Long ago, in the city of Bagdad, lived a thief named Ahmed (Douglas Fairbanks). When he sneaks into the palace to purloin some of the Caliph's treasure, he happens upon the princess (Julianne Johnson) and it's love at first sight. Ahmed hatches a plan to steal, her too, by posing as a prince and joining three other suitors who have come for her hand in marriage - but one of those suitors is the wicked Mongol Prince (Sojin), who has ideas about conquering the land...
One of the biggest productions of the silent era, and featuring one of its biggest stars, The Thief of Bagdad was based on the traditional Arabian Nights tales and written by Lotta Woods and Fairbanks himself. Everything about this production is on a grand scale: the sets (designed by William Cameron Menzies) are huge and ornately decorated, there are hundreds of extras, and the whole adventure runs over two hours long.
Then there is, of course, the larger-than-life personality of Fairbanks himself, and with his athleticism and beaming smile, he is easily the most charismatic performer on the screen. The character of Ahmed starts out as amoral and selfish, only wanting to use his talents for his own personal gain - interesting that he's easily as devious as the main villain, the Mongol Prince, although the Prince has bigger ideas about world domination through cunning and military might.
But the love of a good woman, the Princess, redeems Ahmed and he sets out on a journey to find her the rarest magical item he can. The other suitors do this too, and end up with a flying carpet, a magic crystal and a magic apple, all secured by far more simple means than Ahmed's efforts - he has to journey through fire, dragons and in a marvellous sequence he dives beneath the ocean to find a key, but is distracted by a giant water spider and a mermaid kingdom.
The fantasy side of the story is stylishly incorporated, in fact the only thing lacking is a genie, but it takes over an hour to get to the good stuff (apart from a magical rope early on). There is too much of a good thing here, and some snappier plotting would have done the film a few favours in the pacing department. Still, as a silent spectacular, it was justly popular, and Fairbanks is one of cinema's great heroes. He's pretty handy at dispatching those monsters, isn't he? Remade in the 1940s to even finer effect.
American director with a talent for crime thrillers. Originally an actor (he played John Wilkes Booth in Birth of a Nation) his biggest silent movie successes were The Thief of Bagdad and What Price Glory? He lost an eye while directing In Old Arizona, but went on to steady work helming a variety of films throughout the thirties, including The Bowery and Artists and Models.
After directing The Roaring Twenties, Walsh really hit his stride in the forties: They Drive By Night, High Sierra, Gentleman Jim, The Strawberry Blonde, Desperate Journey, Objective Burma!, Colorado Territory and the gangster classic White Heat were all highlights. Come the fifties, films included A Lion is in the Streets and The Naked and the Dead, but the quality dipped, although he continued working into the sixties. He also directed the infamous Jack Benny film The Horn Blows at Midnight (which isn't that bad!).