American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
All right, now that we know "Caravans" isn't the greatest desert epic since "Lawrence of Arabia," let's admit a finer point: There are certain frames of mind in which this is the movie to see. Don't see it if you're easily bored, if you don't like romance writ large against a panorama of human endeavor, or if you can't stand camels. But if you're facing a slow Sunday afternoon with a lot of time before the roast is done, "Caravans" could, in its own way, be fun.
It's an old-fashioned, slow-paced, incredibly expensive romantic epic. It has dialog like:
"Now you lead the caravan, my son."
"No, my father, it is not yet the time."
And so on. We know all that stuff by heart. And the story is so banal as to hardly bear repeating, except that I won't let that stop me: A young man from the American Embassy (Michael Sarrazin) is sent out into the furthermost provinces of Persia to seek out the daughter (Jennifer O'Neill) of an American senator. She has not been heard from in 10 months. It turns out she has left the wealthy young man she was married to, and is traveling through the desert in a nomad caravan led, of course, by Anthony Quinn.
Sarrazin finds the caravan, joins it, learns the ways of the nomads, gains the respect of Anthony Quinn, and wins the affection (if not quite the love) of the American girl. The subplots involve the local customs, such as the complete subjugation of women, the law of eye-for-an-eye, the rivalry between the nomads and the government, and the means of baking bread over dried camel dung.