Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


John Justin and June Duprez
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940). Directors: Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and others.

In this first remake of the silent film with Douglas Fairbanks, King Ahmad (John Justin) is dethroned and imprisoned by the evil usurper Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). Ahmad meets a young beggar-thief named Abu (Sabu) in jail, but the two affect an escape. The Sultan (Miles Malleson, who also wrote the screenplay), trades his daughter, the princess (June Duprez of None But the Lonely Heart) for a mechanical horse that flies. This exchange is engineered by Jaffar, who has designs on the princess, who, unfortunately for her, is in love with Ahmad. Confronted by Ahmad and Abu, Jaffur blinds the former and turns the latter into a dog. Human again, Abu encounters a gargantuan genie (Rex Ingram) who helps him steal a fabulous ruby eye from a statue guarded by an enormous and hideous spider. Ahmad gets his sight back, but only in time to face the headsman's sword. Will Abu be able to get back to Bagdad on a flying carpet in time and save the day? The Thief of Bagdad is an excellent fantasy film that boasts amazingly beautiful Technicolor, some wonderful effects work (despite some fuzzy process shots), a very creepy and almost beautiful mechanical spider, and top-notch performances from the appealing Justin and Duprez, and especially Conrad Veight. Sabu is charming as the young thief, and Rex Ingram, although he doesn't exactly sound like something out of the Arabian nights, is terrific as the frightening if personable genie/djinn. While this movie really must have been quite eye-popping in its day, it is still a very memorable and entertaining picture 75 years later. Malleson appeared in the 1959 remake of The Hound of the Baskervilles. This was the first film for John Justin, who played Dorothy Dandridge's lover in Island in the Sun, made quite a few other movies, and often appeared on the stage, including productions of Shakespeare. The Thief of Bagdad was remade again in 1961.

Verdict: Watch out for that giant Djinn! ***1/2.

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