Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Thief of Bagdad

The Thief of Bagdad; silent fantasy adventure, USA, 1924; D: Raoul Walsh, S: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Sojin Kamiyama

Ahmed is a small thief in ancient Baghdad. One night, he uses a magic rope to climb into the palace to rob it, but forgets about the gold when he spots the sleeping princess in her bed. The guards chase him away, but he decides to marry her by pretending to be a prince from a far away land, mingling together with three suitors for the princess: the Mongol Prince; Prince of Indies and Prince of Persia. The princess likes Ahmed, but the guards chase him away when it is found out he has no rank. The princess tells the suitors she will marry the one who finds the rarest treasure: the Persian Prince gets a magic carpet, the Princes of Indies a jewel, but the Mongol Prince poisons the princess and then cures her with a magic apple, thereby insisting that she should marry him because she owes him her life. Ahmed returns on a flying horse, having obtained a magic powder, he uses it to conjure up an army, chase away the Mongol Prince and save the princess.

Acknowledged as one of the 10 best fantasy films by the American Film Institute, Raoul Walsh's "The Thief of Bagdad" is a typical Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckling adventure, but unlike many other of his films, it has some aura of innocence and magic that helps it surpass many other movies of the same format. The timeless story of a thief who came to rob a palace, but dropped all the gold and riches when he spotted the beautiful sleeping princess, who stole his heart, mirrors some inherent subconscious traits of all fairytales—a humble, small protagonist who becomes a hero by fighting the powerful, evil villain; a damsel in distress; the power of innocence and love that can beat any obstacle—and was enriched with a lot of wit and life (when the princess wakes up and sounds the alarm, Ahmed ducks and thus her blanket falls on him, providing a convenient hiding; Ahmed is accused of stealing a purse, but then he manages to convince the guards that it is his by claiming to know its contents - and that it is empty) as well as romance ("I can endure a thousand deaths, a thousands tortures - but not thy tears", says Ahmed to the princess), which help pass by the sometimes overlong running time of two and a half hours of the storyline. An additional wonder is also the inclusion of several fantasy elements (a proto-animatronic of a dragon; Ahmed's fight with a giant spider under the sea; the magic carpet; the finale in which Ahmed uses the magic powder to create first six soldiers, and then doubling them until he has a whole army), which all help leave an opulent impression, from a time when such stories were a lot sweeter.


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