The Thief of Bagdad (1924) Director: Raoul Walsh
Loosely borrowed from parts of the Thousand and One Nights, The Thief of Bagdad is a grand early blockbuster of the silent era. It stars the “first celebrity” of Hollywood, Douglas Fairbanks, and it has since been reported that he considered this film his favorite. This film was later remade more than once, but the most famous is Disney’s animated film Aladdin (1992).
The Thief of Bagdad tells the story of Ahmed, a comical thief on the streets of Bagdad as he robs freely from the street vendors. In an early scene, he can be seen running from authorities as he amusingly leaps between pots in the market. This was filmed using trampolines. In his unobstructed robberies, he takes a magic rope and climbs up into the Princess’s room but he is caught by one of her Mongol slaves. He escapes and his associate reminds him of a story of a man who stole a princess. So Ahmed decides to try to steal the Caliph’s daughter.
The next day is the Princess’s birthday and the suitors are coming to ask for her hand in marriage. An attendant of the princess instructs her that the first man to touch her rose bush will be her husband. There are three suitors, aside from Ahmed, and the leader of the Mongols, the clear villain of the three, is warned by an attendant to touch the rose bush so he can reaffirm the Princess’s superstitions, but he is scared off by a bee just as Ahmed’s horse launches him into the bush, proving the prophecy. However, later that night after she chooses Ahmed, the Mongol prince discovers that Ahmed is nothing more than a common thief and he informs the Caliph who orders that Ahmed be lashed.
In order to delay her decision, the Princess says that she will marry the man who bring to her the most exotic item over the next “seven moons”. The Persian Prince (played by a woman) retrieves a flying carpet, and the Mongol Prince gets an apple that will cure anything. He instructs his surrogates to poison the princess while he returns to Bagdad on the Persian Prince’s flying carpet. Ahmed receives a cloak of invisibility and some magic powder that will transform into anything Ahmed wishes.
Upon his return, the Mongol Prince orders his army to capture Bagdad after saving the Princess with his apple. However, Ahmed returns and storms the city of Bagdad with an army he conjures with the powder. He rescues the Princess with his invisibility cloak and as a reward, the Caliph gives him her hand in marriage.
The Thief of Bagdad is a film of epic proportions. Walsh once claimed it was the first Hollywood film to cost more than $1 million. In keeping with the tradition of other Fairbanks movies, this film is a satire of many swashbuckling movies –almost a comedy of errors. It is a long film, running at nearly two and a half hours. I’m not sure I would recommend this film much further beyond devotees of Douglas Fairbanks or else Disney purists searching for the inspiration behind the classic animated movies!