In ancient Bagdad, the Thief (Douglas Fairbanks, The Mark of Zorro) steals all he needs to survive-and more. When he breaks into the palace of the Caliph (Brandon Hurst, Murders in the Rue Morgue), something is stolen from him: his heart, by the Princess (Julanne Johnston, The Big Parade). Against his associate’s (Snitz Edwards, Battling Butler) better judgement, the Thief poses as a prince and joins the Princess’s suitors. The Caliph poses a challenge: in a year’s time whomever brings back the most amazing treasure will win the hand of the Princess. Can the Thief best the competition and win the heart of the princess?
Although Lucas and Spielberg certainly invented the modern form of the “Blockbuster”, films which tell tales of the fantastic, full of dazzling special effects and whimsy are as old as film itself (check out former Movie of the Day Le Voyage Dans la Lune if you don’t believe me). The Thief of Bagdad is a fun example of the 1920s approach. Douglas Fairbanks brings his usual energy, enthusiasm, and physical prowess, while director Raoul Walsh (White Heat) gives us a Bagdad with enormous, surreal sets, clearly influenced by German Expressionist filmmakers (indeed, the film was inspired by one episode in the German anthology film Waxworks). The Thief of Bagdad is fun, funny, and exciting; it is easy to see its long shadow in the fantasy films that followed. The effects are mixed but always fun, either to see how they were accomplished then, for their very unreality , or because they are just good effects. The only real flaw is the two and a half hour running time, which isn’t completely earned, but the pace of the film never lags so much as to seriously detract. If you’ve any interest in the history of fantasy and special effects films, or if you enjoy silent films, or really, even if you are just curious, check out The Thief of Bagdad.