A thief falls in love with the Caliph of Bagdad's daughter. The Caliph will give her hand to the suitor that brings back the rarest treasure after seven moons. The thief sets off on a magical journey while, unbeknownst to him, another suitor, the Prince of the Mongols, is not playing by the rules...
Douglas Fairbanks ... The Thief of Bagdad
Snitz Edwards ... His Evil Associate
Charles Belcher ... The Holy Man
Julanne Johnston ... The Princess
Sojin ... The Mongol Prince
Anna May Wong ... The Mongol Slave
Brandon Hurst ... The Caliph
Tote Du Crow ... The Soothsayer
Noble Johnson ... The Indian Prince
Director: Raoul Walsh
DivX 5 / MP3
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (United Artists, 1924), directed by Raoul Walsh, is the original Arabian Nights fantasy that remains one of the most visually stunning of all silent films with trick photography and lavish sets (by William Cameron Menzies) taking top form over anything else. Considering the time when this was made, with the musical score and title cards taking the place of spoken dialogue, this gives the impression that it was filmed some decades into the future in the days of advanced film technology. But then again, this is a 1924 film release, running almost 150 minutes in length (depending on the projection speed), and it's a small wonder how audiences felt while watching this lavish production during its initial premiere, focusing on mythical events set in "The Dream City of the East." It then became obvious that this is something that has never been presented on screen before, making the then current films directed by DW Griffith seem old-fashioned and out of date. Fortunately, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD never fell into that category, and hopefully never will.
It's star attraction, Douglas Fairbanks, who made a reputation for himself in costume swashbucklers, previously appearing as Zorro, Robin Hood and the leader of The Three Musketeers, assumes another challenge. An Arabian Nights Fantasy. Fairbanks is cast as The Thief (no actual name given), in the crowded city of Bagdad. Almost immediately on screen, the Thief, bare-chested and wearing nothing but his baggy pants resembling that of the bottom half of pajamas, lives up to his title by picking pockets and stealing food from the ledge of a balcony, who lives by his philosophy, "What I want, I take." The movie opens and closes with a philosopher Holy Man (Charles Belcher) raising his arm towards the stars in the heavens which spell out "Happiness Must Be Earned." In between those words, the moral to the story, the philosopher tells his story to a young lad as to how this thief earned his happiness. After a half hour or so involving the Thief, along with his evil associate (Snitz Edwards) earning their keep with stolen valuables, the Thief encounters the beautiful princess (Julanne Johnston) being paraded down the street surrounded by her slaves, and because of her visual beauty, he falls in love and transforms himself into a handsome prince by stealing some suitable clothes from a market. However, the princess is to marry but is given several suitors and must choose only one. Of those suitors, the Mongol Prince (Sojin), the most sinister of the bunch, and who's evil eyes frighten her, is the one who would stop at nothing to marry the princess. She becomes fascinated by The Thief, who by now has bluffed his way into her palace. When it is revealed that this uncalled for prince is actually a street thief, the imposter, who has already confessed himself to the princess, is caught by the palace guards, stripped to his waiste and flogged. Before he is to be sacrificed to the cage of a giant ape, the princess arranges to have the Thief released and returned back to the streets of Bagdad. Before he goes, she presents him with her ring, and professes her love for him. Later, the princess devises a test in choosing for the proper suitor. She gives orders to, "Send them to distant lands to seek some rare treasure. At the Seventh Moon let them return. He who brings the rarest treasure I will wed." This is soon followed by extended sequences of pure visual fantasy leading to the Seven Moons, which all the suitors, including the thief, participate.
Lengthly as it is, with numerous slow spots, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD never ceases to amaze. There has been a 1940 Technicolored sound version with Sabu, but these two versions differ. Both, however, focus on fantasy, as well as the highlight of the flying carpet and a nasty villain, but the Fairbanks version does not include what many might expect, particulary those who have seen the Sabu version many times, which is that of a genie from the magic lamp who grants his three wishes. It doesn't really matter because the 1924 production has enough magic and visual fantasies to go around. Fairbanks excels in his role by climbing a magic rope, riding a winged horse across the clouds, fighting underwater sea monsters, and his battle with the valley of fore. The special effects reaches its climax near the end where the thief materializes his army of thousands, possibly millions, from puffs of smoke, and entering the castle by wrapping himself with an invisible cloak and whisks by his enemies. A magical tale, brilliantly told, full of surprises too plentiful to detail here.
THE THIEF OF BADGAD became one of 13 feature films presented in the PBS showing of "The Silent Years" (1971), as hosted by Orson Welles. Welles, who talked about the movie before it was presented on the television screen, did mention to his viewers that this was one movie he saw multiple times in the theater as a boy. The movie was shown then at 132 minutes. Over the next few years, missing scenes were found and restored, including the underwater sequence in which the Thief encounters a harem of beautiful maidens, the thief's battle with a prehistoric bird, an encounter with a living statue with foot long fingernails, along with some other little bits and pieces that were edited out to speed up the action. Video copies since the 1980s were presented in various ways. Public domain video companies distribute this very long movie without any music soundtrack. And at its length, watching a silent movie without any kind of score may appear eternal. Other video distributors, including Blackhawk Video, feature this silent classic with an excellent organ score, compliments of Gaylord Carter, as well as others with the Thames Orchestral Score. THE THIEF OF BAGDAD also includes various different time lengths. The standard is 150 minutes, but there are other video companies that present this film up to three hours. The KINO video company includes what's been missing from various prints of previous years, the listing cast of actors and their roles, which is shown at the film's end. Aside from the wonders of video and currently DVD, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, which did get some exposure on American Movie Classics in the late 1990s, continues its presentation on Turner Classic Movies' "Silent Sunday Nights," hosted by Robert Osborne.
A supporting cast of not so famous names, only Anna May Wong as the Mongol Slave, did make a name for herself in future films up to the sound era. Julanne Johnston, possibly a screen beauty, who spends the duration of her screen time with her face covered by a veil, never had this kind of screen opportunity again. Aside from Brandon Hurst as the Caliph, and Noble Johnson as the Indian Prince, Sojin stands out in his spine chilling performance as the evil Mongol Prince.
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD is Douglas Fairbanks' finest hours on screen. Aside from being in a far away land, Doug resumes his athletic skills as in previous films, ranging from visual stunts to his trademark smile. It's unlike anything he has ever done before and something that could only be accomplished on screen once. Reportedly the first million dollar production, every penny of it shows on screen. How fortunate for THE THIEF OF BAGDAD not to have ever been the victim of neglect and put on the list among many titles as a "lost" film? How many lavish film productions such as this will never see the light again? The Douglas Fairbanks legend lives on with films such as this.
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD is worthy screen entertainment for all ages, and for future generations to come. The thought of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD to still be seen and appreciated today would make Douglas Fairbanks proud, thus the moral to the story, "Happiness Must Be Earned."
* The Persian Prince is played by Mathilde Comont, a female.
* In some prints, Mathilde Comont is credited as M. Comont to keep her sex a secret. However, in several scenes in the film it is very obvious that the Persian Prince is being played by a woman.
* This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1996.
* Douglas Fairbanks was inspired to make this film by an episode in Paul Leni's German film Wachsfigurenkabinett, Das (1924) (US title: "Waxworks").
* The movie's poster was as #9 of "The 25 Best Movie Posters Ever" by Premiere.