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The story of the boy thief of Bagdad (as it was once spelled) has attracted
filmmakers from Raoul Walsh in 1924, who starred Douglas Fairbanks in the
first, silent, rendering of "Thief of Bagdad," to less imposing, more recent
attempts. The best, however, remains 1940's version which for its time was
a startling, magical panoply of top quality special effects. Those effects
still work their charm.
No less than six directors are listed for the technicolor movie which starred Sabu as the boy thief, Abu, John Justin as the dreamily in love deposed monarch, Ahmad and June Duprez as the lovely princess sought by Ahmad and pursued by the evil vizier, Jaffar, played by a sinister Conrad Veidt. The giant genie is ably acted by Rex Ingram.
Ahmad is treacherously deposed by Jaffar and when later arrested by that traitorous serpent, he and the boy, Abu, suffer what are clearly incapacitating fates. Ahmad is rendered blind and Abu becomes a lovable mutt. Their adventures through the gaily decorated Hollywood backlots are fun but the special effects make this film work.
Two men were responsible for everything from a magic flying carpet to the gargantuan genie who pops out of a bottle with a tornado-like black swirl: Lawrence W. Butler and Tom Howard. (Howard, incidentally, did the special effects for the 1961 version of this film. Both men had long and distinguished careers in technical wizardry.)
Duprez is outstandingly lovely while little called on for serious acting. Justin's Ahmad projects a driven but dreamy romanticism untouched by erotic impulses. Sabu is really the central actor in many scenes and he's very good. For a movie meant for kids as well as adults there's a fair amount of violence but of the bloodless kind. Still, I don't think anyone under eight ought to see "Thief of Bagdad."
This film makes periodic appearances on TV but today my teenage son and I saw it in a theater with quite a few youngsters present. It was great to see computer-besotted kids in an affluent community respond with cheers and applause to special effects that must seem primitive to them.
"Thief of Bagdad" is a pre-war Hollywood classic from a time when strong production values often resulted in enduringly attractive and important releases. This is one of the best of its kind.
Most of the genre of "Arabian Nights" films were silly, cheesy, low-budget
things, like "The Prince Who Was A Thief" starring Tony Curtis as an Arabian
prince with a Brooklyn accent. This is an exception: A genuinely magical
film, one of the best fantasy films ever made.
A beautiful film made in the most glowing of technicolors, it tells the simple story of a boy thief (Sabu) meeting a dethroned prince (the gorgeous John Justin), and helping him defeat the wonderfully evil usurper Conrad Veidt. Like "The Wizard of Oz" made the year before, the performances are so good that you believe in what you see on the screen. Flying carpets and horses, towering genies, dancing idols, it all seems perfectly believable and exiting. A classic.
Like the Arabian Nights this film plays with storytelling conventions in order to make us feel that there's plot, plot and more plot: it opens with what appears to be the frame device of a blind man telling the story of his life, then plunges into a flashback which takes us right up to the blind man's present, where we discover that about half of the story is yet to come. (It must be admitted that the second half doesn't quite live up to the promise of the first.) Like the Arabian Nights it tries to cram as many Middle-Eastern folk motiffs as possible into the one work. A freed genie, a beautiful princess, a flying carpet, fantastic mechanical toys, sea voyages, a crowded marketplace, a wicked vizier, jewels ... I don't know why it all works, but it does. Everything is just so beautiful. The sets are beautiful. June Duprez is beautiful. Rozsa's score is especially beautiful. As usual, it sounds Hungarian; but somehow he manages to convince us that he's being Hungarian in a Persian way.
"The Thief of Bagdad" is impressive in the shape of the evil magician
Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). He plots with lies and magic spells to obtain
the kingdom from its rightful ruler the young King Ahmad, and a
gorgeous princess from her father...
He falls victim in the end, as all tyrants do (in books and legends) to love and of the common man whom he ignored, here embodied by the little thief (Sabu).
The armies of good and evil, black and white, are superbly realized in both visual and literary terms...
The script is poetic, simply and very beautiful... The costumes of the magician and his men rising and falling like the wings of black birds, attacking suddenly in the night to inflict destruction and create terror...
The radiant hero wears white turbans and robes, and his princess is dressed in pinks and pale blues...
For spectacular scenes it matched all that had gone before, while through its use of color, it brought to life a world such as had not seemed possible before...
With flying carpet and flying white horse, with a giant genie (excellently played by Rex Ingram), with evil wizards, and with the good acting of Sabu and Veidt, "The Thief of Bagdad" captures the quality and true atmosphere of the Arabian Nights...
The 1940 version remains the screen's finest fairy tale!
Few movies appeal to both adults and children.This one does .Although
there are three directors,it is most likely Michael Powell who's the
brains here,his later work proves it in a definite way.There are
already the incredible color search and the fabulous settings which
will emerge again in such works as "a matter of life or
death"(1946).Magic is everywhere and there are plenty of visual strokes
of inspiration :every picture is magic itself.The script writers adapt
stories from the Thousand and one Nights but make them their own .The
special effects ,although absolutely extraordinary for 1940,remain
tasteful ,which is not often the case today when they mainly serve to
hide the weakness of the screenplays.
Conrad Veidt is a delightful villain,who might have inspired Walt Disney for "Aladdin" .June Deprez,whose talent is essentially decorative ,will play the part of Vera Claythorne in "and then there were none" (René Clair,1945).Sabu is certainly one of the best young actors of the era. John Justin is the perfect virtuous hero.
Compares favorably to Jean Cocteau's "la Belle et la Bête" (1945).
Remake by Arthur Lubin with muscle man Steve Reeves in 1961:although it's a far cry from this version,it's not bad .
The Thief of Bagdad is a treasure. First and foremost, it is a good story.
Though my four children's primary exposure to this tale, the most famous of
the stories of the Arabian Nights, comes from the Disney Corporation, the
Thief of Bagdad held their interest to the end. The story moves along at a
good pace and includes a twist or two that reduced predictability. Sabu,
who plays the young thief, Abu, also measures up to any of today's teen
actors in appeal, judging from the number of times I heard my oldest
daughter say, "He's c-u-t-e!"
In 1940, the film won Oscars for cinematography and special effects. Today, of course, those effects seem very dated ("Look, it's Barbie flying through the air," declared my daughter at the sight of the genie flying). Yet they fit into the story well. The film is, after all, over 60 years old. The effects fit with the script. Furthermore, what ones sees in The Thief of Bagdad remained pretty much state-of-the-art for the next twenty-five years. One need only compare the opening montage from a 1967 Star Trek episode to see this. In that, it was quite an achievement.
This qualifies as a family film, though there are a few stabbings near the end. The acting is so obvious and the wounds so bloodless as to those scenes nearly as artificial as animation.
All in all, a fun film worth watching for either an evening of pure entertainment, or for the historical value of the effects. I recommend it.
I grew up with this as my all-time favorite film. The special effects are incredible for the era, and won awards. I can remember the dialogue as if I'd heard it yesterday. It is simply a great, timeless adventure. The music is by Miklos Rosza, who is cinema history's best. Sabu is the Thief. Conrad Veidt is the grand villain. I have a copy within reach, for the next trip down memory lane. Whoa there! Rex Ingram wants out of his genii bottle!
I first discovered Alexander Korda's (1940) Fantasy, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD in the early 1950's on a re-issue billed as "The Wonder Show of the Century!" Both Korda Technicolor films, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD and JUNGLE BOOK were shown on one never to be forgotten program. The music of Miklos Rozsa enhanced both films. The Technicolor in each was incredibly beautiful! THE THIEF OF BAGDAD has remained on my list as the best fantasy film ever made. As the years passed, it became more difficult to enjoy the film's color in the way it had originally been presented in. True Technicolor gave way to a Eastman Color process in the middle 1950's. Both Kino and Samuel Goldwyn reissued the film both theatrically and on video. But the Eastman Color prints were more pastel in nature and muted the vibrancy of the original Technicolor. The Laser Disc release of this title also has the pastel look to it -- nice, but not as it should be. NOW comes the M-G-M DVD (3 Dec 2002) issue. THE THIEF OF BAGDAD again has the wonderful Technicolor look to it on a DVD that is nothing short of STUNNING!!! It was so exciting to see it like this once again that after viewing the DVD once, I watched it a second time. The only "Extras" are a Spanish Dubbed version, Sub-Titles in both English & Spanish, and a beautifully done original theatrical trailer. Thank you M-G-M for this EXCEPTIONAL DVD release. Now, one can only hope that Korda's FOUR FEATHERS and a restored version of Korda's JUNGLE BOOK (to replace to poor public domain prints in circulation) will soon follow on DVD.
An utterly beautiful film, one of a handful of I saw when young that
entranced me then and still do, in Thief's case the impression actually
seems to get better with the passing of time. By the '90's my daughter
and I had seen it many times on TV but still went to the pictures when
it came to the local art-house cinema when it had finished we came
out starry eyed with heads full of poetry and Miklos Rozsa's stirring
music wishing it could have lasted a couple of hours longer and
thinking what a beautiful world it suddenly was again.
Idealistic Prince Ahmad wants to slum it amongst his people for a while to check things out, but evil Vizier Jaffar takes his chance to imprison him and seize the throne. After escaping with a little thief played by Sabu, Ahmad spots a Princess and they fall blindingly in love along the way they have many adventures (although apparently not enough for Sabu!) and Love not only conquers but annihilates everything. The special effects must have been mesmerising in 1940, but Time has taken its toll and lessened their impact especially since digital cartoonery has taken over even live action but they still hold up well compared against films like Superman from 40 years later. Anyway, if I'm requested to suspend disbelief in gargantuan guffawing genies, flying horses and carpets I also suspend disbelief in perfect special effects! Favourite bits: the dreamy scene in the sunlit garden when Ahmad reveals himself and Adelaide Hall's suitably romantic song; the stunning colours in the tent in the Land Of Legend in fact, the stunning colours throughout; Sabu and Rozsa's triumphant but still wistful finale. Conrad Veidt played the baddie in two of the most incredible movie romances ever, this and Casablanca, and then died. John Justin and June Duprez were great in the leading roles of lovers, both of them slightly and refreshingly stilted, but the parts didn't call for a huge range of emotions: only pure love mattered.
There's a couple of mildly violent images in it, but rest assured this is a glorious feelgood experience with a 100% positive message, it's only a pity that nowadays little kids don't watch this instead of the porn they prefer. One of my Top 10 film favourites, I can't recommend this too much may it be shown to the end of Time.
Three flash-backs introduce the main characters (Abu, Jaffar, and the Princess) who will interact with Ahmad; three are the songs, each linked to those same characters. Three times does Ahmad pronounce the absolute word 'Time', in his declaration of love to the Princess, answering her three questions at their first of three meetings. So strong is the impression he causes, that the Princess will resist the three attempts by Jaffar to conquer her - by three successive ploys: deceit, hypnosis, and memory erasing. Yet, Jaffar owns what he describes as the three inescapable instruments of domination over a woman: the whip, the power, and the sword. Three is the number of flying entities: the mechanical-horse, the Genie, and the The Genie and the magic carpet. The Genie offers three wishes to Abu at their first of three encounters; three times does the Genie laugh loud in the mountain gorges, and three are his considerations about human frailty, before he departs. Abu overcomes three obstacles in the Temple of Dawn (armed guards, giant-spider, and giant-octopus). Three are the instruments of justice: the magical eye that shows Abu the future, the magical carpet that transports him just in time to save Ahmad and the Princess, and the bow-and-arrow to execute Jaffar. There's magic in the number three, and there is magic in this movie.
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