Thief of Bagdad (1924)

Douglas Fairbanks wrote, starred, and produced this adaptation of Arabian Nights. A thief in Bagdad (Fairbanks) steals his way into the palace to capture the princess. When she falls in love with him and its discovered he is not a prince, he embarks on a magical adventure to win her over.

One of the aspects of this film that jumps out right away is the grand sets and scale of this film. Towering sets and hordes of extras is reminiscent of Intolerance . This coupled with the special effects must have made this quite the endeavor for early film.

It is astounding that a film in 1924 could have a budget of over $1M.1 Especially if you compare that to an average person making around $1/hr on average in the US.2 The Thief of Bagdad was not even the most expensive film to date. Other films before, like: Foolish Wives, When Knighthood Was in Flower, and The Ten Commandments had already staked their claim there. The following year, Ben-Hur would take the crown with a budget of around $4M and hold it for decades.

The Thief of Bagdad is packed with various special effects and fantastical elements that seem new to the genre. Sure, there were films like A Trip to the Moon 20 years earlier, but this takes it to a much greater level. The ability to incorporate things like the magic rope, magic carpet, fights with giant monsters, a Pegasus sequence, and many more, are what add to the intrigue and make this film stand out 100 years later.

In terms of story, Ahmed, The Thief, exudes confidence and selfishness that one would expect from swashbuckling adventure story. This keeps the story simple, at least relatively simple. I was able to watch this one with my three year old son and was surprised how engaged he was. At the same time it was clear that the story was slightly more complex than the kids movies he is used to watching.

I am glad that my kid started watching the movie about half way though as I had to explain just about everything that was happening as it was happening. If I had to do that in the beginning I would have had to explain why Ahmed was trying to drug and kidnap the princess. This definitely highlights some differences between this version and the Disney’s version of a later addition to the Arabian nights.

It was interesting to see real live animals used in the palace (i.e. a chimpanzee as the “Giant Ape” and tigers). They must have used some short actors in order to make the Chimpanzee look so big, or they found the biggest chimpanzee on earth.

It definitely isn’t the greatest or most prolific movie of the era, but it was entertaining and interesting to see some action adventure mixed into the silent film spree I am on.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Directed by: Raoul Walsh

Cinematography: Arthur Edeson

Story by: Douglas Fairbanks

Screenwriter: Achmed Abdullah

Edited by: William Nolan

Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Snitz Edwards, Julanne Johnston, & Sôjin Kamiyama

Runtime: 2h 35m

Genre: Action, Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Silent

Distributed by: United Artists

Link below:

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