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The Thief of Bagdad
Der Dieb von Bagdad

UK 1940
produced by
Alexander Korda, Zoltan Korda (associate), William Cameron Menzies (associate) for London Film Productions
directed by Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, & uncredited: Alexander Korda, Zoltan Korda, William Cameron Menzies
starring John Justin, Sabu, Conrad Veidt, June Duprez, Rex Ingram, Miles Malleson, Morton Selton, Mary Morris, Bruce Winston, Hay Petrie, Adelaide Hall, Roy Emerton, Allan Jeayes (off-screen narration)
written by Lajos Biró, Miles Malleson, music by Miklós Rózsa, special effects by Lawrence Butler

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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King Ahmad (John justin) of Bagdad has grown tired from being a mere king, & decides to mingle with his people undercover ... only to learn that everybody hates him, but before he can even be annoyed about that, he is arrested - & since everybody, thanks to Ahmed's Grand Vesir Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), thinks he is a peasent bent on revolt, he is sentenced to death the very next day ... but in his prison cell, he meets small-time thief Abu (Sabu), who helps him to escape.

The two of them head for Basra, where they hear about the Princess (June Duprez), on whom no man - well, except for her guards, her father the Sultan (Miles Malleson), & probably some eunuchs & so on & so forth -  has ever laid an eye on, & her guards kill those who do.

Abu & Ahmed catch a glimpse of the Princess anyhow, & Ahmed immediately falls in love with her, & with the help of Abu breaks into her garden to meet her face to face ... & wouldn't you know it, she immediately falls in love with him, too. However, only hours after she has met Abu, her father gives her away to treacherous Jaffar ... & to escape the fate of having to marry Jaffar, the Princess ... well, escapes.

Ahmed & Abu however are captured by the palace guards when Ahmed tries to see the princess again (not knowing she had to leave prematurely), & when Jaffar recognizes Ahmed, he uses magic to blind him & turn Abu into a dog ...

Later, rather curiously, Ahmed & Abu the dog cross paths with the Princess again, who has since been struck by melancholy, & only meeting Ahmed can cure her again ... good thing that Ahmed is now at hands, & before long he cures her from her melancholy - which is when Jaffar, who has long waited in the shadows, abducts her. Realizing she is helpless in Jaffar's hands, the only sensible thing she can do now is charming Jaffar into making Ahmed see again & turning Abu back into a human being.

As two seeing humans again, Ahmed & Abu take up  pursuing Jaffar in a tiny ship. The ship of course is wrecked in a massive storm, & Abu & Ahmed are seperated.

Abu is washed upon a shore where he frees a mighty Genie (Rex Ingram) from his bottle & in exchange for it is granted three wishes:

Abu's first wish, rather profanely, is sausages, but his second wish is to be reunited with his friend ... which might be a bit of a problem since not even the Genie knows where exactly Ahmed is. So Abu has to run through a series of dangers - including a giant spider & an encounter with 6-armed goddess Kali (Mary Morris) - to find the all-seeing eye (pretty much a crystal ball, but in red). & in the eye, Abu sees Ahmed being stranded in a canyon resembling remarkably the Grand Canyon (mainly because it was filmed there), & before long, the Genie takes him there.

In the Grand Canyon, Ahmed & Abu start quarrelling a bit, & Abu wishes his friend back to Bagdad - & the Genie immediately fulfills his wish, & - three wishes granted - takes off on his own, leaving Abu behind in the Grand Canyon ...

Luckily though, the Grand Canyon turns out to be just around the corner from the Land of Legends, where Abu is welcomed as a prince, & soon he finds an opportunity to steal a magic carpet & fly to Bagdad, with even a few weapons the people of the Land of Legend have handed him.

Abu arrives in Bagdad not one minute too soon, since Jaffar has in the meantime found Ahmed with the Princess & decided to execute them both.

But Abu's arrival entices the people of Bagdad to revolt - since an old legend has announced him as Bagdad's saviour, & in the end, Abu shoots Jaffar, who tries to get away on a mechanical flying horse, dead with the Arrow of Justice.

 

Thief of Bagdad took 2 years to film, with a total of six directors working on it ... & it shows: While the overall look of the film is beautiful (& must have been even more impressive in 1940, when color film was fairly new), the story never quite finds its own pace. Some nicely done action scenes are over way too soon while some unnecessary dialogue takes up way too much time ... & then there's some musical numbers which slow down proceedings even more while not showing any directorial ideas. & the ending, where Abu all of a sudden finds the Land of Legend & is suddenly taken back to Bagdad  to defeat Jaffar, seems not to have been thought through at all, even though the script went through massive rewritings.

The film is not all bad though, & it will probably leave you with a nostalgic smile on your face, but it could have been so much better.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Tales to Chill
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Tales to Chill
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written by
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