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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Kino // Unrated // February 3, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted February 15, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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This movie is part of the Douglas Fairbanks Collection boxed set released by Kino. You can read a review of the whole set here.

The Movie:

Douglas Fairbanks knew he could never surpass the sets he used for his 1922 movie Robin Hood, for which he commissioned an authentic castle that sprawled over ten acres.   For his next movie, he decided that if he couldn't make a more grand production, he would create a more lavish and spectacular one.  He would base his next movie on the Arabian Nights.

Young (and handsome) thief Ahmed (Douglas Fairbanks) lives by his wits on the streets of Bagdad.  Stealing for food and entertainment, he manages to purloin a magic rope, that will raise straight up into the sky and allow the owner to climb it.  Using this rope, he sneaks into the Caliph's palace.  While robbing it, he catches a glimpse of the Caliph's daughter, the Princess.  Seeing her beauty, he is instantly smitten.  Instead of carrying of the treasure he has found, he steals only one the Princess' slippers.

Soon the Princess' birthday arrives, and she must pick a suitor to marry.   Princes from far and wide come to try for her hand, including a Mongol Prince.  But the Mongol does not come for marriage, he wants to conquer the city, and uses the birthday as an excuse to gain entrance.

Wanting to see her again, Ahmed steals some regal clothes (and presumably a horse) and is announced as a prince from a far off land.  While no one is looking, Ahmed climbs up to the Princess' balcony and is able to charm her.  The Princess falls in love with the thief, and much to the dismay of the other suitors, chooses Ahmed as her groom.

But things don't go smoothly for Ahmed.  It is discovered that he is not a prince.  He is flogged and  thrown out of the palace.  Still having to choose a mate, the Princess sends them all on a task.  She wants them to travel to distant lands, and the one who brings back the rarest treasure, she will marry.  The princes set off on their quest, but Ahmed does too.

Filled with lions, apes, elephants, flying carpets and winged horses this film is a great spectacle.  There is always something interesting to watch.  Director Raoul Walsh (who would go on to direct Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino in High Sierra among many, many others) perfectly compliments Fairbanks' script.  The blocking of the frame and composition make many of the shots look like paintings.  He deftly used matte painting to make the film look even more grand than it was.

Douglas Fairbanks, 40 at the time he filmed this, looks years younger.  Though he has a hard time pulling off youth a few years earlier in The Three Musketeers, in this picture you never question that he's a young rouge living off his wits.   He is as active as ever, scampering up magic ropes and climbing up the sides of buildings as if gravity were a mere suggestion that really didn't apply to him.

The his costars did an admirable job keeping up with the fast paced Fairbanks who usually steals all the scenes he's in.  Luckily, Fairbanks had a flair for casting wonderful villains in his movies, and this one is no exception.  Sojin, who played the evil Mongol Prince, was marvelous.  He was evil and sinister without over acting or hamming it up.  Sojin would play many oriental villains in the silent era, but would find little work after sound arrived due to his accent and limited English.  Julanne Johnston, the romantic interest, didn't have a lot to do, the problem with most of Fairbanks heroines.  She looked stunning in her robes and whisper thin veils, but just didn't have a lot to do in the film besides look pretty.  The female cast member who stole the show was Anna May Wong as the Mogol slave.  She played her duplicitous role perfectly and her beauty made her seem even more dangerous.

A lot of movies have borrowed heavily from this film.  Aladdin from the 1992 Disney movie of the same name, is almost exactly the same character as the one Douglas Fairbanks played in this movie:  A young lovable thief who lives off his wits yet has a heart of gold.

Like the other Fairbanks movies of this period, this one is filled with action, suspense, thrills and excitement.  The  plot may be simple, but the film sure is fun.  A great flick.

The DVD:



Audio:

The sound track is provided by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra based on the original 1924 cue sheets.  Mont Alto has been around for around for about ten years specializing in live accompaniments to silent movies.  This is the tenth movie that they have recorded a music track for.  Though I have heard of them before, this is disc is the first time I have heard their music.  I was very impressed.  The score worked very well, accenting the mood, and complimenting the action, but never becoming intrusive.  This five piece ensemble's thoughtful arrangement added another dimension to the picture.  I can only hope that they crop up on more DVDs in the future.

The sound quality was very good.  The stereo mix sounded full and clear.  There was no hiss or tape noise that sometime accompanies older soundtracks.  One of the best sounding silent era DVDs I have had the pleasure to screen.
 

Video:

The video was spectacular.  There is very nice detail and contrast throughout the film.  The smoke curling up into the sky during the introduction has form and definition.   The features on the Caliph's uniform are clear and easy to see.  There are only occasional print imperfections, and these are slight.  A few scratches in instances of dirt are present, but at a very low level.  There is a spot or two of slight emulsion decomposition but these only occur rarely, and never for long.  They look more like someone got a few drops of water on the print before running it.  The print is tinted during various scenes.  The tinting is even across the whole frame, and is not splotchy or uneven.  Though I am not a huge fan of tinting, it worked well on this film.

The encoding was very well done.  There was no aliasing, and only the most minor of digital artifacts.  The smoke was smooth and not pixilated, and the background didn't waver.  A very impressive looking disc, one of the best silent era DVDs I've seen.
 

The Extras:

Kino has really been a leader in the area of including extras on silent features.  Often silent movies are released with nothing more than a scene selection menu.  This disc includes:

Filmed Introduction by Orson Welles:  A 5 minute prologue that Orson Wells filmed for the PBS series The Silent Years.  It is ironic that Welles talks about film preservation, but this introduction from 1971 is in worse shape than the feature.

Outtakes:  19 minutes worth of alternate takes.  Some of these are very rough, with a lot of decomposition.  A very nice extra.

Matte Photography Outtakes:  The extra deconstructs a matte scene, and show how the matte was placed and the actors filmed.  A very interesting an worth while bonus.  It was amazing how far the use of matte photography had come by the mid 20's.

Excerpt from Paul Leni's Waxworks:  A three minute clip that shows the Fairbanks inspiration for The Thief of Bagdad.

Except from Mêlées' Arabian Nights:  A 7 ½ minute clip from The Palace of Arabian Knights directed by Georges Mêlées in 1905.  This is about half of the entire film, and I wish they would have included the entire movie.  The picture is very soft and blurry, and the sound track was very noisy, but it is still an interesting piece.

There is also a text piece about the score, and several pages from the souvenir program.  Altogether an amazing set of extras.
 

Final Thoughts:

You can tell a lot of thought and effort went into the creation of this DVD, and it has paid off.  This is an fantastic disc.  This is one of those times when everything came together just right.  The print is excellent, with very little print damage, and the encoding was properly done.  The musical score added a lot to the film, illustrating how important the musical selection can be.  All this is on top of an excellent movie that is full of spectacle and grandeur.  A delightful romp through a Bagdad that never existed, but we all wish did.  If only all silent era DVDs could live up to the high standards set by this disc.  DVDTalk Collector's Edition.

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