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Easily and by far this is the best version that I have seen of "The Thief of Bagdad". It does not have the Technicolor opulent look of the 1940 version, and Douglas Fairbanks is not as handsome as the 1961 thief, played by Steve Reeves, but this 1924 production intelligently blends comedy and drama; the framing, angles and camera movements used by director Raoul Walsh and cinematographer Arthur Edeson are visually elegant; and sets, costumes and effects were beautifully conceived and executed. The film moves with a fascinating rhythm during the first two acts in Bagdad, before the Princess' suitors travel in search of the strangest treasures: there are countless sets to stage all the dramatic and action scenes: the marketplace, the sewers, the palace garden, the throne room, the Princess' bedroom, immense stairs, doors, walls, halls and vines, lavishly designed by William Cameron Menzies. Where it not for the overlong adaptation (I saw the 149 minutes restoration, with the Carl Davis score based on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade"), this would have been an undeniable masterpiece. The narration drags a bit after the suitors leave Bagdad, the Mongol Prince's machinations, and the extended return of the thief (who inexplicably does not ride on the winged horse to the city), although there are also wonderful scenes in this third act, as the trip to find and test the magic apple and the creation of the new Bagdad army. Everybody is fine in this film: Fairbank as the thief is all smiles, but when he has to show the dramatic nuances of his character he excels; Sôjin Kamiyama is excellent as the Mongol Prince (especially when compared to the 1940 and 1961 villains, more than aptly played by Conrad Veidt and Arturo Dominici), and Julanne Johnston's Princess is both attractive and funny, but I especially enjoyed beautiful Anna May Wong as the wicked Oriental maid and hilarious Snitz Edwards as the thief's sidekick. A true cinematic gem.
When it comes to works of fantasy and myth, it takes effort to relay
the sense of wonder or whimsey that accompanies such things as magic or
otherworldly creatures. It's always been easy to relay such things
through books, poetry, or even reciting it verbally to others. On film,
it's a far bigger challenge, and 1924's The Thief of Bagdad stands as
one of the earliest and most ambitious attempts to conceptualize and
execute a work of fantasy for the big screen. It's a big production,
with huge sets, a huge crowd of extras, lavish costumes, and convincing
special effects. It all works together to bring to life a fantastic
world of flying carpets, magic ropes, mermaids, giant apes, and
invading foreign armies, all contained within an exotic Arabian
The film is pretty long, and it drags at certain parts (mostly the middle). However, it does have a lighthearted whimsey to the tone, and in the characters, which keeps it entertaining and fun, even after all these years.
This story is a big and sprawling adventure, but thanks to the way it's told, with simple dialogue and exaggerated acting, it's never convoluted. It's successful at telling a complicated series of events without losing the audience, and with a cast of decent and lovable characters. I have no idea how this film compares to its original novel, but it appears to maintain the appropriate tone and all the right elements of a proper Arabian fantasy.
This film uses solid photography and editing. Acting is very exaggerated and over-the-top, which can be laughable at times, but for a silent film it's quite forgivable. Writing is simple but effective enough. This production has huge sets, props, and costumes; a lot of it seems to reflect a more stereotypical view of Arabian and Asian culture, rather than trying to be anything realistic. Special effects are great though; even after all these years, there are many shots that you can look at and wonder, how did they do that? In spite of that, the imagery is often great. The music score is great too.
The Thief of Bagdad is not only a seminal classic for fantasy films, it's also one of the biggest and most imaginative silent-era films I've seen.
Recommended! 4.5/5 (Entertainment: Good | Story: Very Good | Film: Very Good)
Having made his name primarily in the comedy genre, silent superstar
Douglas Fairbanks continued his transformation into swashbuckler with
this lavish fantasy epic. Made on grand sets that rivalled the likes of
Cabiria (1914), thanks to some spectacular set design by William
Cameron Menzies, and featuring some ground-breaking visual effects, the
real attraction of The Thief of Bagdad is Fairbanks himself, who
compensates for some quite outlandish over-acting with an irresistibly
athletic performance. The 1940 remake (for which Menzies was once of a
few uncredited directors) cast Sabu as the titular thief, but relegated
him to the sidekick of John Justin's Prince Ahmad. Perhaps the makers
felt that making a petty thief the hero was a little more than the
audience could accept, and so this works as a testament to the
effortless likability of Fairbanks.
The Thief (Fairbanks) roams Bagdad, taking what he pleases and going wherever his legs will take him. Unmoved by religion, he seeks any opportunity to steal, telling a holy man "What I want, I take!". Seeking the ultimate treasure, he and his associate (Snitz Edwards) break into the palace of the Caliph (Brandon Hurst), where he discovers the Caliph's beautiful daughter (Julanne Johnston) laying asleep. Yet when the guards are alerted, the Thief flees. With the Princess' birthday the next day, Bagdad awaits the mighty rulers and Prince's of other kingdom who will pay tribute to the Princess in the hope of winning her heart. The Thief plans on stealing her, yet when a twist of fate causes the Princess to love him back, he must embark on a mighty quest to bring her the rarest gift he can find, in the hope of winning the favour of her father.
With a hefty running time of 150 minutes, The Thief of Bagdad naturally suffers from some lengthy un-eventful periods, occasionally shifting its focus to the plans of the Mongol Prince (Sojin) to win the Princess by force and take over the city of Bagdad. But this is fantasy in its purest form, with magic ropes and carpets, various giant monsters, and a winged horse, all giving the opportunity for some dazzling and charming special effects that prove to be quite spectacular retrospectively. The film is an absolute visual delight, with the grand sets simply blowing my mind in an age of lazy CGI work. But like I said before, the true star is Fairbanks, failing to convince as an Arab but giving a performance of wonderful athleticism that pose no question as to why he was an absolute superstar in his day. The 1940 remake is certainly better remembered, especially for its glorious Technicolour cinematography, but Raoul Walsh's 1924 effort is simply beautiful, with some genuinely thrilling moments during it's climatic final third.
Citizens of Bagdad! Be wary of one who steals indiscriminately from
rich and poor with complete impiety! He has no known name, but can be
recognized by his shameless hoop earrings, spit curl worn under silken
head scarf, and maniacal although soundless laughter while successfully
carrying out his deeds of shame! He also cherishes untoward designs on
the Princess of our very city!
The most revered cinematic version "Thief Of Bagdad" may have come almost 20 years later, but this silent Douglas Fairbanks actioner bows to no film in creating fantastic adventure. If you like silent films, this is a must-see. If you want a case study for how Hollywood got it right early blending special effects, stunt work, and ample good humor, this is a "Thief" worth catching.
Bagdad here is not exactly the Baghdad we know today. It is a "dream city of the ancient East," where Caucasians, Asians, Indians and blacks co-exist in a melting pot of simmering social and political intrigue. Swanky Doug is the title character, living his amoral life on his own terms, his only companion a snickering "bird of evil" played indelibly by Snitz Edwards.
"What I want - I take!" he tells a shocked gathering inside a mosque.
This in-your-face turpitude would be hard to countenance if it were not for Fairbanks' ample charm and his unparalleled dash. Has any actor since given off the same sense of being able to do anything on screen?
Okay, not everything. He's not one for subtlety, a casualty of silent cinema. When he's hungry, he rubs his stomach. When he laughs, he throws his head back and teeters on his heels. When he falls in love with the Princess (Julanne Johnston), he clasps his hands to his heart and bats his eyes like Clara Bow.
But Fairbanks is so much fun I really don't care. He transforms a humongous spectacle flick into an intimate personal-growth saga, while making you believe in the possibility of flying horses and magic ropes. "Allah hath made thy soul to yearn for happiness, but thou must earn it," he is told, and once we allow for the conventions and limits of silent film, we come a good deal closer to earning it ourselves.
The direction by Raoul Walsh is sturdy enough, supported by stunning sets by William Cameron Menzies. You know you are looking at sets, but they are so engagingly rendered (the palace gates open like a four-jawed mouth, a mountain pass is straddled by flames) you don't mind.
In fact, the artificiality of the sets, along with the imaginative if primitive special effects, lend "Thief" a kind of allure all its own. It's like a fantasia version of "The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari."
The film also showcases some thrilling performances. Many here point out Anna Mae Wong's turn as a sinister lady-in-waiting, but Winter Blossom and Etta Lee are just as terrific and fetching as two more loyal servants. Sôjin creates a star villain as the Mongol Prince with designs on Bagdad, playing his part with the right blend of menace and wit. "How tragic, O Prince, if you had been killed and an end put to your illustrious family," he tells a posing Thief in a moment that still delivers the right amount of chills. And Snitz is a jewel, as always.
But it all comes down to Fairbanks, as it should, a master performer even when he plays to the cheapest seats and the highest dirigibles. As his own writer and producer, he can't get enough of himself, but neither can I, nor will you after watching him a-swiping and a-leaping his way into Hollywood immortality.
Cinema creates its own legends. Among the greatest of them was Douglas
Fairbanks, in his incarnation as the eternal swashbuckler, a romantic
hero who could only exist in the golden days of the silent era. Thief
of Bagdad is his finest moment, the greatest tale he ever told.
Although Fairbanks wore many different hats in his swashbucklers exchanging the mask of Zorro for the cap of Robin Hood and so forth each of these characters was just the same persona in a different time and place. His previous two efforts, The Three Musketeers and Robin Hood, spend a lot of time laying down back-story before allowing the hero to emerge, and this made them very profound but a little slow at times. In contrast, Thief of Bagdad begins with the introduction of the titular rascal, sweeping us straight into his escapades, and then building the wider plot and story-world outwards from there.
Fairbanks's style was always extremely athletic and rhythmic, but the action of this one is almost akin to ballet. Doug dances his way through the role, and much of the movement seems literally choreographed, such as the three fat guards' heads popping up one after the other. The dance even carries through to the serene and tender love scenes. This balletic feel is made appropriate by the fantasy setting, which allows a more abstract approach, unlike all the other Fairbanks pictures which were rip-roaring adventures, but were grounded in (fairly) realistic worlds. The fantastical tone also makes acceptable the pantomime acting, such as the exaggerated yawn and stretch of the guard falling asleep, or Fairbanks's palms literally itching when he spies a precious jewel.
As his director for this project Fairbanks selected Raoul Walsh. Walsh is now best remembered for the gritty action pictures he would later make at Warner Brothers, but perhaps the most important aspect he brought to his pictures was a romantic spirit of adventure. The fabulous sets were already built and the script locked down by the time Walsh came on board, but he adds his adventuresome touch in a number of ways. Walsh was very much an outdoors man, and many of his pictures emphasise the openness of plains and mountains, making them places of freedom, contrasting them with a stifling atmosphere for interiors. Thief of Bagdad, with its elaborate street sets and cavernous halls, has a less clear distinction between indoors and outdoors, but Walsh makes those very streets the equivalent of the open plain, keeping his camera back to show Fairbanks dancing freely through them. In the final half hour, notice how places such as the bazaar or the harbour where the bad princes seek their treasures are photographed as crowded or confined, with actors framed through doorways or amongst the clutter of the set. When we cut back to Fairbanks, he is in long shot in a wide-open space.
It's also very like Walsh to make us feel as if we are there with the hero, taking part in his adventure. While those long shots rightly show of the magnificent sets and the hero's athletics, at crucial times Walsh brings us in close, often with the camera just behind Fairbanks, as if we were following him. Perhaps the most effective of these is in the fight with the lizard monster, in which we are literally brought in for the kill. We also get to see Walsh's sensitive side (rarely acknowledged, least of all by himself) in the romantic meetings between Fairbanks and his lady fair, embodied in this case by Julanne Johnson. These scenes are both tentative and passionate, with the most beautiful moment after he scales her balcony. We cut between two separate shots, one of Fairbanks kissing her arm, the other of her looking away. Their contact is slight, but filled with deep emotion.
Thief of Bagdad comes from an era in which the walls between cinema and forms of expression such as ballet, opera and fine art were at their thinnest. Title cards are kept to a minimum, and yet this is not a collection of technical tricks like Murnau's Der Letzte Mann. Neither is it confusing or pretentiously highbrow. It tells its story visually, but still manages to be engaging and earthily human. It is the very essence of silent cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is a masterpiece.This was movie,but i enjoyed it as much as any modern film.Douglas Fairbanks made a wonderful role.The whole movie was so interesting.effects and everything.i like everything about this movie.this is a silent movie masterpiece.In the scenes with the giant ape, the guards are played by children. When the ape is out of sight the guards are played by adults. It was done to make the normal-sized ape appear bigger,this was funny scene too.For the scenes in the underwater mermaid kingdom, Douglas Fairbanks had the cameras shoot through a curtain of thin gauze, to give the illusion that the Thief was swimming underwater. The mermaid kingdom scenes were then tinted blue in post-production.One of best movies,i recommend it to everyone.
A recalcitrant thief (Douglas Fairbanks) vies with a duplicitous Mongol
ruler for the hand of a beautiful princess.
Long before we had Disney's "Aladdin", we had the thief of Bagdad. For a film of such age, it sure has held up well. Both in entertainment and in picture quality. Other epics of the era, such as "Intolerance", seem to be aging poorly. They are not as fun for modern audiences and certainly the video is not so fine.
I have to wonder how much this film inspired future films or just the popular imagination of the Middle East. When we think of the area today (Baghdad is in Iraq, remember) it is seen as a dangerous, violent place. Did films like this create a sense of romance about the region's history?
The thief of Bagdad can easily be one of the most enjoyable and easy
silent movies that I have seen. Not once have i been tempted to make a
pause or to improvise a dub on the characters using funny voices
(..okay i did do it a couple of times). Apart of the central 20 minutes
the whole movie is quite fast-paced filled with gags, amazing costumes
and stunning scenarios.
Douglas Fairbanks is just THE actor for this kind of movie. Flamboyant, athletic, awesome smile typical of an overconfident reckless man who knows he is smarter than average.. he is the perfect hero for this story.
The special effects used are admirable for the time. You just keep wondering how the hell did they do that in 1924, the genius behind some of the cinematography is praiseworthy, just look at the underwater scenes (this part was very exciting for me, CGI just took the fun out of guessing how did they do this or that effect). The costumes are quite funky, which was new for me to see in these kind of movies. Seriously, the costumes are so cool, everyone looks ready for their Saturday night disco or ninja parade. And the scenography.. seeing the underwater city and the city of Baghdad during the golden age just made me want to get a time machine and go see it myself.
On the other side of the coin, the film drowns in orientalist commonplace stereotypes. The ancient arabic centre of culture is represented with the typical magical-dreamy architecture which is quintessential in orientalist productions (for the record, orientalism = western representation of eastern cultures) and the parallels with Disney's Aladdin come very easy for the young viewer. The Mongols are represented as a sort of mash-up between opium-café thugs from imperial china, and weird Japanese ninja-samurai, not exactly the mongols that you would expect given their nomad history etc..
One special mention goes to the christianization of Islam. The one guy which role is to be a spiritual guide to the thief doesn't fail to show how good things and happiness must be earned through hard-work and sacrifice; in doing so he shapes the perfect Christian American citizen, a man now adverse to cheating and shortcuts, ready to pursue his American Dream by undertaking a near-impossible quest to get the princess of his dreams, showing that purity and determination will get him his happiness! GO American WAY!
But in the end, is it a bad thing? Does orientalism offend the history of the middle east? Maybe nowadays it would, but what would the Hollywood people know in 1924 of how did the mongols look like, or whether golden-age Bagdad had penis-shaped towers or not. Besides, this version of Arabia is the coolest and most creative one I've seen, even for today's standards.
I like this one, but I do not feel it represents Doug Fairbanks at his
best or even at his most entertaining.
Of course, the production is gorgeous, an art deco dream of the Arabian Nights fairy tales. But lush costumes and sets are not enough.
My score would be higher were this film one hour shorter, because the paper-thin plot and characters at play in The Thief of Bagdad do not warrant a two and a half hour run-time. The stunts and gags are great fun until 90 minutes roll by. By 100 minutes, you'll already be checking your watch and sick of it.
If you want prime Fairbanks, go for The Mark of Zorro or The Black Pirate.
Here is another of the classic Douglas Fairbanks swashbucklers that were so popular during the 1920s. The story is long, but it does not bore. It tells a magical tale that must have delighted children young and old when it premiered in 1924. The sets are enormous, the cast excellent. There are dragons, underwater sirens, trees that come to life, and a host of other magical items that keep one watching. Doug Fairbanks is so athletic (almost balletic) in this that one can see why he was so popular during the silent era. Julanne Johnston, who plays the princess, does a good job with her role. Sojin is possibly the most repulsive villain to come along until Ming The Merciless in the old "Flash Gordon" serials. Here is a long silent film that I never tire of watching.
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