Directed By: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, et al
Starring: Conrad Veidt, Sabu, June Duprez
Tag line: "Three brave hearts, adventuring in a wonder world!"
Trivia: Filming began in Britain, but because of World War II and the Blitz, the production relocated to Hollywood
As much as I enjoyed Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s 1924 film of the same name, 1940’s The Thief of Bagdad is, without question, the finest cinematic take on this classic story.
Ahmad (John Justin) was once the king of Bagdad. That is, until his most trusted advisor, Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), turned against him, stealing the crown for himself. Yet, despite the fact he’s lost everything, Ahmad has never been happier, and, teaming up with a young thief named Abu (Sabu), sets off to experience all that life has to offer. Ahmad's grand adventure takes an unexpected turn, however, when he meets a beautiful Princess (June Duprez), daughter of the Sultan of Basra (Miles Malleson), with whom he falls instantly in love. Unfortunately, the Princess has also caught the eye of the evil Jaffar, who, after striking a deal with the Sultan, drags her back to Bagdad, where he intends to marry her. With the help of his wily friend Abu, Ahmad travels far and wide in an effort to reclaim the Princess, encountering a variety of unusual creatures along the way.
Produced by Alexander Korda and directed by, among others, Michael Powell, William Cameron Menzies, and Korda’s own brother, Zoltan, The Thief of Bagdad has imagination to spare, and boasts a number of elaborate scenes. At one point, Ahmad and Abu find themselves shipwrecked on a deserted island. While strolling the beach looking for Ahmad (who’s nowhere to be found), Abu notices an ancient bottle that, once uncorked, releases a 2,000-year-old Djinn (Rex Ingram). Standing as tall as a building, the Djinn threatens to squash Abu, but is eventually forced to grant him three wishes. After polishing off some delicious sausages (his first wish), Abu says he wants to find his friend Ahmad, at which point the Djinn flies the young thief to a temple resting high atop the world’s largest mountain, where, following a battle with a giant spider, Abu retrieves an enormous gem that also serves as a magical eye, one which allows him to see anywhere in the world. He uses this strange jewel to determine the whereabouts of the lost Ahmad, and the two are soon reunited. In a movie chock full of extravagant sequences, this is, by far, the most amazing.
Alexander Korda’s answer to The Wizard of Oz (which was released the previous year), The Thief of Bagdad is, simply put, one of the greatest fantasy adventures ever made.