The Thief of Baghdad (1924)
Director: Raoul Wash
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher
Alan Shalvey checks out the Eureka! Entertainment release of The Thief of Baghdad, a glittering Arabian Nights adventure fantasy, in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition as part of their award-winning The Masters of Cinema Series.
The Thief of Baghdad, featuring one of Douglas Fairbanks most enduring performances as the title character, has recently been remastered and released by Eureka’s ‘The Masters of Cinema’ series. Specialising particularly in remastering films from the silent era, this edition of the 1924 classic is a sight to behold, and beautiful to look at. Having been remade in 1940, and with both films regarded as classics by critics, The Thief of Baghdad is one of those rare exceptions in cinema where a film and its remake are held in equally high esteem.
Based on the legendary collection of stories, ‘One Thousand and one Arabian Nights’, the story follows the thief Ahmed’s journey from a petty thief to winning the hand of the local princess after proving himself worthy of royalty. However, he must contend with Cham Shang, Prince of the Monguls, The Prince of the Indies and The Prince of Persia. When the princess chooses Ahmed, and his way of life is revealed, though, there is uproar, and the men must find a valuable item to win her favour, though Shang plans to take Baghdad by force regardless.
The Thief of Baghdad has come to be recognised as one of the classics of American cinema’s silent era, and it is easy to see why. In June 2008, the American Film Institute named it ninth on their list of the ten greatest fantasy films in American cinema history. The film is quite long for its time, running almost two and a half hours long. Nonetheless, the time flies, as the sweeping spectacle, fantastic score, and Fairbanks energetic lead performance all combine to keep the audience engrossed for the full journey.
The film is masterful in almost all aspects. However, the props, sets, and action scenes are the aspects which truly stand out from the rest of the film’s attributes. One of the most expensive films of the decade, Fairbanks (who played a large role in the film’s artistic direction) left no stone unturned in his quest to bring Baghdad to life. The sets throughout the film are nothing short of spectacular and, combined with the score, makes the audience feel like it is fully immersed in this authentic world.
The action sequences are also of particular note. In fact, considering the direction Hollywood blockbusters have taken in recent decades, it is arguable that this film, in terms of the directing and cinematography used in the action sequences, is one of the most important films of its era. One scene which is particularly noteworthy is the penultimate scene in which, having been told Baghdad is under siege by the army Cham Shang snuck into the city, Ahmed returns to fill the role of unlikely saviour to the city. The shots in which the camera pans across as Ahmed summons a vast army using the magic powder he acquired are nothing short of exemplary filmmaking. It is easy to see the influence this scene has had on countless films, such as The Lord of the Rings and many other films with wide shots of enormous armies.
Overall, the film is one of American cinema’s endearing classics, having had a profound effect on cinema, which has become ever clearer in recent times, with the production of large-scale battle scenes similar to those seen in the film. ‘The Masters of Cinema’ has, on its 90th anniversary, presented the film perfectly to a modern audience, with an excellent documentary ‘Fairbanks and Fantasy’ included on the DVD disc. For any fan wishing to witness the joys of this or, indeed, any film from the silent era, ‘The Masters of Cinema’ leaves all other competitors in the dust in terms of their remastering and incredible volume of extra material.
SPECIAL DUAL FORMAT (BLU-RAY + DVD) EDITION includes
- New high-definition 1080p presentation of the film on the Blu-ray
- Audio commentary by Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance
- 40-PAGE BOOKLET including new and exclusive writing on Douglas Fairbanks and Raoul Walsh