Monday, July 11, 2011

#339. The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

Directed By: Raoul Walsh

Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards

Trivia:  The movie's poster ranked #9 in Premiere Magazine's "The 25 Best Movie Posters Ever"

Had it not been for the steadfast determination of Hollywood legend Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., The Thief of Bagdad, one of the most popular films of the silent era, may have never come to pass. Aside from his flamboyant performance in the lead role, Fairbanks was also responsible for bringing the film’s director (Raoul Walsh) and costume designer (Mitchell Leison) to the project. The iconic actor obviously recognized the potential in this timeless fantasy, and put forth one hell of an effort to make it a reality. 

The story of The Thief of Bagdad is the stuff of fairy tales. A lifelong thief (Fairbanks) falls in love with a beautiful Princess (Julianne Johnston), who is the daughter of the Caliph of Bagdad (Brandon Hurst), the most powerful man in the city. Despite the fact he’s a criminal, the Thief is permitted to compete for the hand of the Princess, undertaking a perilous task to prove himself worthy of her. Along with all the other suitors, the Thief is given one week to return to Bagdad with an extraordinary treasure, and whoever brings back the most stunning item will win the honor of marrying the Princess. The Thief, transformed by his love, sets out with the best of intentions, but the Mongol Prince (Sojin), whose only wish is to make Bagdad a province of his vast kingdom, is not nearly as honorable, and will stop at nothing to ensure the Princess becomes his bride. 

Early in the movie, the Thief was little more than a playful child, one who loved life and took everything he could from it, both literally and figuratively. He went about his days robbing the honest citizens of Bagdad, always delighting in each of his criminal triumphs. In one scene, the Thief steals a magic rope belonging to the court magician (Sadakichi Hartmann), which he then uses to escape his pursuers by climbing it to the safety of an overhead balcony. But the Thief’s carefree outlook was doomed the moment he spotted the Princess for the first time, a meeting of eyes that ignited a passion within him he never felt before. Late one night, having broken into the Caliph’s castle, the Thief sneaks up on the Princess, watching her as she sleeps. It's at this moment he realizes his happy-go-lucky existence is at an end. Alone in the Caliph’s castle, with the treasure of the richest man in all of Bagdad at his disposal, the Thief steals only the Princesses’ slipper, an item he now considers the most wonderful he's ever possessed. 

As the Thief, Douglas Fairbanks gives a colorful performance, all the while sporting a huge, beaming smile. It’s obvious he enjoyed this role immensely, and as a result, the film has a light, entertaining air about it that never dissipates. From all appearances, the Thief was the part Fairbanks was born to play, and his additional efforts behind the scenes further proved his commitment to bringing this story to the big screen. Forget what the credits say; The Thief of Bagdad was, from start to finish, a Douglas Fairbanks film.


Movie Guy Steve said...

I really enjoyed this film when I watched it, and a large part of that was Fairbanks. He's a real pleasure to see on camera. As you say, it's evident that he's having fun, and that really translates to the viewer.

Dave Becker said...

@Steve: I remember reading about this movie on your blog (excellent write-up, BTW).

And yes, Fairbanks really does make the movie with his performance. Menzies does an excellent job with the sets, but it's Fairbanks' charisma that really sells it.

Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment.

L. Byron said...

Great poster! I'm loving lots of rare silent & early talkies at the moment & planning to check out both versions (20's & 40's) very soon.

Dave B. said...

Thanks for stopping by! I've never seen the 40's version, but am obviously a big fan of Fairbanks' silent film. Enjoy it, and please be sure to stop back and let me know what you think.

Thanks again!