Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

"THE LORD OF THE RINGS…1940s style"

Britain's answer to THE WIZARD OF OZ was this lavish, opulent and, for its time, quite remarkable adaptation of one of the tales from the Thousand and One Nights.  

The evil Jafar (Conrad Veidt - often imitated but never matched in a performance that became the template for villains on stage and screen for years to come) tricks wise and good King Ahmad (the very British John Justin) and usurps the throne of Bagdad. Ahmad, now blinded by Jafar's magic and reduced to beggarhood now his people believe him dead, makes friends with a young thief, Abu (Sabu). Jafar realises he needs Ahmed back so he can rouse the Princess (June Duprez) from her coma and have his Extremely Wicked way with her. Ahmad gets cast into a dungeon, but with the help of Abu he escapes and together the two embark on a series of fantastic adventures, with special effects to match.

It's difficult to appreciate now how bar-setting this film must have been when it came out, but to call it the LORD OF THE RINGS of its day might actually be an understatement. Legendary producer Alexander Korda assembled a top notch team of experts, including three directors, to film this hugely ambitious work, and it shows. For a film that's nearly 75 years old, the effects are beginning to look a little creaky but the film itself still retains its magic, going all the way up to eleven for the third act which features a tour-de-force of a giant djinn, an enormous spiderweb, some amazing set design for the quest for the all-seeing eye, and bringing it all home by featuring a return appearance by a magical clockwork flying horse. 

        Everyone outdoes themselves on this and it's a joy to behold. The wall-to-wall score (nearly two hours) by Miklos Rosza is justifiably famous, and even if Ahmed and the Princess make rather drippy love interests, it doesn't really matter because that isn't what THE THIEF OF BAGDAD is really about anyway. Miles Malleson's screenplay does a fine job of cramming in as many traditional elements of Arabian Nights fantasy as possible, and the production design is just delicious - all pastel shades and candy-coloured castles. 
Network's Blu-ray offers a fine transfer. Extras are limited to a cinema trailer and an image gallery but I wasn’t too concerned. I haven’t seen Korda’s THIEF OF BAGDAD since I was a boy and I was as glued to the screen this time as I was way back then. You will be too. 

Network released Alexander Korda's 1940 version of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD on Region B Blu-ray on 26th January 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment