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...Douglas Fairbanks brought grace and poetry to physical action on the
movie screen. Fairbanks essentially invented the action/adventure movie
genre, known in his day as swashbucklers.
"Thief of Bagdad" was made in 1924 when Fairbanks was half way through the heyday of that part of his career. He already had "Zorro" "The Three Musketeers" and "Robin Hood" behind him. "Thief" was something of a departure, however, for it depended less on Fairbanks ability to dance his way though physical stunts than it did on the Arabian Nights tableau it presented on the screen. And frankly, nothing like it has every been done since. Only Griffth's "Intolerance" created the same kind of feel, and it was gritty and warlike, where as "Thief" was a sort of wondrous dream about what it would be like to live by your wits, go off and slay dragons and eventually, win the hand of a princess by saving her father's kingdom.
Fairbanks was over 40 when he made this film and yet seems so perfectly suited for it that we forget his age. He is the embodiment of the dashing hero.
But what almost overshadows him are the sets themselves. Designed by William Cameron Menzies, they are beyond spectacular. Almost every frame of this film is a work of art and of course, the amazing thing is, this was not done through computer animation. So skillful are the designs and the camera-work, that it is almost impossible to tell where the sets stop and the matte paintings begin.
Credit for all this must also go to Fairbanks,who wrote the script and produced the film. Raoul Walsh's direction is also great, although the film is a little long in some spots and would be aided by some skillful editing.
Fairbanks acting style seems today very much of the silent era, yet at the same time, there is always the feel of joyous celebration to it. He was always something of the happy rogue or perhaps, a guy who realized he was getting to make a living by playing in the world's most wonderful sandbox. He was blessed with good fortune and he knew it.
Of the others, Julanne Johnston, who plays the princess, probably comes off the worst of the main characters. She is beautiful,but comes off as little more than window dressing. But kudos to the incredible Anna May Wong who plays the treacherous Mongol slave girl. Wong's great beauty and strong screen presence allow her to steal almost every scene she is in. That Wong never got the chance to play many lead roles is one of the great tragedies of Hollywood history.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Thief of Bagdad (1924): Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Sojin,
Anna May Wong, Brandon Hurst, Snitz Edwrds, Toe Du Crow, Noble Johnson,
Charles Belcher, Winter Blossom, Sam Baker, Mathilde Comont, Jesse
Lasky Jr, Jesse Fuller, Etta Lee, Sadakichi Hartmann, David Sharp, K.
Nambu, Charles Sylvester, Charles Stevens, Scotty Mattraw, Jess
Weldon....Director Raoul Walsh...Screenplay Douglas Fairbanks, Achmed
Abdullah, James T. O'Donohoe, Lotta Woods.
Fantasy films have been around since silent films first took the world by storm. Melies "Voyage To The Moon", "Frankenstein" "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", "Call of Cthulhu" "Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari", "Phantom Of The Opera" "Metropolis" "Ring Des Nibelungen"- all fantastical movies dealing with the supernatural, science-fiction, horror and fantasy. In the 1920's, handsome and very physical actor Douglas Fairbanks ranked among the top actors with Lon Cheney and Charlie Chaplin. Fairbanks had played the "heroic" adventurer in "Robin Hood" and "Three Musketeers", all roles which called for physical stamina, stuntwork and charisma. In "Thief of Bagdad" he portrays a nameless devil-may-care thief from Bagdad during the mythical "Arabian Nights" days. Think Aladdin from Disney. He survives life by taking what he wants and living in the streets. Before long, he becomes involved in a quest to win the hand of the beautiful princess (Julanne Johnston). She favors the Thief -when he has disguised himself as Prince Ahmed- but there are other suitors competing for her hand in marriage, among them a Mongol Prince (Sojin), a Persian Prince (Mathilde Comont) and an Indian prince (Noble Johnson). The Princess sends them on a quest to find a treasure so rare and valuable that she would deign to marry he who brings it to her. It's of course, our hero The Thief/Prince who marries the Princess but not after fighting intrigue, baddies and experiencing a fantastical adventures in remote, mythical locations, among them under the sea, where he is tempted by mermaids, and The Citadel of the Moon. This silent film was the first of its kind, not in its theme of adventure but in its stunning visuals and effects. The production and art design is by the esteemed William Cameron Menzies, whose impressive career in Hollywood was long (he would design production for Gone With The Wind in 1939). It's a masterpiece. Every detail brings to life this magical "Arabian Nights" world. This is the most "colorful" of any "black and white" silent film ever made. For night scenes, the color is tinted "evening" blue, casting shadows on palace walls and city alleys. The "underwater" scene is also tinted to stand for the greenish-blue sea. The castle is itself amazing, with huge, flowery doors and walls. Audiences must have been amazed at how realistic everything appeared, even how the Princes are able to fly on a magic carpet or The Thief make himself invisible, or how The Princess could see through a magic globe. As for the acting, it's typical of the silent era school of acting which means exaggerated facial expressions and dramatic body language and while it appears laughable and corny today, it was standard acting in its day. Even so, the plot is strong even if the characters are one-dimensional, good/evil. There is a little more to the acting though, for example Asian actress Anna May Wong in the role of the Princess' traitorous slave girl. Unbeknownst to the Princess, the Mongol slave girl is in league with the Mongol Prince. Obviously harboring hatred for her "conquerors" the people of Bagdad, including the Princess herself, she plots to help the Mongol Prince succeed in becoming King of Bagdad. When Plan A fails, Plan B suddenly takes shape - invasion of Bagdad by the Mongol armies. Because the film is quite long and slow-moving, it has the feel of an epic, another popular genre in silent films (The Birth Of A Nation, The Ten Commandments, Ring Des Nibelungen). This is a treasure of a silent film, often overshadowed by more famous silent films of the 20's but it is a document in cinema of the early 20's and should be studied in film school. Douglas Fairbanks was already well into his middle-age but he was still doing his own physical stuntwork and female-pleasing in his looks and charms. This is a sensational, unforgettable film and a must see for devotees of silent film and fantasy films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I happened to see The Thief Of Bagdad on a VHS that had a narration by
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. He said that of all the films that his father
did this was the junior Fairbanks's favorite. Although the senior
Fairbanks in closeups might have looked a little long in the tooth to
be playing the young thief who wooed and won a princess, he hadn't lost
a bit of athleticism that his films were known for.
The Tales of the Arabian Nights was the inspiration for this The Thief Of Bagdad and the more familiar sound version that Alexander Korda produced and shot here in the USA as well due to wartime conditions in Great Britain. Here Douglas Fairbanks essentially plays both parts of the two heroes that Sabu and John Justin play in the Korda version. Fairbanks is the professional thief who can steal just about anything, big or small. When he steals a magic rope and climbs into the Caliph's Palace and beholds the sight of the princess Julanne Johnston, there will be no other woman for him.
But the Bagdad Caliphate is not an upwardly mobile society, not for the poor, but honest and not for a criminal. Still he tries to pass himself off as a prince and he's in competition with three other princes for her hand.
One of them, Japanese actor Rojin is the Mongol prince and if he can't woo the Caliphate in alliance, he'll steal the kingdom with his army which he starts infiltrating in Bagdad. Fairbanks ultimately can't go through with the deception though he charms the princess. She sneaks him out of the palace before what happens to upwardly mobile aspirants in that society happens to Fairbanks.
But holy man Charles Belcher says that Fairbanks has a future with the princess and he's put through a lot of tests before he can wed. And of course in typical bravura Fairbanks style, he puts the Mongols to flight with an army created out of nowhere.
By this time Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith had gotten United Artists up and running as the production company for their films which it was primarily doing in those early days. Producer Fairbanks spared no expense in creating the sets for The Thief Of Bagdad, the sets look like something Cecil B. DeMille or D.W. Griffith might have done. I wouldn't be surprised if Griffith took an unofficial hand here.
The sets were created of course by young William Cameron Menzies in one of his earliest films, costumes by Mitchell Leisen, and the director was Raoul Walsh, all of them getting big boosts in their careers from Douglas Fairbanks. With all that legendary talent in its salad days no wonder The Thief Of Bagdad holds up as well as it does today.
I also must comment on the orchestrations of themes of Rimsky-Korsakov by the London Symphony Orchestra. Theater organs are usually good for silent films, but this one really calls for an orchestra so vast is the sweep of this silent classic.
At two and half hours plus, The Thief Of Bagdad runs longer than most silent films did by far. Still even today it casts a spell over the viewer.
This is certainly one of the best examples of the greatness of the
medium now called 'silent film.' There are truly wondrous moving images
here, created by means of human actors, stage techniques, and primitive
FX, made to tell a very satisfying mythic story. If you could add
audible dialogue to this movie, it would only be a detriment.
Douglas Fairbanks was the top heroic movie actor of his day, and he made this at the peak of his powers. He studied ballet for some months prior to the filming, and you can see the result in his leaps and other characteristic feats. There musical quality to his body movements that make the action sequences in this movie unlike anything else, and it goes well with the facial pantomime of the silent cinema.
I saw a restored cut of this film on PBS TV in the late 1980's, with the original color tints and an orchestral soundtrack composed of rearranged bits of Rimsky-Korsekov's 'Scheherazade.' The Scheherazade material works perfectly with this material, not only because it helps establish the magical world in which our story transpires, but because it goes perfectly with Fairbanks' ballet-style action sequences. Also, Scheherazade is one of my all time favorite pieces of music. Over 20 years after seeing this film, Scheherazade still conjures up images from this film.
The FX are not, of course, realistic by modern standards. But they nonetheless produce amazing and memorable moving images and have a magical or dreamlike quality that is better suited to this material than CGI. In fact, the primitive FX have a hand-crafted feel, complimenting the physicality of Fairbanks' performance and serving as a tonic to the rubbery CGI that contaminate so many modern films.
This is a good movie to see if you think you have any potential of enjoying a silent movie, and/or if you are fond of fantasy and the mythic. Hopefully it will inspire you to noble things.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I first saw this on cable, AMC, I think, and I loved it. I later acquired a tape. This movie rocks and Douglas Fairbanks is the rock star. The sets are magnificent, the effects fascinating, and all the actors pulled out the stops, many of their performances still remarkable by modern standards. Every cent spent on the production shows up on the screen. You don't know anything about movies if you've never seen this one. It contains comedy, adventure, horror, fantasy, and science fiction. The sets are overwhelming in their size and number. The special effects are amazing even at this late date. For those who have children who love Aladdin, this film has many harbingers, although the 1940 version with Sabu is the direct predecessor.
The acting is corny. The sets are strange. The special effects are crude as
hell. (You can even see the wires.) And you sit there for 138 minutes
Seeing this is like seeing Star Wars for the very first time. Honestly. And seeing Fairbanks do his stuff (he really does hop from pot to pot in one scene) drives home exactly why he was a superstar. Talk about presence; This guy owns the screen!
If you care about movies, then give this one a try. (the HBO restoration with the London Symphony Soundtrack is the best.)
If anyone ever asks why Douglas Fairbanks was such a big star, tell them to
view this film. His personality "leaps" off the screen and the film is as
exciting as it was in 1924. True, some of the "special effects" are a
little corny by today's standards, but the film holds up, nevertheless.
And to all those who appreciate the male form, Douglas Fairbanks physique is unbelievable!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I found this silent film in the book of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I knew there was a 1940 remake that got much higher ratings from critics, but I was definitely looking forward to seeing this classic original, from director Raoul Walsh (High Sierra, White Heat). Basically in the city of Bagdad lives (Ahmed) The Thief (Douglas Fairbanks) steals anything valuable and to get him by, and he has stolen a magic rope that he can summon to climb high heights, and using this he can sneak into the palace of The Caliph (Brandon Hurst). But his habit for thievery fades away when he sees the Caliph's daughter, The Princess (Julanne Johnston), he is instantly infatuated, but he is forced to escape when spotted by The Mongol Slave (Anna May Wong). The Thief is determined to win the heart of the Princess, and he hears from His Evil Associate (Snitz Edwards) that a princess has been stolen during the reign of a previous ruler, and he gets his chance the next day when it is her birthday. She is given the fortune that whoever touches a rose bush will be the man she married, she is hoping it will not be one of the three princes, Prince of the Indies (Noble Johnson), obese Prince of Persia (Mathilde Comont) and the Prince of the Mongols (Sôjin Kamiyama), they all pass, and the Thief appears in stolen garments, and he only touches the rose bush when his horse throws him into it. The Princess is delighted and chooses the Thief as her husband to be, but he had plans to abduct her and with his great love for her confesses all to her, he is arrested after being overheard by the Mongol Prince's spy, he is punished with lashes, and before further torture he is bribed by the Princess to be let go. She is told she must choose another man to marry, therefore she tells all potential princes that they should find her a gift after "seven moons", and the one she will marry will be the one who has the rarest treasure, the Thief feels despair, but visiting The Holy Man (Charles Belcher) he is directed to a place that great hidden treasures lie. The Indian Prince finds a crystal ball that can show anything you want to see, and the Persian Prince finds a magic flying carpet, but the Mongol Prince has his own plans to take over the kingdom and use the Princess as his incentive, and to help with his plan he has a slave poison the Princess, and he will use a magic apple to cure her. Meanwhile the Thief has had many adventures in the mysterious land, and the treasure he has found include a cloak to turn him invisible, and magic powder that when he sprinkles will turn into anything he wishes, he makes his way back to Bagdad, as do the other princes when they hear the news of the Princess near death. Her life is saved with the magic apple, the other princes besides the Mongol Prince are regarded useless, but she sees the Thief, Ahmed, transformed into a prince, in the magic crystal ball, but before he arrives the Mongol Prince unleashes his army to take over the city, but the Thief uses his magic powder to summon another army to make the other flee. The Mongol Prince attempts to try and kill this new prince, but Ahmed saves the Princess who takes her away on the flying carpet, and he uses the invisibility cloak to defeat the other characters trying to catch them, and with Bagdad saved and the Princess safe the Caliph in gratitude allows his daughter to marry Ahmed. Also starring Winter Blossom as Slave of the Lute and Etta Lee as Slave of the Sand Board. Fairbanks gives one of his best performance as the often grinning and shirtless almost all the way through scoundrel thief turned brave hero, Johnston looks pretty as the princess longing to find the right prince, and the other supporting characters do their parts well also. I can see that this would have been one of the inspirations for ideas put into Disney cartoon Aladdin, obviously it an Arabian Nights story, and with elements like magic ropes, flying carpets and magic powder there is great spectacle, these special effect moments use terrific camera and editing tricks, and the swashbuckling bits with fights and chases are great fun, a splendid silent fantasy adventure. Very good!
I've always loved this version of the ancient Arabian tale, Douglas
Fairbanks was at the top of his game, lithe and energetic throughout
the 148 minutes. There are various copies available, some better than
others overall in various states of decomposition, but I haven't seen
one better than the Thames Photoplay issue. A copy I've seen
(regurgitated by Elstree Hill) has a whole chapter almost burnt up and
a teeth-grindingly awful score, so if you're interested it'll probably
pay to be careful.
Fairbanks spends the first 20 minutes scene-setting with plenty of stealing and acrobatics, then tries to steal from the Caliph of Bagdad but falls in love with his beautiful daughter instead. He then spends the remainder of the film as the Reformed Thief Of Bagdad, trying to win her. In this he's up against 3 rivals and they're all tasked with finding the greatest treasure to decide which one will marry her. The main role was split into two for the 1940 remake he was certainly more animated than John Justin! Anna May Wong plays an evil traitor but confidante to the Princess, a role she reprised 10 years later in Chu-Chin-Chow the first film version of which appeared the year before this, and which provided some of the story here too. Some of the special effects still look good especially the flying carpet scenes and creating the million man army, but the rest for the main are primitive however if you're unfortunate enough to see any of the laughable modern versions, maybe some with eye-splitting digital cartoonery too you'll realise special effects do not make a great movie. This has a great story, great sets, great atmosphere, is constantly inventive within the technological limitations and lives in the imagination long after it's finished. However if comparisons are possible between silent and sound films, I think Korda's version was something extra special and on another level altogether.
So if you care, dig out a good non-budget issue of this for a magical night's entertainment.
Lavish, incredible, beautiful, and creative cinema of the silent era.
One of the best. Every scene is an outstanding, ostentatious, display
of a glossy deco-style.
This is a silent film that can be throughly enjoyed by those who normally shy away from the pre-sound era, because it is overwhelmingly a visual visit to an otherworld through fantastic set designs and dazzling special effects.
There is a bit of hammy acting but it doesn't seem objectionable because it is overshadowed by the grandeur and scope of the production. The current video prints are beautiful and allow all the allure of the adventure to paint a pretty picture of a Fantasyland through the early Hollywood heyday of an industry feeling the strength of its powerful productions.
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