Filming began in Britain, but because of the Blitz--the German air raids on London--the production relocated to Hollywood. There was such a long break in production that Sabu's early scenes had to be re-shot because he had grown several inches.
When filming began in the US, the stricter censorship codes of the Hays Office there were applied. One of the most obvious differences between the scenes shot in the UK and those filmed in the USA is that the tops of the actresses' costumes were buttoned up all the way to satisfy the Hays Office. That kind of clue makes it easier to identify the US-shot scenes than trying to spot differences in the sets.
The first assigned director, Ludwig Berger, wanted his old friend, 80-year-old Austrian operetta composer Oscar Straus, to compose the score. Miklós Rózsa only won the assignment by sitting in an office adjoining Berger's and playing his catchy melodies over and over. The Viennese waltzes that Straus had supplied were quickly dropped in favor of Rozsa's sweeping and colorful score.
The correct spelling of the title ought to be the "Thief of Baghdad", as it is a western film and this is the expected English spelling. However, some of producers and writers are from Eastern Europe, where the alternative "Bagdad" version is sometimes used.
The first director, Ludwig Berger, was dismissed because of creative differences with producer Alexander Korda. Berger envisioned the picture as a lyrical black-and-white fantasy film, while Korda believed that it should be a big, bold epic in color. Korda's brother, Vincent Korda, had made some color sketches proved to be the final tipping point that convinced Alexander the film should be shot in color and that another director should be brought on to fulfill his vision.
Douglas Fairbanks actually owned the rights to the title of the film, which had been one of his biggest hits, The Thief of Bagdad (1924). When Alexander Korda decided to produce an epic version of one of the "1001 Arabian Nights" tales, he found the popularity and draw of Fairbanks' original title irresistible. In a 1938 banquet at the Savoy Hotel in London, Korda made sure he was seated next to Fairbanks and negotiated the rights to the film over dinner.
Replacement director Michael Powell and several key members of the film's crew were taken off the film once Great Britain officially declared war on Germany. Producer Alexander Korda had promised Winston Churchill any resources he could provide to produce wartime propaganda once war was officially declared. Powell and others were reassigned to direct The Lion Has Wings (1939), a propagandized documentary about the R.A.F., to boost British morale. Production of this film shifted to the US and acquired a new director and key crew members.
Directorial changes, the shifting of production to the US at the outbreak of war and other costly delays and circumstances made the film's budget balloon far beyond original projections. The production became so costly that the American distributor, United Artists, put up additional funds so the film could be completed.
Alexander Korda had originally planned to shoot several scenes on location in Africa. The outbreak of World War II precluded location shoots in Africa, so once the production moved to the US Korda scouted for a suitable replacement site. His scout team suggested the Arizona desert and the film crew shot on location in and around the Grand Canyon.
This film was included in the first syndicated television presentation of a package of major studio feature films on USA television; it premiered in New York City Friday 24 September 1948 on WPIX (Channel 11) and in Los Angeles Sunday 3 October 1948 on KTLA (Channel 5). Although filmed in Technicolor, these telecasts were in B&W, since color broadcasting was still in its experimental stage. The package consisted of 24 Alexander Korda productions originally released theatrically between 1933 and 1942.