This Film Is 100 Years Old

The Thief Of Bagdad (1924)

Written by, produced by, and starring (though not directed by) Douglas Fairbanks, The Thief Of Bagdad is an impossibly lavish and incredibly beautiful retelling/remixing/mangling of various stories from The Thousand And One Nights.

Douglas Fairbanks plays the irrepressible and irascible thief who, in falling in love with the princess, finally finds some sense of morality and purpose.

Roughly structured in two parts, the first part involves the thief winning the heart of the princess by a mixture of subterfuge, charm and mightily impressive muscles, while in the second he has to go on a mythic quest to save her from the hands of some nefarious arsehole or other (who might well be good at subterfuge, but lacks the thief’s charm and muscles).

The first half of the film is by far the best, with an exuberance and charm that almost dissipates away at times in the second section.

But there’s still a lot to like there too, including some genuinely incredible terrible monsters that the thief kills with a nicely manic fervour (and some impressive gouts of blood, smoke and what looks a bit like bile occasionally).

That first hour or so is just wonderful in pretty much every way, though, so if for some reason you’ve only got time to watch half of a 2 and a half hour silent film that’s 100 years old now, watch that half).



1. I first watched this on mubi, but it’s not on there any more. I grabbed the screenshots from youtube, where it will presumably be forevermore.

2. I’m not sure I’ve seen Douglas Fairbanks in anything else, but he’s incredible in this.

3. A huge swaggering proto-Brando of a performance.

4. This also has a brief but significant role for the always wonderful Anna May Wong (who was in The Toll Of The Sea) as a treacherous handmaiden (although considering she’s more slave than handmaiden, she’s probably right to be treacherous).

5. I still haven’t ever seen one of those American coins she was on.

6. I still want one.

7. This also has some lovely use of screen tinting (a nice delicate yellow for the outdoor scenes, a cool purple for the indoor scenes, some silvery black and white for the night time, and even green and reds for the forest and fire levels later on).

8. Which all gives it the feel of some 8-bit adventure game at times.


Film Information

Title: The Thief Of Bagdad
Director: Raoul Walsh
Year: 1924
Duration: 2 hours 20 minutes
Watch: youtube

This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Toll Of The Sea (1922)

The Toll Of The Sea is an uncredited adaptation of Madame Butterfly, written by Frances Marion, directed by Chester M. Franklin and starring Anna May Wong. It was the second film to be filmed in Technicolor (and the oldest surviving one), and at least the third film version of Madame Butterfly (after an American version from 1915, and a German version, directed by Fritz Lang, from 1919).

This seems to be the first version that actually uses Asian actors in the Asian roles (although Hollywood went back to it’s usuall racist casting decisions in the 1932 Cary Grant version).

I’ve never actually read or seen any version of Madame Butterfly before (not even the Cronenberg version), so I don’t know how much this deviates from the template it’s based on (beyond this being set in China rather than Japan).

In this, Anna May Wong plays Lotus Flower, a Chinese teenager who saves an American serviceman from drowning and then subsequently falls in love with him, a love he reciprocates by, er, getting her pregnant then going back to America to live with his actual wife. Sadness and tragedy ensue.

One of the interesting things about the film is that, because the colour filming process needed lots of light, the entire thing is filmed outside (even the very occasional interior scenes are filmed outside), which feels like a complete reversal of usual studio films.

Combined with the muted colour palette, it lends the whole thing a sort of nostalgic picture postcard look (which I assume is actually the opposite of what it would have looked like at the time, when it must have looked almost impossibly futuristic).



1. I watched this on youtube.

2. The final reel of this is lost, so for this restored version (from 1985) they just filmed a sunset and then put in a title card implying she’s drowned herself (hence the title).

3. That’s a spoiler I suppose.

4. But anyway that’s why that picture of the sun setting over the sea up there looks different from the other screenshots.

5. I’ve always found it interesting how colour films took 50 years or so to kill off black and white, but sound films killed off silent movies in about 3 years.

6. Silent films only really making a comeback until whenever pop videos took off

7. There was a nice article in the guardian about Anna May Wong last year (when it was actually 100 years since this film came out)

8. She’s really great in this, especially as she would have only been 16 or 17 when this was filmed, I think

9. The only other thing I’ve seen her in is The Thief Of Bagdad (made in 1924! Don’t tell anyone I’ve seen into the future!), and she’s great in that too.

10. Even if she is only in it a bit.

11. I’d quite like to have one of those American coins with her face on it too.

12. Though I suspect I never will.

13. Also, here’s a list of the oldest colour feature films.

14. It’s kind of depressing as always how many of these are lost.

15. And has also reminded me that I never actually wrote an article about all the early attempts at colouring films (tinting, stencil colouring, etc).

16. Which I was going to at some point.

17. But I forgot.

18. Due to laziness.

19. (Please don’t hate me)

20. Also I didn’t understand this film at all (on an emotional level). I suppose that’s my review.


Film Information

Title: The Toll Of The Sea
Director: Chester M. Franklin
Year: 1922
Duration: 53 minutes
Watch: youtube