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The Thief of Bagdad

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Thief of Bagdad

Starring: Sabu, Conrad Veidt
Director: Michael Powell
Rated: NR
RunTime: 106 Minutes
Release Date: December 1940
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: John Justin, June Duprez, Rex Ingram, Mary Morris, Miles Malleson

Review by Brian Koller
1½ stars out of 4

"The Thief of Baghdad" was an elaborate technicolor remake of the 1924 silent classic. Producer Alexander Korda struggled mightily to make the film, going through six directors, and he was forced by the war to move the final production from North Africa to the U.S. The expenses associated with the enormous sets and the early color cinematography made "The Thief of Baghdad" one of the most expensive films ever made to that point, costing more than "Gone With the Wind".

The story is greatly changed from the 1924 version. Douglas Fairbanks' character is split into two roles, a love interest (Ahmad, played by John Justin) and an adolescent thief (Abu, played by Sabu). Ahmad is the puppet prince of evil magician Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). Jaffar conspires to kill Ahmad, who is saved by the ever-resourceful Abu. Ahmad soon falls for a foreign princess (June Duprez), who is the daughter of a foolish, toy-obsessed king (Morton Selten, who is also credited as one of the writers). Jaffar also wants the lovely princess, who in turn pines for Ahmad. Ahmad and Abu spend the rest of the film trying to pry the princess from the clutches of evil Jaffar, frequently performing brave and heroic deeds in the process. These deeds are aided by a bombastic genie (Rex Ingram), an all-seeing eye, a magic bow, and a flying carpet. Many of these story elements later found their way into Disney's "Aladdin" (1992) animated feature.

"The Thief of Baghdad" was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Color Cinematography (George Perinal), best sets (Vincent Korda, the producer's brother), Best Special Effects (Lawrence Butler), and Best Original Score (Miklos Rozsa).

"The Thief of Baghdad" is highly regarded today. No amount of web-surfing could come up with a negative comment about the film. But my experience with the film was different. I found the soundtrack blaring, the special effects cheezy, and the entire story was implausible (admittedly from an adult's point of view). I am aware that the film is a fantasy, but then there is the instant, mutual love that Ahmad and the princess have. There is also the obsession that Abu has for Ahmad, and that Jaffar has for the princess. I can accept that there is an all-seeing eye, but not that flinging it against rocks will send you to a sky palace where elderly sultans will greet you as a hero. I can accept that enormous genies can be trapped inside a bottle, but not that they are so stupid as to go back inside. I can accept that Abu must kill a giant spider to steal the all-seeing eye, but the eye's 'guardians' seem thoroughly confused.

And, personally, if an evil magician made me blind or turned me into a dog, I wouldn't mess with him anymore. Hey, you can have the princess. It's just not worth it.

Copyright 1995 Brian Koller

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