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The Thief of Bagdad Movie Review

princess mongol prince fairbanks

1924 – Raoul Walsh –

An enjoyable taste of The Thief of Bagdad occurs in the scene when the princess (Julanne Johnston) watches from a balcony with two waiting women as her would-be suitors ride through the palace gate. Unknown to the men, a prophecy has forecast that her future husband will be the one who first touches the rose tree in the courtyard. The audience knows that the dashing thief of Bagdad (Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.) will be the first to touch the rose bush, but they, along with the princess, must suffer some doubt when the pompous Mongol prince (So-Jin) walks purposefully toward the bush. Then a bee frightens both the Mongol and the thief's horse, which flips the thief on his back into the roses. As he removes thorns, the princess smiles contentedly and walks off, her arms around her waiting women. The movie's continual playfulness often undercuts the dignity of the hero and serves to keep the audience off balance. Such irreverence and sense of play strengthens the early scenes. After winning the hand of the princess, the thief must prove his worth, undertake the Journey of the Seven Moons, and return to Bagdad with the desired treasure.

Fairbanks’ athleticism competes with the sets of William Cameron Menzies to see who is the more spectacular. Probably it was a friendly competition since the two had worked together on Fairbanks’ 1922 star vehicle Robin Hood, for which Menzies had constructed a full-scale Norman castle. Even in the 1920s moviemakers felt the urge to top themselves, and hardly a scene goes by in The Thief of Bagdad where the size and exotic design of the sets do not create a surreal, fantasy world.

The film has probably kept its admirers over the years thanks to director Raoul Walsh's striking use of space. Walsh creates long shots of considerable power by placing his actors carefully in Menzies’ towering sets and then shooting them from a distance. The gate to Bagdad stands as high as twelve men, and it parts outward in four directions when it opens. Before the Mongols attack Bagdad, two tiny-seeming watchmen stand on the palace balconies waving signal torches. The thief rides across endless stretches of desert to return to liberate Bagdad from the Mongols. Many of the special effects, such as in the scenes when the thief battles the dragon, the giant bat, and the undersea spider, have aged a bit, but others still hold up well and contribute to the fantasy—as in the scenes with the flying carpet and the thief's cloak of invisibility, which changes him into a transparent whirlwind. To prepare for the expected big finish of the thief and the princess flying off on the magic carpet while all Bagdad cheers, the filmmakers add a touch reminiscent of the wit of the rose-bush scene. The thief wraps his cloak of invisibility around himself and the princess, and it just about covers them. The onlookers in the palace watch in astonishment as two pairs of feet tiptoe up the staircase and settle on the flying carpet.

Cast: Douglas Fairbanks (the thief of Bagdad), Snitz Edwards (the evil associate), Charles Belcher (the holy man), Julanne Johnston (the princess), Anna May Wong (the Mongol slave), Winter-Blossom (the slave of the lute), Etta Lee (slave of the sand board), Brandon Hurst (the caliph), Noble Johnson (the Indian prince), So-Jin (the Mongol prince), Tote Du Crow (the soothsayer), Mathilde Comont (the Persian prince), Charles Stevens (his awaker), Sam Baker (the sworder), K. Nambu (counselor to the Mongol prince), Sadakichi Hartmann (Mongol court magician) Screenwriter: Lotta Woods, Douglas Fairbanks (billed as Elton Thomas) Cinematographer: Arthur Edeson Producer: Douglas Fairbanks Running Time: 153 minutes Format: VHS, LV, DVD Budget: $1–2M.

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