on 5 September 2015
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD  [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
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’  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’  and ‘The Drum’ , 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’ . 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’ . 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’ . 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  [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