Educated in England, beautiful Princess Marjan (Maureen O'Hara) returns to Bagdad only to learn her father was treacherously murdered by renegades known as the Black Robes, seemingly on the orders of handsome Prince Hassan (Paul Hubschmid). To that end Princess Marjan enters into an uneasy alliance with smarmy Pasha Ali Nadim (Vincent Price), to whom she promises her hand in marriage if he hands Hassan to her tribe. However, Hassan knows the real culprit is his evil brother Raizul (John Sutton) and so endeavours to convince Princess Marjan to help him bring the real villains to justice.
Hollywood had a brief love affair with the Middle East in the Forties when real life playboy princes toured Tinseltown and enjoyed amorous liaisons with several celebrated screen goddesses. Bagdad cites a certain Mahmoud Sheik Ali in its title credits as "technical advisor" though for all his alleged input this is no more plausible a depiction of the region than any storybook yarn. Although absurdly romanticized to modern eyes this exotic adventure has its share of charms including an endearingly florid script by Robert Hardy Andrews, adapted from a story by Tamara Hovey, where everyone talks like they are reciting passages from "The Rubaiyat" by poet and philosopher Omar Khayyam.
For all its improbably glamorous Technicolor gloss the film at least takes a fairly respectful view of Arabic culture, albeit the more western-friendly, secular side of Arabic culture. Early on Princess Marjan laughs off her manservant's dismay that she wears no veil and thereafter repeatedly puts belligerent old men in their place whenever they question her leadership. Given that the handsome and affable Hassan is also the product of a European education (the script mentions a stint in Vienna to excuse Swiss born star Paul Hubschmid's accent), the implied message is that for the Middle East to endure it must adopt the "progressive" ideals of the west. The film opens with silky-voiced narration from the great Vincent Price that describes ancient city of Bagdad as the "crossroads between civilized west and barbaric east" although, sadly, it is his later remark that despite all prayers for seven centuries it has seen no peace that rings truest.
The film forgoes Arabian Nights style fantasy for an earthier sort of escapism. Although no less fanciful it delves into politics, blood feuds and lingering feelings of injustice among the Bedouin people against the Turkish empire as the source of a convoluted plot. Frankly, one ends up longing for a zesty, unpretentious swashbuckler since the film is exceedingly talky and the action too slackly paced by veteran Charles Lamont to sweep viewers up in all this exotic intrigue. Nonetheless, Bagdad still offers the usual pleasures associated with the genre, namely some amazing production design, extravagant costumes, beautiful scantily clad dancing girls and several musical numbers wherein Maureen O'Hara mimes to some operatic songs. Ravishing red-head O'Hara is in no way physically convincing as a Bedouin princess but proves a winningly gutsy, smart and formidable heroine anyway. Compared with her other Technicolor adventure romps and her more celebrated collaborations with John Ford, Bagdad is one of her cornier vehicles but, trooper that she is, O'Hara gives her all. Her sultry song-and-dance number before a bunch of awestruck brigands is a definite highlight. Leading man Paul Hubschmid is a suitably dashing and charismatic hero. He went on to star in Fritz Lang's more accomplished two-part exotic adventure The Indian Tomb and The Tiger of Eschnapour (1959).