Two years ago I saw that The Thief of Bagdad was to air on Turner Classic Movies, so I thought I’d view it as I had never seen that movie before. When it was over, all I could say was Wow! In doing more research about this 1940 Technicolor wonder from Great Britain, I wasn’t too surprised to read that both Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola agreed to do voice commentary about the movie on the dvd that was released by Criterion Collection in 2008. The late film critic Roger Ebert was also a huge fan of this film. As I watched, I also noticed that some of the characters looked like their animated counterparts in Disney’s Aladdin. I would hazard a guess that Disney had their animators study this movie prior to beginning their work on Aladdin.
Distributed by London Films, under the guidance of producer Alexander Korda, directed by Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan, The Thief of Bagdad stars Sabu(teen actor from India) as Abu, Conrad Veidt(great German actor) as the villain, Jaffar, John Justin as Prince Ahmad, June Duprez as the Princess, and Rex Ingram as the Genie of the Lamp.
What left me with that wow feeling after viewing this film was: all of the action and adventure teamed with great special effects, an intelligent plot for a pure fantasy story, lush technicolor, beautiful scenic designs, Conrad Veidt as Jaffar and Sabu as Abu. Veidt is wonderfully conniving and creepy as the evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar. He wants to steal Prince Ahmad’s kingdom for himself, and that also means taking away the Princess, Ahmad’s true love. Sabu, ( an Indian actor discovered at the age of 13 and who went on to star in British and American films in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s) has fun with the role of a plucky adventurer, only out for his own protection and betterment before he meets Prince Ahmad, and together, they plan to get the kingdom back and save the Princess from Jaffar. I only had two minor criticisms with the film: Prince Ahmad and the Princess(we don’t learn her first name, she’s just referred to as her title throughout the entire film!) John Justin, as Prince Ahmad, does an ok job of it, he just seems a bit stiff at times. I also hated his pencil-thin mustache! It looked like one a 14 year old boy would try to grow. At the end of the movie, it had been shaved off and I kept wishing it would have never made an appearance to begin with! June Duprez is beautiful and it’s easy to see why Ahmad falls in love with her and Jaffar desires her, but she doesn’t have a lot to do in the movie beyond looking beautiful and/or distressed.
The film takes us to ancient Bagdad and Prince Ahmad is bored. His Grand Vizier, Jaffar, sees this as an opportunity to get Ahmad out of the palace and to just take the kingdom for himself, so he convinces the Prince to put on the clothes of a beggar and to go out and mingle with the commoners, to see what they think of the Prince’s recent rulings. While the Prince wanders around the city, asking for people’s opinions of the Prince, Jaffar successfully has Prince Ahmad accused of stealing and has him arrested and thrown into the dungeon, to be executed at sunrise. A young thief, Abu, has also been thrown into the dungeon, but he sneakily steals the guard’s key to the cell and he and Ahmad are able to escape and they make their way to Basra.
In Basra, Ahmad meets the Sultan’s beautiful daughter, the Princess, as she is strolling in her garden. It is love at first sight and unfortunately, Jaffar has arrived in Basra to meet the Sultan(Miles Malleson) and arrange his own marriage to the Princess! Jaffar knows that the Sultan is childish and he presents the Sultan with a mechanical horse that when one sits on it, it will turn into a real flying horse! After taking the horse out for a spin, the Sultan agrees that Jaffar can marry his daughter. The Princess learns of her engagement to Jaffar and runs away. Ahmad and Abu meet up with Jaffar, who casts a spell on them both: Ahmad is now blind and Abu is now a dog and the spell won’t be broken until Jaffar holds the Princess in his arms.
The Princess, meanwhile has been caught to be sold as a slave in a local market and unbeknownst to her, she is bought by Jaffar. Upon reaching his mansion, she falls into a deep sleep that even Jaffar can’t wake her from. Ahmad and Abu find her with the help of Halima(Mary Morris), Jaffar’s servant, who is jealous of the Princess and she tricks Ahmad into waking her. Ahmad and Abu flee when Jaffar appears and later, Halima tricks the Princess into going on Jaffar’s boat by telling her there is a doctor on board who can cure Ahmad’s blindness. Jaffar is actually on the boat and he tells the Princess about the curse and she reluctantly lets Jaffar hold her in his arms and immediately, Ahmad can see and Abu is not a dog anymore.
The rest of the movie is Ahmad and Abu’s adventures in trying to rescue the Princess and deal with the treacherous Jaffar. There will be an ancient temple statue with a”seeing eye” ruby gemstone that Abu must retrieve and he will also have to deal with a giant spider! Abu will meet a Genie(delightfully played by Rex Ingram), and there will be a magic carpet, and Jaffar has a murderous statue to present to the Sultan.
The Thief of Bagdad is a wonder of a film and enjoyable for the entire family to watch. As I mentioned earlier in my post, it is available to purchase through Criterion Collection on Amazon.com, Netflix added it to it’s list in 2012, and some kind soul has put the entire movie up on Youtube. Turner Classic Movies also airs it from time to time. Seek it out, and say “Open Sesame!” for a great family film to view.