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THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, 1924
Movie Review

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THE THIEF OF BAGDAD MOVIE POSTER
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, 1924
Movie Reviews

Directed by Raul Walsh
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher, Julanne Johnston, Sojin, Anna Mae Wong
Review by Jason Day



SYNOPSIS:

Ahmed (Fairbanks) is the Prince of all Thieves in ancient Arabia, a young man who “takes what he wants” when he wants it. That is until he meets the ravishing Princess (Johnston) and decides to abandon his career, temporarily at least, in order to woo her. But he has first to complete many dangerous tasks to win her hand, as an evil Mongol Prince (Sojin) is after her too.

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REVIEW:

The granddaddy of all Arabian Nights fantasy films is still enormously entertaining and rousing more than 80 years after its premiere. Its influence also stretches across the decades, due in most part to Menzies’ astonishing Bagdad design, a unique ‘Arabopolis’ with towering minarets, art deco furnishings and a grandly synthetic beauty (the undulating fabric that makes up the Midnight Sea prefigures a similar design in Fellini’s Casanova). Anyone watching Disney’s otherwise vulgar animated version of Aladdin with Robin Williams will also see this. Menzies would go on to design many other famous films and this was an early indicator of his extravagant stylism.

Early cinema swashbuckler Fairbanks was at the peak of his Hollywood powers so obviously cast himself in the role of the athletic kleptomaniac of the Middle East, a one man crime wave for whom the ASBO couldn’t have been invented quick enough.

It is his most fondly remembered film in a career that saw him play Robin Hood and The Man in the Iron Mask. As an example of the ‘Star System’ in Hollywood at this time (where movie roles were moulded around the star actor who was to play them), the film is tailor made for Doug's brand of gymnastic gyrations and impish, infantile good larks.

If Johnston’s insipid turn as the Princess ultimately proves irritating, this was general convention for female leads in Hollywood action films of this time. At least we have a smashing support cast: Wong excels as the Princess’ duplicitous maid and Sijon is a creepy villain in the Nosferatu vein.

Made in the days long before CGI effects (and long before computers), some of the ingenious special effects have actually managed to withstand the test of time. The flying carpet is still humorous and convincing and the trick photography in the Magic Crystal is impressive. Unfortunately, the winged horse and underwater sections (Doug’s walk toward the Mermaids lair, in particular, has to be seen to be believed) are rather less so and invoke some hilarity.

Despite this and the rather hefty running time (2 and a half hours no less), director Walsh manages to provide a shimmering film that still echoes down the cinematic timeline.

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The Thief of Bagdad


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