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VINE VOICEon 18 April 2007
I first saw this movie shortly after the death of its maker Alexander Korda when all his movies were shown on TV for the first time, and I remember being bowled over by the slendour and imaginative richness of the production even though I had to watch it in glorious black and white. When I got to watch it again some years later I was bowled over again by the sheer beauty of the early technicolor. It remains the finest cinematic evocation of the Arabian Nights, a potent blend of magic, romance and adventure and the inspirer of countless similar but inferior Hollywood spectacles a couple of which starred Sabu. A few years ago in a TV documentary John Justin, his co-star in this movie, said of the charismatic young Indian actor who sadly died at the age of 39 "In the course of a long life I've met many people most of whom I've forgotten but Sabu will always shine in my memory like a diamond." But the finest performance is given undoubtedly by the legendary Conrad Veidt as the wicked vizier Jaffar, one of the cinema's greatest portrayals of malevolence and all the more effective for being underplayed. "Know that there are only three things men respect: the lash that descends, the yoke that breaks and the sword that slays. By the power and terror of these you may conquer the earth." When the vizier drips his poisonous credo into the ear of the idealistic young king you are reminded of a certain Adolf Hitler (this British production was in fact interrupted by the outbreak of World War 2 and completed in Hollywood with financial aid from United Artists in which Korda was a partner. Veidt and Sabu stayed on in Hollywood, the former went on to play the dastardly Major Strasser in Casablanca whilst Sabu played Mowgli in the Jungle Book.) Miles Malleson who plays the Sultan of Basra also deserves special credit for contributing the wonderfully poetic screenplay with its echoes of Sir Richard Burton's 19th century translation of the 1001 Nights, likewise Miklos Rozsa for one of the great film scores of all time (in fact the music virtually steals the show, it plays almost continuously and is brilliantly integrated with the action.) Then there's Georges Perinal who lensed the picture and the stunning sets by art director Vincent Korda (Alex's younger brother.) I could go on and on. Perhaps only the special effects no longer dazzle quite as much in our computer age but, even so, it's difficult to imagine the flying carpet sequence being bettered and the moment when the giant genie (the unforgettable black actor Rex Ingram) with tiny Sabu clinging to his pigtail flies up through the clouds to the temple of the dawn is for me the supreme moment of movie magic, it shows what the cinema can do that no other art form can. You'd never guess this movie had three credited directors and at least three uncredited because it's such a seamless triumph. It is undoubtedly Korda's finest production and one of the greatest British films of all time.

With regard to the technical quality of this release, picture, colour and sound are all very good and unlikely to give you cause for complaint. But movie buffs and perfectionists may find the two disc Criterion version preferable on technical parameters and it comes with a host of interesting extras. It's also much more expensive and to the best of my knowledge is only available in Region 1 format from the US. If you're interested in acquiring a recording of Rozsa's wonderful music please refer to my review of The Thief of Bagdad/Jungle Book suites performed by the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra issued on the Colosseum label.
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on 24 March 2001
Begun just prior to the outbreak of WWII and resited to Hollywood, this outstanding Denham lavish remake of the Douglas Fairbanks'silent classic couldn't be bettered with Korda's carefully picked cast & his family of technicians to craft it. Ever one of my top favourites, I can't overpraise it. My favourite star,Conrad Veidt,tall,sinister but at the time,every woman's dream,the evil sorcerer,Jaffer,coveting both the stunning June Duprez and usurper to the kingdom of Basra was great as ever. The popular new star, ex- Elephant Boy,Sabu, was captivatingly charming and spirited with the rest of its mainly stage performers completely united in this highly entertaining fantasy. Somewhat different from the original,it has everything - splendid sets, outstanding technicolor and lots of magic effects,most of which still stand up amongst which is the memorable lethal 6-armed "toy" buddah doubled by an evillooking Mary Morris & Sabu's "conversion" into an alley-dog. Like Korngold in "Robin Hood" a year earlier, the Hungarian composer,Miklos Rozsa,added the icing to this cake with an outstanding score. Korda's costliest production,it remains a memorable souvenir of his once magnificent British factory that rivalled Hollywood with its appeal to world stars,dedicated technicians and sometimes stylish & theatrical output. Other later remakes carry this title with scant resemblance to either the original or this treat. And how about that giant spider? And how did the genii, Rex Ingram, get back into the bottle?
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HALL OF FAMEon 4 January 2003
If you've seen Disney's Aladdin, you'll have some idea of how much other film-makers have ripped off this consummate version of 1001 Nights. A sorceror disembarks to listen to the sad tale of a blind beggar, once a Prince, and his dog, once a little thief. The sorceror is Jaffa, formerly advisor to the Prince who, like him, loves a beautiful Princess, and who has cursed them so that neither will regain their true form until the Princess lies in his arms. How the lovers defeat the evil sorceror involves a flying carpet, a genie, and the All-Seeing Eye from a goddess on the highest peak of the world - which must be stolen by the little thief, Sabu.
Even to a modern audience the special effects are glorious, and if you can see the strings on the magic carpet, Sabu's fight with the giant spider and the King's assasination by a many-armed statue remain breath-taking. It's funny, it's moving, and it's completely captivating for children of 6+.
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on 5 September 2015
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD [1940] [Blu-ray] Thrilling! . . . Amazing! The Wonder Picture Of All Time! Mighty Technicolor Spectacle!

A triumph of film-making, ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ is one of legendary producer Alexander Korda's best-loved films and remains the benchmark for spectacular fantasy to this day. This multiple OSCAR® winning film is a magical, atmospheric epic its sumptuous art direction and beguiling special effects making it the definitive vision of the famous Arabian Nights tale. ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ is featured here in a High Definition transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio.

Imprisoned by the evil Grand Vizier Jaffar, Ahmad the rightful King of Bagdad meets young Abu, the greatest thief in the land. Together they escape and embark on a series of fantastical adventures, only just surviving a terrifying encounter with a Djinn, from whom Abu manages to extract three wishes...

FILM FACT: Awards and Nominations: 1940 Academy Awards®: Won: Best Color Art Direction for Vincent Korda. Won: Best Color Cinematography for Georges Perinal. Won: Best Special Effects for Lawrence W. Butler. Won: Best Special Effects for Jack Whitney. Nominated: Best Original Score for Miklos Rozsa. Alexander Korda had intended to cast Vivien Leigh as the Princess, but she went to Hollywood to be with Laurence Olivier. All primary cast members are deceased. Leslie Phillips CBE and Dame Cleo Laine, both of whom had uncredited roles.

Cast: Conrad Veidt, Sabu, June Duprez, John Justin, Rex Ingram, Miles Malleson, Morton Selten, Mary Morris, Bruce Winston, Hay Petrie, Adelaide Hall, Roy Emerton, Allan Jeayes (The Story Teller), Frederick Burtwell (uncredited), Joseph Cozier (uncredited), Robert Greig (uncredited), Henry Hallett (uncredited), Miki Hood (uncredited), Glynis Johns (uncredited), Alexander Laine (uncredited), Cleo Laine (uncredited), Sylvia Laine (uncredited), Spoli Mills (uncredited), Leslie Phillips (uncredited), Norman Pierce (uncredited), John Salew (uncredited), Mark Stone (uncredited), Frank Tickle (uncredited), Otto Wallen (uncredited) and Ben Williams (uncredited)

Directors: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, Alexander Korda (uncredited), William Cameron Menzies (uncredited) and Zoltan Korda (uncredited)

Producers: Alexander Korda, William Cameron Menzies and Zoltan Korda

Screenplay: Lajos Bíró, Miles Malleson and Miklós Rózsa (story)

Composer: Miklós Rózsa

Cinematography: George Perinal

Special and Visual Effects: Johnny Mills, Lawrence W. Butler, Peter Ellenshaw, Tom Howard and Wally Veevers

Video Resolution: 1080p [Technicolor]

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Audio: English: 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio

Subtitles: English

Running Time: 106 minutes

Region: Region B/2

Number of discs: 1

Studio: London Films Production / Network

Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: One of the great fantasy films, ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ [1940] is also included on that short list of films which had long, complicated production histories of false starts, script rewrites, and multiple directors, like Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell and Tim Whelan, yet they managed to emerge as a special entity, effortlessly carrying off a unique single vision. In this case, that vision belonged to London-based Hungarian producer and director Alexander Korda. By the late 1930s Alexander Korda had amassed an impressive crew of artists and craftsmen around him at London Films Production at Denham Studios, London where Alexander Korda sought out a property to showcase the talent under his wing.

Inspired by the success of his personal discovery of the Indian actor Sabu in his films like ‘Elephant Boy’ [1937] and ‘The Drum’ [1938], Alexander Korda hit upon the idea of casting the energetic youth in an Arabian Nights fantasy. In 1924, Douglas Fairbanks had scored one of his biggest hits as ‘The Thief of Bagdad.’ The title, which Douglas Fairbanks owned, was irresistible, so when Alexander Korda found himself seated near Douglas Fairbanks at a banquet at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1938, he asked if he could buy the rights to the title. A new story, also drawing from the Thousand-and-One-Nights tales, would be fashioned around it.

The elegant final screenplay for ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ was by actor and writer Miles Malleson, who also took a major role in the film, playing the befuddled Sultan of Basra. In the film we are introduced to Abu [Sabu], a thief amongst the many merchants in the marketplace of Bagdad. The city's ruler, the good-hearted Prince Ahmad [John Justin], is undermined and overthrown by the evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar [Conrad Veidt]. Abu and Ahmad escape their prison and flee to Basra, where the Prince falls in love with the Sultan of Basra's beautiful daughter [June Duprez]. Unfortunately, Jaffar has his own designs on the Princess and bargains with the toy-obsessed Sultan of Basra [Miles Malleson] for her hand. Jaffar eliminates his competition by blinding Ahmed and transforming Abu into a dog. The two are returned to human form only when Jaffar embraces the Princess, now under his control. Ahmad and Abu, as well as the viewer, take in many more wonders on the way to vanquishing the Vizier and rescuing the Princess; and here is where Alexander Korda's team conjures up such stunning visual treats as a magic flying carpet, a deadly six-armed dervish, a full-size mechanical horse, a stolen all-seeing ruby eye, and most spectacularly, the bombastic Genie of the Lamp [Rex Ingram], who grants three wishes of Abu.

Sabu was a stable boy for the Maharaja of Mysore when he was discovered by Alexander Korda at the age of 13. The success of that film, co-directed by Zoltan Korda and the great documentarian Robert J. Flaherty, led to several more starring roles in Alexander Korda productions, perhaps his most famous role, that of Mowgli in the Korda brothers' adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's ‘Jungle Book’ [1942]. Sabu appeared in several low-budget Hollywood films before his death in 1963, though along the way he worked again with director Michael Powell in the Powell-Pressburger classic ‘Black Narcissus’ [1947]. Alexander Korda had only one choice in mind for the villainous Jaffar in ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ and that was Conrad Veidt. As Michael Powell was later to write, Veidt was "a legendary figure. For us, he was the great German Cinema...he was invention, control, imagination, irony and elegance."

Before ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ could be completed, war was declared between Germany and England, on 3rd September, 1939. Alexander Korda had made a promise to Winston Churchill himself to turn his London Films Production resources over to wartime propaganda as soon as a state of war existed. Michael Powell and others at Denham were taken off the Arabian Nights fantasy and assigned to quickly produce a documentary about the R.A.F., ‘The Lion Has Wings’ [1939]. Production on ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ shifted to America and, since Alexander Korda was unable to shoot planned scenes in Africa, to locations in the Grand Canyon. American distributor United Artists put up additional funds to complete the picture. Miklos Rozsa wrote the OSCAR® and nominated score for the film.

Released in December, 1940, ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ won as you have been informed above, OSCAR® for special effects, Technicolor cinematography, and art direction, as well as a nomination for Miklos Rozsa's score. The film also won near-universal praise from the critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times echoed the general sentiment when he called it a "beguiling and wondrous film" and wrote that "the least one can do is recommend it as a cinematic delight, and thank Alexander Korda for reaching boldly into a happy world." Coming as it did just at the outbreak of World War II, ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ eventually came to represent for many a cinematic last gasp of Old World innocence, magic, and adventure, forever lost during the horrors of war.

Today, we can see how heavily Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ borrowed from this version of ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ and especially Disney’s treacherous grand vizier Jafar is overtly modelled on Conrad Veidt’s Jaffar, who similarly plots to marry a princess who is in love with a beggar who claims to be a prince, and whose dwarfish, childlike sultan father Sultan of Basra [Miles Malleson] is the archetype for Jasmine’s father. Robin Williams’s genie is, of course, a far more affable version of Ingram’s fearsome character. And Sabu’s nimble thief Abu becomes Aladdin’s monkey sidekick by the same name!

Blu-ray Video Quality – The film’s original 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is reproduced faithfully in this new digital transfer. The 1080p encoded image Technicolor hues, particularly the various shades of red, will burst from your screen with a vivacity that will delight the viewer. I’ve read complaints about the image being slightly brown, but I didn’t see it on my display though some might wish for a somewhat brighter picture. There are a couple of Technicolor registration problems where the picture appears out of focus for a moment, but the image is so sharp that the matte seams can be spotted with close attention, and you‘ll easily see the brown latex skull cap on Rex Ingram, too. You’ll glimpse a scratch or two as well, but nothing that will distract the viewer for any extended period of time for the image otherwise is wonderfully clean.

Blu-ray Audio Quality – The 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio soundtrack is typical for its era. There is light hiss and momentary distortion on several occasions, but mostly the track is clean and engaging mixing music, voices, and effects in a very neat balance. But Miklós Rózsa's awesome unparalleled music score comes through with thrilling fidelity.

Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:

A beautiful colourful printed images on the inside of the Blu-ray Cover, with lots of stunning rare promotional images.

Theatrical Trailer [1940] [480i] [1.33:1] [2:40] This is the Original Theatrical Trailer, sadly the soundtrack is not very good, as it has a lot of audible scratches, plus you get a lot of white speckles.

Special Feature: Image Gallery [1080p] [1.33:1] [4:48] Here you get to view a total of 94 images in Technicolor and Black-and-White. Some of the colour images at the start are slightly grainy, but as you get to the end of the colour images, they improve 100%. The rest of the Black-and-White images are mainly of promotional material, with some behind-the-scenes of the film and you also get to see a photo of one of the directors beside the camera.

Special Feature: Promotional Image Gallery [1080p] [1.33:1] [2:15] Here with this really nice special feature, you get to view a total of 45 spectacular images of especially cinema posters from the UK and Overseas, plus you also get to see other rare promotional material that are truly spectacular.

Finally, ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ can be described as an escapist fantasy film, where the good always defeats evil and where everything turns out right in the end. Even though the film has been around for many years and most people will have seen it at some time or other, but it is unlikely that they will have experienced it in Blu-ray 1080p definition. For that fact alone, it is definably got to be recommended. It was a bit disappointing to find limited extra material, especially now that all the major actors in the film are no longer with us, especially all the production staff, in making some kind of commentary would be impossible. It’s also unlikely that such material was made post-production and if it had been, and it is probably sadly now lost forever. So, on reflection, this is probably the best you’ll get for ‘The Thief of Bagdad,’ but as you know that The Criterion Collection has a Special Edition NTSC DVD out, so why can’t that bring it out an equally Special Edition Region A/1 Blu-ray disc. Despite this, at least we can still enjoy this film on a Region B/2 Blu-ray disc, and will bring total pleasure for everyone to really enjoy and especially to enjoy all the fantastic special effects. Highly Recommended!

Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom
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on 14 October 2009
This is my favourite Film. I adored it as a child, and it is one of those classic films that you can watch time and time again.
My own children loved it, and countless others have. Sheer magic and an incredible achievement for when it was made in 1940.
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on 13 September 2010
I first watched this film when I was about 10 but I did not remember it any more until I watched it on TV about 20 years ago and suddenly all the pleasure and fascination I had experienced in my first viewing came flooding back. This is a fable so well told that for its 100 or so minutes I was back in my childhood. All the special effects of today will never equal this exceptionally well directed film, the quality of its screenplay, or the charm of its actors. I relish watching it again and again. One of my favourites!
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on 21 June 2005
I first saw this film during the war, it was a brilliant way to get your mind off the many hardships that war brings. As an 11 year old I was enchanted by the film and seeing it again 65 years later, it is still enchanting. Much of this is due to the supurb script by Miles Mallison (he plays the dotty Sultan) which has humour and poetry to it. The cast is also terrific, Sabu as the thief, John Justin, the handsome hero, June Duprez the beautiful princess, Rex Ingram the giant genie and Conrad Veidt, the most wicked of all magicians. A great, great film.
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on 25 January 2001
If we must describe this film in one word, it is "enchantment".
The 1001 nights tale is told with a highly effective, beautiful and dramatic use of colour, and special effects that are truly amazing for its time.
Conred Veidt has here one of the best performances of his career, as a "bad guy" hopelessly in love with the princess.
There is a toy-loving prince that suffers an astonishing death at the hands of a murderous doll.
And there is Sabu, and the beautiful sets, and the fabulous genius, the adventure, the excitment, and one could go on forever praising the wonders of this film.
It is truly the best adventure film of all time, and one of the best British films ever.
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The superb quality of both picture and sound in this recording belie its age and it remains an outstanding example of how British film making is capable of being the best in the world, in this case largely due to the Hungarian born Alexandra Korda. It has lost nothing of its joie de vivre through the passing of time and I have to say I find it as inspiring now as I did the first time I saw it many years ago. This experience reminds me of what Picasso is said to have remarked when he saw the 40,000 year old Lascaux cave paintings for the first time: 'We have learned nothing.'

One of the best attributes of modern technology is that it enables us to bring the very best of all past and present art forms into our homes and what would once have been fleeting forms can now be preserved and renewed down the generations. Of course, it can also deluge us with a plethora of trash and twisted viewpoints, but all these may be at best wiped out and at worst avoided. It's like the painters retreating into the caves to paint wonderful things well away from the trashy distractions of every day life. Here we can retreat into our own special caves and witness an inspiringly great production of the most watchable kind created to delight and entertain viewers in inspiringly timeless fashion. It's a privilege to own a copy of this great work.
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This review relates to the 2015 Network blu ray release of the 1940 British film by Alexander Korda, and not to any other version.

I admit, having really enjoyed Network's blu ray release of The Lady Vanishes, I was a bit let down by this. The restoration is pretty good, especially in the sound (it's not up to modern stereo but it is clear, and a lot better than the version I last saw on tv which made Conrad Veidt's voice vibrate like an old school soprano); detail jumps out at you, and it is as bright and gaudy as an Arabian Nights fantasy should be. But the picture jumped several times during the film. There was no serious loss of dialogue or plot, but it did become quite jarring and I have not seen it in other Network blu rays. Possibly this is a bad pressing, but it looked to me like faults on the film which had not been properly fixed. I am not 100% sure but at one point it looked as if the sound had gone a little out of sync following a momentary skip.

The other problem I have is that the colour looked a bit off in places. I'm pretty sure that at least one of these spots was in the film last time I watched it on tv, but not others. And the quality of the blu ray image has not been kind to the special effects at all. I know a lot of viewers insist on no retouching but a little softening of lines here and there would not have done any harm.

When it comes to extras there are very few - a theatrical trailer, photo gallery, and a gallery of promotional material like posters . The latter was actually quite interesting - I had no idea they had released tie-in materials like colouring books to go with the film! There are some poster images on the inside of the case insert too, which I thought a nice touch. The case is one of Network's standard slimline ones, too, which I like as they save on storage space. I can fit two Network blu rays in the space taken up by one from other companies.

On the whole I don't regret the purchase; the film is as enjoyable as ever despite any glitches, and for the most part the blu ray is a huge improvement. But you might want to wait for a while to buy in case those picture skips are a pressing issue that can be corrected.
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