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.
Title: The Thief Of Bagdad
Director: Raoul Walsh
Duration: 2 hours 20 minutes