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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 14, 2013 -- This new high definition home video release of the 1924 classic silent film, “The Thief of Bagdad,” appears to be a high quality digital restoration the film with a quality musical soundtrack. The picture looks very good for such an old film. I have not compared this blu-ray version to other restorations, such as the restored Kino edition.

There is a bit of skipping in the film here and there, probably due to deterioration of the original film. There is also some graininess in the film, but mostly it is in good shape. The original color tinting is there in some scenes. According to the credits, this digital 2K restoration was done by Modern Videofilm with some credit to Turner Classic Movies. This film is from the Cohen Film Collection.

Carl Davis composed the music for the film and conducts the Philharmonia orchestra (based in London) on the soundtrack (I listened to the 5.1 DTS Master Audio track). There is also a 2.0 stereo LPCM soundtrack and another soundtrack with narration by author Jeffrey Vance, film historian, archivist and biographer of Douglas Fairbanks, the star of the movie. Probably there are different audio options on the DVD due to space considerations (these kinds of uncompressed audio formats usually don't fit on a DVD). The above audio options are for the Blu-Ray version of this film.

The estimated budget for this film is $2 million, which was a lot of money back in those days, and you can see it in the film. The sets, designed by Art Director William Cameron Menzies, are extremely impressive. This was early in Menzies storied career as an art director, production designer, director and producer. He would later work on such films as “Gone With the Wind,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Spellbound.”

Most of the film was shot on studio lots in Hollywood, including the dream-like sequences in the Midnight Sea. The Midnight Sea itself and the elaborate underwater sequences are accomplished with no water at all, as one might see in an elaborate stage production. Billowing fabrics take the place of ocean waves and glass shots and elaborate sets take the place of underwater shots. There is a giant spider attack and sirens who tempt our hero in a strange alternate world under the Midnight Sea. Some of these tricks are shown in the an extra feature on the disc of production stills accompanied by music and text explaining some of the techniques used in the film.

According to the text in the extra feature of production stills, Douglas Fairbanks, who stars in the film as Ahmed, the greatest thief in Bagdad, is also the de facto director of the film, as well as the film's producer. The director listed for the film is Raoul Walsh, who was famous in his own right for directing films such as “High Sierra” and “They Died With Their Boots On.” Fairbanks was one of the biggest stars of Hollywood in his day.

Ahmed, the thief, falls in love with a princess of Bagdad (played by Julanne Johnston). He gives up his life as a thief for the love of the princess. The princess also falls in love with him before he is discovered and cast out. On the advice of a holy man at a Bagdad mosque, he embarks on a quest for a magical chest in order to win the hand of the princess. He journeys to a distant land where he endures fire and menacing monsters.

At the same time, three other princes intent on marrying the princess have embarked on their own journeys to find magical objects worthy of the princess. One finds a magic crystal ball. Another finds a magic carpet. Another, the evil prince of Mongolia (Sôjin) finds a golden apple which can cure any disease, even reverse death itself.

The evil Mongol prince has also managed to smuggle an entire army into Bagdad so he can rule the city by force, just in case the princess does not choose him. The Mongol prince does just that when he takes Bagdad by force, so it is up to Ahmed and his magic to defeat the evil prince and win the hand of the princess. The message of the movie is a simple one, you have to earn happiness.

This is a long movie, 149 minutes, but an enjoyable one. While some of the special effects look hokey by today's standards, the flying carpet still looks impressive. The huge cast of extras and the amazing sets are also very impressive. There was an old Hollywood phrase to describe these kinds of film spectacles, “A cast of thousands, a cost of millions,” and that describes “The Thief of Bagdad.” Douglas Fairbanks, who was 40 when he shot this film, is very energetic and acrobatic. He excelled at these kinds of swashbuckling movies.

Ahmed's sidekick, a thief, (Snitz Edwards) is a funny guy, wisely chosen by Fairbanks himself because of his comic abilities. He does a nice job. Also good as the evil Mongol spy servant to the princess is Anna Mae Wong, the first Chinese American movie star. She made a name for herself in this film and enjoyed a long career in movies and TV afterward.

The acting in the film is somewhat exaggerated, as was the style in silent films in this era. This is a film from an era and a style of film making from long ago, but it still works and it is still enjoyable. This film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. It also has been selected as an all-time top 10 film in the fantasy genre by the American Film Institute. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2013 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)