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  Thief of Bagdad, The Middle Eastern Mysticism
Year: 1940
Director: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan
Stars: Conrad Veidt, Sabu Dastagir, June Duprez, John Justin, Rex Ingram, Miles Malleson, Morton Selten, Mary Morris, Bruce Winston, Hay Petrie, Adelaide Hall, Roy Emerton, Allan Jeayes
Genre: FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), the Grand Vizier turned ruler of the kingdom, returns from a sea journey asking for word of the Princess (June Duprez) he keeps imprisoned in his palace. She is in a trance, and has not woken yet, pining for the presence of the former King, Ahmed (John Justin), but where is he? Jaffar has ordered his men to find a certain blind man and his dog, and they track him down within the city, where he is making his living as a beggar; when Jaffar's procession rides by, he is noticed and escorted to the palace. There he must wait to be with his beloved Princess, and as he waits he tells her handmaidens of how he came to be brought so low. He used to be the King of Bagdad, but the scheming Jaffar tricked him into leaving the safety of his palace to be amongst his people, and when he realised that they did not need to be held under the iron will of his Vizier, it was too late: he was imprisoned as an imposter on trying to re-enter his home. Yet there was one fellow who could help him: a humble but resourceful thief, Abu (Sabu Dastagir)...

Often hailed as one of, if not the, greatest fantasy adventures, The Thief of Bagdad was certainly the greatest fantasy of the Golden Age, although it was almost not finished at all. A production of the legendary mogul of British film Alexander Korda, it travelled through the hands of six directors (three are credited) and, as it took two years to finish, the whole caboodle even had to be moved to Hollywood to be completed as there was the small matter of a war in Europe holding everything up. And even after all that, the meddling Korda was not satisfied with the result, although you may well be. It was scripted by actor Miles Malleson, who also appears as the Princess's Sultan father, from a scenario from Lajos BirĂ³, bringing to magical life the popular Arabian Nights folk tale with boundless imagination.

The breadth of ambition is still impressive today, even if some of the special effects work now seems obvious, yet the emotions and high spirits keep the whole thing afloat. A lot of this is down to the actors, who play their characters with true conviction with not one of them seeming out of place. Perhaps the most fascinating of them is Veidt's Jaffar, who has the powers of the elements at his command, but is all too fallible because of his love for the Princess. He adores her just as much as Ahmad does, though this love is not reciprocated as he is essentially evil and the Princess is pure of heart, so what gives the hero and heroine their strength is the very thing that proves Jaffar's downfall. That said, although Veidt dominates the screen, he has a rival in the charisma stakes in Sabu's Abu; Sabu was a natural, always instantly likeable, and his ingenuity is well presented here as the roguish but curiously innocent thief of the title.

When the film starts, Abu has been transformed into a dog and Ahmad has been blinded, all until Jaffar holds the Princess in his arms. Every scene conjures up a new marvel, whether it's the infantile Sultan's collection of toys which will be his undoing, the flying, clockwork horse that persuades him to turn the Princess over to Jaffar, or the Djinn, electrifyingly played by Rex Ingram. The canine Abu has been thrown overboard into the sea by Jaffar, and after he wakes up on a sea shore he is back in human form - yes, it looks like Princess is being forced to relent. Abu finds a bottle on the beach, and when he opens it out pops the gigantic Djinn from his prison of two thousand years: handy for the wily thief, as after a spot of negative psychology he manages to wrest three wishes from him in return for his eventual freedom. What follows includes a giant spider, a flying carpet and the appropriation of an All-Seeing Eye, leading up to a satisfying conclusion. Breathlessly rendered, opulently designed and with some wonderful dialogue, The Thief of Bagdad was best served in this version, a true classic. Music by Miklos Rozsa.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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