DVD Shopping Bag: Thief of Bagdad Blu-ray (Mania.com)

By:Robert T. Trate
Date: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Source: Mania.com

When the Cohen Film Collection announced that the Douglas Fairbanks classic, The Thief of Bagdad, was going to get their Blu-ray treatment, I knew I had to have a copy. The best part of being a critic is having an excuse to watch a film. In all honesty, I ignored the title for some time because there was never a good copy out there. Usually, the true Hollywood classics go into public domain and get put through the meat grinder. There is a charm to watching a film with some signs of age, but, after a while, it wears off. A Blu-ray restoration? Well that is another story. I’ll get into that in a moment.* Now, what or who is the Thief of Bagdad?


The Thief of Bagdad (1924) directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Douglass Fairbanks is one of the great wonders of cinema. The effect-heavy film tells the story of a Thief (whose name is not  actually given) that falls in love with a Princess (Julanne Johnston). Now, before you go thinking this is the original Aladdin, it is not. Actually, there are a lot homages to The Thief of Bagdad in Aladdin. So, you’ll probably be humming one or two of the songs as you watch this 149 minute film. 


Yikes, 149 minutes! Please don’t let that deter you because this black and white (with color tints) film is a visual treat. The sets are elaborate. The effects are both clever and practical. The cast is one of thousands that old Hollywood used to boast about. Besides, of all those wondrous things, it is the film’s star that pulls you in. Douglass Fairbanks has the time in The Thief of Bagdad to establish his character so that you actually give a damn about his journey.


More often than not, I sat there comparing The Thief of Bagdad to more modern films. Here were characters and moments that had to leap off the screen. Their voices weren’t going to carry the story, but their eyes and actions would. Our Thief, at the beginning, is a clout and braggart. He is a man who believes he has everything figured out. He even possess the good fortune to steal a magical rope. The first 42 minutes of The Thief of Bagdad enable us to see who the Thief is. It’s his transformation after seeing the beautiful princess and stealing her shoes that makes the film so magical. So many films today forget to reveal where our hero is coming from. Without that knowledge we don’t appreciate their journey.


Fairbanks’s Thief pretends to be a suitor to win the hand of The Caliph’s (Brandon Hurst) daughter. Circumstances and passed ill fated deeds lead to the Thief’s exposure that he is not of royal blood. The Princess, who, nonetheless, has fallen in love with the Thief, arranges for his escape. The Caliph begs her to pick a suitor, but all fail in comparison to the Thief. To bide time, she sends them each on a quest for the most unusual and rare objects in the world to woo her. Meanwhile, the Thief sets out on a quest of his own in an attempt to win her back. 


Outside of the villain’s plans and evil deeds, there are other suitors, as well. Today, these characters would have been cut for timing and so not to bore the audience. In 1924 audiences had plenty of time to sit and watch a movie. We witness each suitor’s adventure, including the villain’s. These scenes parallel the Thief’s own quest and pale in comparison to the adventure he goes on. 


Does the Thief save the Princess from a loveless life with no adventure? Well, that journey is yours to take and Douglass Fairbanks will be your guide. This isn’t your “run of the mill” black and white low budget adventure. You’ll see dragons, talking trees, a giant sea spider, sirens, and you’ll believe that a carpet can fly... even in 1924.


*The Blu-ray restoration by the Cohen Film Collection was breathtaking. There was little to no scratches or tears at any one moment of the film. The picture was sharp, revealing the beautiful artistry of Hollywood circa 1924. Bravo!

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