Colourful adaptation of Achmed Abdullah's timeless tale, directed by some of the top names of the time (including Michael Powell and Zoltan Korda). Young thief Abu (Sabu) aids Ahmad (John Justin), the deposed King of Bagdad, when his throne is usurped by the evil Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). Filming began in Britain but was transferred to the States because of the Second World War.
Alexander Korda's 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad
offers stirring proof that a strong story and vivid visual sense can still dazzle modern movie-goers without the aid of computer graphics or intricate special effects. Korda wrangled a virtual committee of directors (including a young Michael Powell
and visionary designer and art director William Cameron Menzies) and orchestrated a still effective series of optical effects to give this Technicolor fable a striking look that mates cinematic energy with a painterly, storybook aesthetic. Even from a 21st century vantage point, this decidedly pre-digital production remains charming, distilling a familiar tale of genies, evil wizards and exotic adventures into an archetypal heroic quest.
In remaking Douglas Fairbanks' hugely popular, technically ambitious 1926 silent production, Korda repositions the title character as a much younger figure with the casting of a teenaged Sabu as the youthful thief, Abu. That shift makes his enemy, the evil Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), much more threatening while giving the fable an innocence the swashbuckling Fairbanks could not supply. In Rex Ingram, the film supplies a genie with a winning contrast in his thundering voice and mischievous smile, while June Duprez provides the requisite beauty to the princess whose fate becomes Abu's test of courage. Fellow Hungarian émigré Miklós Rózsa adorns the movie with one of his earliest and most evocative music scores. It's one measure of this Thief's appeal that at least two more remakes followed, but none have trumped this adaptation. --Sam Sutherland
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