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.