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THIEF OF BAGDAD, THE(directors: Ludwig Berger/Michael Powell/Tim Whelan/Zoltan Korda/William Cameron Menzies, Alexander Korda; screenwriters: Miles Malleson/Lajos Biro; cinematographer: George Perinal; editor: Charles Crichton; music: Miklos Rozsa; cast: Conrad Veidt (Jaffar, Grand Vizier), Sabu (Abu), June Duprez (Princess), John Justin (Ahmad), Rex Ingram (Genie), Miles Malleson (Sultan of Basra), Morton Selten (Old King), Mary Morris (Halima), Allan Jeayes (Narrator), Bruce Winston (Merchant), Hay Petrie (Astrologer), Adelaide Hall (Singer), Roy Emerton (Jailer); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alexander Korda; MGM/UA Home Entertainment; 1940-UK)
“One of the best ever fantasy films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of the best ever fantasy films. A film made for children that adults might enjoy even more. It’s produced by the London-based Hungarian-born immigrant Alexander Korda; Michael Powell directed this lush Technicolor Arabian Nights adventure tale with Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan, Zoltan Korda, William Cameron Menzies and Alexander Korda. It features great special effects, stunning visuals, dazzling sets and a highly imaginative story that seamlessly blends magic, romance and action. It’s adroitly written by Miles Malleson and Lajos Biro. The splendid colorful sights include a mechanical flying horse, a giant sinister but jovial genie emerging from a bottle in puffs of black smoke, a huge spider guarding an All-Seeing-Eye of ruby located in the world’s highest temple in Tibet, a six-armed dancing dervish Silver Maid doll, a magic flying carpet, teeming Bagdad markets, fairy-tale like mosques and towering palaces. The production was moved from England to Hollywood after the outbreak of World War II. The other versions of The Thief of Bagdad include the wonderful classic silent in 1924 with Douglas Fairbanks, the tawdry Italian-made one in 1961 with Steve Reeves, and the horrible TV-made one in 1978 with Kabir Bedi.

The tale begins with the blind deposed King Ahmad (John Justin), now reduced to being a beggar, telling the women in a harem of his love for a princess of Basra and how an evil sorcerer-adviser named Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) stole his kingdom and blinded him. In flashback, we learn that the unworldly king was duped by his treacherous righthand man, the Grand Vizier, to mingle among the Bagdad people in disguise only to be arrested as a madman while Jaffar usurped the throne telling everyone the king was dead. Set to be executed in the morning, the king escapes with the help of a street urchin, the best street thief in Bagdad, Abu (Sabu), who was also placed in the dungeon. The two escape by boat to Basra, where Ahmad falls in love at first sight with a dotty old sultan’s (Miles Malleson) pretty daughter (June Duprez) when she passes by on the street being carried in a carriage and guarded by soldier escorts. The resourceful thief finds a way the next day for Ahmad to sneak into the princess’s forbidden garden and they exchange vows of love. The day after, when Ahmad was to meet secretly again with his love, Jaffar unexpectedly visits the obsessed toy collecting sultan and impresses him with a mechanical flying horse offered in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The repulsed princess flees to avoid marrying someone she despises, while Sabu and Ahmad are captured on the grounds. Ahmad is blinded and Abu is turned into a seeing-eye dog by the black magician’s powerful magic, who afterwards says that he will restore the two vics to normal when the princess is in his arms. The flashback ends, as the harem girls of Basra lead Ahmad to where the princess lies in a trance.

In the live action, Jaffar kidnaps the princess and says if they marry Ahmad will see again, and the princess agrees. Also, Abu becomes human again and while on the beach uncorks a bottle that holds a giant bellowing genie (Rex Ingram). About to be crushed by the giant’s foot, the thief tricks him to go back in the bottle and to get his freedom again the genie agrees to grant Abu three wishes and act as his servant until then. After mom’s sausages are used as a first wish by the starving Abu, the thief wishes for an All-Seeing Eye to find Ahmad. In the meantime a shipwrecked Ahmad returns to Bagdad to save the princess from marrying the wretched Jaffar and Abu will use the All-Seeing Eye to locate where to rescue in the nick of time from execution both the princess and Ahmad, as he flies in on a kindly old king’s (Morton Selten) magic carpet he met in the land of legend and uses the old king’s gift of an arrow of justice to slay Jaffar and restore Ahmad to the throne.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”