Thief of Bagdad (1924)

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in Fantasy/Adventure | 0 comments

Bagdad1

Disclaimer: A bare-chested, Atheistic, and violent thief leads the way.

Thief of Bagdad rivals D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance and William Wyler’s Ben-Hur in ambition and scope. It’s an epic film on the grandest scale, requiring hundreds of extras and a six-and-a-half acre set, the largest in Hollywood history. Though it’s not color (which will certainly turn some viewers away), the filters and lighting emit moods in a pure and effective way; and though it’s not a talkie (which will certainly turn an even larger number of viewers away), there’s rarely a need for title cards nor do I ever feel the desire to hear characters speak. The film is most known for its incredible visual spectacle and sheer wonder thanks to the ingenious artist William Cameron Menzies, who went on to Oscar glory for Gone With the Wind and is the first person to don the title of production designer. The movie proved so successful that filmmakers have churned out nearly a dozen other amalgamations of this Arabian nights fantasy, the most respectable of which are Disney’s Aladdin and a 1940 remake of the same name starring Sabu.

The film’s very first scene sets the sense of Douglas Fairbanks in a scene from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, 1924.wonder nicely as the stars in a dense night sky read, “happiness must be earned.” Thus becomes the motto of a cocky, bare-chested Thief (Douglas Fairbanks), who wears earrings, a pencil moustache, and a headband. He is so proud of his schemes that, at one point, he shakes recently stolen gold out of his silk pants while doing a handstand. After he acquires a magical rope, the thief scales the palace walls for a chest filled with jewels. While there, he falls in love with the beautiful Princess (Julianne Johnston). The film then takes a fitting turn as the Thief vows to steal the princess’s heart.

In order to do so, the Thief must beat out three princes (most notably the evil Mongolian Prince played by Sojin). Though the Thief is not royalty, the Caliph (Brandon Hurst) agrees to grant his daughter’s hand to the man that can recover the rarest treasure in the world. Thus the Thief embarks on a series of physical and moral tests after the Atheist reclaims religion, of course.

At more than two hours running time, Thief of Bagdad is filled with action-packed sequences and magical items such as a flying carpet, winged horse, crystal ball, invisibility cloak, and healing apple. On his journey, the Thief encounters oversized bats and crustaceans, sexy siren mermaids, living trees, and a ferocious dragon. One of the few humorous scenes (if you discount some of the effects) is a chase sequence reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark as Fairbanks hides in a series of large pots to escape menacing police, eventually landing in a mosque where he renounces faith and mocks those who believe in Allah.

Bagdad3Though Raoul Walsh directs, Fairbanks leads the way as producer, writer, star, and stuntman. Throughout the 20s, Fairbanks was all the rage in Hollywood, playing costume drama leads such as Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, Zorro, and Don Juan. Since the film was produced at a time before widescreen, many of the shots exhibit towering vertical space that dwarf the actors, most notably Fairbanks, which gives a David-versus-Goliath effect as he does battle with creatures and meanders his way through a cavern of fire.

The New York Times labeled it, “a feat of a motion picture art which has never been equaled and one which will enthrall persons time and again.” If you can get past the fact that it’s silent and black-and-white, kids and parents alike will be in awe by this incredible, one-of-a-kind fantasy.

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