Aramco reflects on its motion picture depiction of the earliest days of Saudi Arabia.

The Arabian Peninsula, in Living Color - 1973
American geologists in white ghuttras are welcomed by the Amir of Jubail in “Island of Allah.” The scene shows Aramco employees, from left, Jim Steward, Sa’d ibn Rukayyan, Al Clements, and Hank Constand. Isa Sabbagh (second from right), who played a Bedouin guide, was the Voice of America Arabic Section chief.

From the April 18, 1973 edition of The Arabian Sun.

Aramco wanted a full-length motion picture that would do justice to the history of the Arabs from the birth of civilisation to the taking of Riyadh by King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, one that would capture the spirit of Islam on one hand and the excitement of the discovery of oil at Dhahran on the other.

Richard Lyford — with an Academy award for his work as editor-director of “The Titan,” “The Story of Michelangelo,” and the experience in Arabia producing “Miyah,” a short subject on water conservation — was therefore on location in Saudi Arabia twenty years ago with a small professional crew and a number of Aramco employees eager for stardom.

They were making an Ansco color film called “Island of Allah” in the English version and “Jazirat al-‘Arab” in the Arabic version.

Among the few professionals on hand was Isa Sabbagh, at that time Voice of America Arabic Section chief and later U.S. Public Affairs officer in Kuwait and Beirut. He played the Bedouin guide Khalid and his narration introduced and tied together the Arabic version. Frederick March did the narration for the English version.

The film — which is still available for viewing from the Public Relations film collection and from the film library attached to the Headquarters Library — opens with the arrival of three bearded American geologists in Jubail. The geologists are played by the late James C. Stewart, a Government Relations employee at the time; the late Albert Clements, then a geologist and later an ordained minister; and Ira “Hank” Constad, then an industrial trainer and now an industrial relations consultant in Wichita, Kansas.

The story flashes back over 6,000 years of rhapsodic history, but the big act is the taking of Riyadh in 1902.

The Arabian Peninsula, in Living Color - 1973


— The Arabian Sun: April 18, 2023