Dating from 1924 this Thief of Bagdad
is justifiably billed here as "one of the truly great silent films of the 1920s." As the forerunner of generations of magical, effect-laden fantasy epics, its importance is practically immeasurable. And still, after eight decades, it has startling, thrilling qualities which the finest computer graphics would struggle to surpass. Douglas Fairbanks, co-founder of United Artists, is the eponymous hero, swindling, fighting and leaping his way to true love through a series of adventures which take him from a magnificently surreal Bagdad to enchanted forests, ocean bottoms and magic carpet rides.
"Happiness must be earned," is the motto; Fairbanks and his director Raoul Walsh certainly don't short-change their audience in bringing it to life. The effects are stunning, with a particularly gruesome slaying of a monster. Every scene is crammed with detail and incident. Fairbanks is a whirlwind of muscular, balletic flamboyance. And while his princess (Julanne Johnson) is a stereotype of vapidity, there's gleamingly malevolent support from Anna May Wong as the evil Mongol Slave Girl. Over two hours of sheer enjoyment belie the notion that cinematic sophistication is a modern achievement.
On the DVD: The Thief of Bagdad disc presents the restored and remastered print (the tints have a luminous quality) complete with a 1975 score by master organist Gaylord Carter--you can almost feel the Wurlitzer rising from the pit of your entertainment centre. The audio essay, written by film historian R Dixon Smith, is an invaluable extra, providing essential information on how the picture was made and how the art designers played with proportion to create many of the visual tricks and a fantastical atmosphere. --Piers Ford
DVD Special Features
: Audio Essay written by film historian R. Dixon Smith
Original Souvenir Programme