(director: Raoul Walsh; screenwriters: Achmed Abdullah/”Elton Thomas aka Douglas Fairbanks”/James T. O’Donohoe/Lotta Woods; cinematographer: Arthur Edeson; editor: William Nolan; music: Carl Davis/Mortimer Wilson; cast: Douglas Fairbanks (The Thief of Bagdad), Julanne Johnston (The Princess), Anna May Wong (The Mongol Slave), Snitz Edwards (His Evil Associate), Charles Belcher (The Holy Man), Brandon Hurst (The Caliph), Sojin (The Mongol Prince), Tote Du Crow (The Soothsayer), Noble Johnson (The Indian Prince), Etta Lee (prophetess); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Theodore Reed/Douglas Fairbanks; Kino; 1924-silent)

“A visual extravaganza.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A classic Arabian Nights fantasy adventure silent, with a definite Christian viewpoint, is directed by Raoul Walsh (“Objective, Burma!”/”The Big Trail”/”White Heat”). Producer, star and cowriter Douglas Fairbanks choses the B-western filmmaker to make the leap to A films. Fairbanks’s own company, United Artists, financed the opulent fantasy film that’s filled with action.

The Thief of Bagdad is a visual extravaganza, especially with the colorful and gigantic ‘Art Nouveau’ William Cameron Menzies’s designed sets that offer a spicy blend of Middle-Eastern and Oriental splendor. It’s a million dollar film, the first movie to be budgeted for that amount. It got a bang for its dough, as it was considered the most innovative movie of its day (though when viewed today some parts have not aged that well). This might be the best of all the swashbucklers Fairbanks has done, and that includes such greats as The Mark of Zorro (1920), Robin Hood (1922) and The Three Musketeers (1921). The athletic Fairbanks was forty-years-old at the time of the film and in his prime, and his likability, self-effacing gestures, tremendous energy and enthusiasm beat back the pretentiousness of his role.

The Thief of Bagdad (Douglas Fairbanks) leads a carefree life in old Bagdad as a thief with a magic rope to climb high walls and steal at will. He loudly denounces Allah until he meets the lovely Princess (Julanne Johnston). The princess entertains four suitors from the far east, with the thief in disguise as one of them. After she chooses him for her husband, he is wracked with guilt and confesses the truth. With that confession, he is flogged by order of the caliph (Brandon Hurst). But the sympathetic princess arranges for his escape, and the repentant thief seeks the wisdom of the Holy Man (Charles Belcher) to find the truth within and learn how to be humble.

The princess issues a challenge to her three remaining suitors, that the one who brings her the rarest treasure will become her husband. The thief learns of her challenge and treks to the far corners of the earth in an arduous search whereby he risks his life after a number of heroic ordeals before discovering a magic box. Meanwhile, his rivals come up with gifts that also have magical powers: a crystal, a carpet, and an apple.

The evil suitor, the Mongol prince (Sojin), orders the princess’s Mongol slave (Anna May Wong) to poison her mistress so that he may resurrect her through the healing power of his magic apple. When that magic trick works, he expects the caliph to let the princess marry him. But the caliph declares the contest a stalemate. Thereby the Mongol prince seizes Bagdad with an army of 20,000 and plans on forcing the princess to marry him.

Before the Mongol can claim the princess, the thief appears leading an army of 100,000 men which he has conjured up with his magic box. The happy ending has the Mongols slaughtered, and the thief and the princess fly off together on the magic carpet. The adult fairy-tale spectacle ends as it begun, with the soothsayer (Tote Du Crow) telling a boy that “happiness must be earned.”