The Thief of Bagdad

( 4 )


The credited line-up of six directors-Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, Zoltan Korda, William Cameron Menzies and Alexander Korda-should be indication enough that the 1940 {|The Thief of Baghdad|} is no ordinary sword and sandal romp. This Technicolor Arabian Nights extravaganza is widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) fantasy films of the pre-computer technology era. The title character, named Abu (and engagingly played by Sabu), befriends a ragged young man named Ahmed (John Justin), who...
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The credited line-up of six directors-Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, Zoltan Korda, William Cameron Menzies and Alexander Korda-should be indication enough that the 1940 {|The Thief of Baghdad|} is no ordinary sword and sandal romp. This Technicolor Arabian Nights extravaganza is widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) fantasy films of the pre-computer technology era. The title character, named Abu (and engagingly played by Sabu), befriends a ragged young man named Ahmed (John Justin), who happens to be the rightful prince of Baghdad. The prince has been usurped by his evil vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), who hopes to expand his power by marrying the breathtakingly lovely princess of Basra (June Duprez). To win the princess' hand, Jaffar keeps the childlike King (Miles Malleson, who cowrote the screenplay with Lajos Biro) preoccupied with mechanical toys, such as a winged horse and a six-armed dancer, which disposes of the King after he tells his daughter she needn't marry Jaffar. The prince and Abu try to stop Jaffar, only to be thwarted by the vizier's magical powers: the prince is struck blind, while Abu is transformed into a dog. It wouldn't do for the bad guy to win this early in the game, thus Abu, returned to human form, finds himself on a deserted beach. Stumbling across an odd-looking bottle, Abu inadvertently releases the bottle's occupant: a gigantic, bombastic genie (Rex Ingram). The genie intends to crush Abu to death, but the wily thief tricks him back into the bottle. In exchange for his freedom, the genie agrees to grant Abu three wishes....and at this point, the film really begins to percolate, what with that "All Seeing Eye" gem, golden arrow and magic carpet added to the formula. If elements of The Thief of Baghdad sound familiar, it is because the film was used as the model for the 1992 Disney animated feature Aladdin. Even allowing for the much-improved technical wherewithal at Disney's disposal, nothing has dimmed the lustre of the multi-Oscar-winning The Thief of Baghdad, the sort of film that invariably elicits the reaction "They just don't make 'em like that any more!"
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Special Features

New digital transfer; Two audio commentaries; Optional music and effects track; Theatrical trailer; Visual effects documentary; The lion has wings; Excerpts from the codirector Michael Powell's audio dictation for his autobiography; Excerpts from a 1976 radio interview with compsoer Miklós Rózsa; Still Gallery
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
The 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad is one of those rare fantasy films that has only improved with age as a dazzling example of the screencraft of the era. If seams and joins show on some of the special-effects work, it doesn't hurt, because we accept the film as a fantasy tale woven before our eyes; just as no one minds the brush-strokes on a painting truly great painting, few object to the sequences that slip ever so slightly in this more than 60-year-old work. Officially credited to Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan, and Michael Powell, there were at least three additional directors on the film: producer Alexander Korda and his brother Zoltan Korda (who also co-produced), and associate producer William Cameron Menzies, plus special effects director Lawrence Butler, who helmed the flying-horse sequence. The completion of the production was something of a miracle. Producer Alexander Korda, after a search for a director, chose German filmmaker Ludwig Berger in early 1939, but by the early summer found himself dissatisfied with Berger's overall conception of the movie -- which was too small-scale and intimate -- and, specifically, the score that Berger proposed to use. Essentially behind Berger's back, British director Michael Powell was brought in to shoot various scenes -- and Powell's scheduled work grew in amount and importance whilst, in the meantime, Korda himself did his best to undercut Berger on his own set; and while publicly siding with Berger on the issue of the music, he also undercut Berger's chosen composer (Oscar Straus) by bringing in Miklos Rozsa and putting him into an office directly adjacent to Berger's with a piano, to work on a score. Eventually, Berger was persuaded to walk away from the project, and American filmmaker Tim Whalen, who had just finished work on another Korda-produced movie (Q Planes) was brought in to help augment Powell's work. But with the outbreak of the Second World War in September of 1939, work was suspended as Powell was taken off the picture and put to work on a morale-boosting documentary, The Lion Has Wings. By the end of the year, Korda found himself running out of money and credit, and in the spring of 1940 he arranged to move the entire production to Hollywood (where some shots of the movie's young star Sabu, had to be redone since he'd grown more than three inches during the year since shooting had commenced). Powell had remained in England, and so direction was taken up in Hollywood by Menzies and Zoltan Korda during the summer of 1940 -- including shots of the heroes in the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and the Painted Desert; the scenes in the Temple of the Goddess of Light, among the very last to be written, were done late in the summer, and the film was being edited and re-structured into the fall of 1940. None of the convoluted production decisions were apparent, however, when the movie was finally released in December of 1940. Accounts by those involved have varied across the decades, but most maintained that hardly anything directed by Berger made the final cut; the film is considered a prime example of Powell's early output, displaying the wit, flair, and stylish camerawork that would inform his subsequent work. The lush Technicolor photography by Georges Perinal is as overpowering today as it was in 1940, particularly when combined with Vincent Korda's outsized sets and Menzies' grand conception of the film's visuals; and the movie overflows with intoxicating primary colors in a way that is echoed by Miklos Rozsa's music, itself a wonder of wall-to-wall film scoring that was ambitious in scope, even in an era in which movies were filled with music. Other movies, such as Ray Harryhausen's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1957), have tried to weave similar spells, but Thief of Bagdad exists on a completely different scale from any of them, with its incredible cast and opulent production, and also the time in which it comes from. It has endured as an artifact of a lost world of innocence and wonder -- Thief of Bagdad was the last major movie started in England before the outbreak of the Second World War, and the last fantasy film released before America's entry into World War II. And, like Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (1937) and Mervyn LeRoy's production of The Wizard of Oz (1939), the movie speaks from a time before A-bombs, air-raids, and concentration camps, and as such, provided a two-hour escape for those seeking refuge from the horrors of war, which still resonates seven decades later.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 5/27/2008
  • UPC: 715515029926
  • Original Release: 1940
  • Rating:

  • Source: Criterion
  • Region Code: 1
  • Presentation: Wide Screen / Restored
  • Language: English
  • Time: 1:46:00
  • Format: DVD
  • Sales rank: 18,064

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Conrad Veidt Jaffar
Sabu Abu
June Duprez Princess
John Justin Prince Achmad
Rex Ingram Djinni
Miles Malleson Old Sultan
Morton Selten Old King
Mary Morris Halima
Bruce Winston Merchant
Hay Petrie Astrologer
Adelaide Hall Singer
Roy Emerton Jailer
Allan Jeayes Storyteller
Miki Hood
Michael Powell
David Sharpe
Tim Whelan Sr.
Frederick Burtwell Unnamed Character
Glynis Johns Unnamed Character
Norman Pierce Unnamed Character
John Salew Unnamed Character
Technical Credits
Ludwig Berger Director
Michael Powell Director
Tim Whelan Sr. Director
John Armstrong Costumes/Costume Designer
Lajos Biro Screenwriter
Osmond H. Borradaile Cinematographer
Lawrence W. Butler Special Effects
Jack Clayton Asst. Director
Charles Crichton Editor
David B. Cunyngehame Production Manager
William W. Hornbeck Editor
Tom Howard Special Effects
Alexander Korda Producer
Vincent Korda Production Designer
Zoltan Korda Producer
Robert Krasker Camera Operator
Miles Malleson Screenwriter
Muir Mathieson Musical Direction/Supervision
William Cameron Menzies Associate Producer, Asst. Director
Oliver Messel Costumes/Costume Designer
John Mills Special Effects
Georges Périnal Cinematographer
Miklós Rózsa Score Composer
Marcel Vertes Costumes/Costume Designer
A.W. Watkins Sound/Sound Designer
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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- The Thief of Bagdad
1. Opening Credits [1:51]
2. The Princess and the Blind Man [6:18]
3. "There Was Once a King" [8:31]
4. Abu the Thief [6:06]
5. Basra [6:35]
6. Djinni of the Pool [6:36]
7. Jaffar's Visit [7:39]
8. The Curse [6:23]
9. Winds of Heaven [10:56]
10. Place of Desolation [:57]
11. "Free!" [3:53]
12. "The All-Seeing Eye" [6:34]
13. Last Wish [13:25]
14. The Land of Legend [7:59]
15. The Arrow of Justice [7:19]
1. Color Bars [5:17]
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Disc #1 -- The Thief of Bagdad
   Play the Movie
      Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese
      Bruce Eder
   Audio Options
      Dolby Mono Soundtrack
      Coppola and Scorsese Commentary
      Edder Commentary
      Music and Effects
Disc #2 -- The Thief of Bagdad
   Visual Efects
      Blue Screen Demo
   Michael Powell
         The Korda Brothers
         Beach Tests
         Complex Sequences
         The Lion has Wings
         Balloon Barrage
         First Operation
   Miklós Rózsa
         Paris: Film Music
         London: Hungarian Ballet
         Meeting Korda
         The Thief of Bagdad
         Los Angeles
      The Miklós Rózsa Society
   Stills Galleries
      Production and Publicity Stills
      Dufayacolor Stills
   The Lion has Wings
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A quintessential "Arabian Nights" Movie.

    A princess, 2 heros, a lustful sorcerer,a flying carpet and yes, even a genie. This is great family movie and enjoyable for all ages. If you like the movie "Aladdin", "The Thief of Bagdad" is sure to please.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Stellar Vintage Special Effects with Heart

    This is a wonderful movie -- great storytelling, great special effects -- when you see the magical horse and the stuck in the Grand Canyon sequences you'll know what I mean. Plus the actors are all unique and wonderful. Conrad Veidt as the evil Jafar. Sabu the delightful thief in the bazar who helps the king in disquise. The princess' sweet but dim father. The very intimidating genie, plus the beautiful princess and the heroic king. This is not your white bread, run of the mill, off the assembly line modern SFX by the numbers movie. It's fun and surprising. I hope you try it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2013

    My father introduced me to this movie as a very young child and

    My father introduced me to this movie as a very young child and it remains to this day one of the most fascinating movies I've ever seen. Rex Ingram as the genie steals the show but don't get it twisted. Every character in this movie gives an exceptional performance and Conrad Veidt as the evil sorcerer "Jaffar" is one of the greatest movie villains of all time (Darth Vadar) included.
    While the special effects are primitive by today's standard, somehow the magic and fantasy still comes through within the context of the movie. I've tried telling my kids about this movie as they watched Aladdin years ago, but it went over their heads. Sometimes I wish someone would remake this movie but then again, with all the over-the-top, over-budgeted and overly-hyped, so-called blockbuster movies today, perhaps it's best to leave it just the way it is. A simple but fantastic love story, wrapped around magic and wonder for those old enough to appreciate such things.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2002

    Why not a DVD

    This movie is one of the most enjoyable movies of all time (the 1940 version). When will it be out on a DVD? That's what I'm waiting for.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews