wrote in his review when the film first played theaters, “Randall and Ives are quite perfect in their parts. Randall’s forte is the light comic role, the nice guy who’s slightly befuddled. His wide-eyed wonder is far better for the part than an overdone double take. Ives as a genie was a wonderful casting idea on someone’s part.”

That’s what The Brass Bottle is:  light comedy, the mild kind that was popular in films of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. And yeah, it’s going to mostly be of interest to fans of that genre or fans of I Dream of Jeannie and Barbara Eden—who is interviewed especially for this release.  

Entire family:  Yes
Run time:  89 min. Color
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS Mono
Studio/Distributor:  Kino Lorber
Bonus features: B-
Amazon link
Not rated (would be PG for magical mischief and some innuendo)

Language:  1/10—There may be some lesser profanity

Sex:  3/10—Scanty harem costumes and talk of 1000 wives and such; mostly talk and innuendo, but some more overt references

Violence:  3/10—Some outbursts and some physical damage result from the magic and Fakrash’s tantrums

Adult situations:  3/10—Some drinking and smoking, in addition to the sexualization of women

Takeaway:  I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s fun to see precursors and related films, especially when they relate to iconic shows such as I Dream of Jeannie