Monday, February 12, 2018
The Thief of Bagdad (1940 film)
Produced by Alexander Korda, directed by Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan, and screenplay Miles Malleson from a story by Miklos Rozsa and an idea by Lajos Biro, The Thief of Bagdad is the story of a prince who teams up with a scrappy thief in reclaiming his throne after being casted out. The film is a fantasy film that is told in a reflective manner as a prince tries to deal with his situation. Starring Conrad Veidt, Sabu, June Duprez, John Justin, Rex Ingram, Miles Malleson, and Morton Selten. The Thief of Bagdad is a glorious and enchanting film from Alexander Korda.
The film is partially a reflective story of a blind prince who had been dethroned by a royal official in the Grand Vizier named Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) as he is aided by a young thief who wants to help him realizing the severity of the situation. It’s a fantasy-adventure film that follows two men who find themselves in a situation where the prince goes blind and the thief briefly turns into a dog all due to this man trying to win over a princess who is interested in this prince. Miles Malleson’s screenplay does start off as a back-and-forth narrative in which Prince Ahmad (John Justin) is seen blind begging for anything with a dog at his side where he would tell his story to a group of women including a servant of Jaffar in Hamila (Mary Morris) who realizes what is going on. The first act play into Prince Ahmad becoming concerned with his rule as he is aware of his people not being enamored with them.
Taking Jaffar’s advice by pretending to be a normal citizen, it proves to be a set-u when Prince Ahmad is sent to a dungeon where he meets the thief Abu (Sabu). Abu is a common thief that knows how to get by as he helps Prince Ahmad knowing that he’s really an honorable man. The two would embark on a journey to reclaim Prince Ahmad’s throne but also pursue the elusive princess (June Duprez) whose father is obsessed with mechanical toys which Jaffar would use to win his approval. The film’s third act is about Abu and a journey he would take when he and Prince Ahmad become lost during their pursuit of the princess and Jaffar. Even as he would find a mysterious object that would give him the chance to prove his worth as a person.
The film’s direction under the supervision of its producer Alexander Korda who would do un-credited work along with his brother Zoltan and art director William Cameron Menzies who would both be un-credited for their contributions to the film’s production. Much of the work would be under the direction of Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan with Powell providing much of the material that was filmed mainly on studio sets with some desert scenes shot on Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, and Bryce Canyon in the U.S. While there are some wide shots for the large fantasy scenes and to get a scope of the palaces, it’s the usage of close-ups and medium shots in the way the characters interact or in their encounter with certain locations. The film do play into this idea of fantasy while Bagdad is presented as something otherworldly despite its sense of repression towards its people which Prince Ahmad learns and wants to rectify. The scenes in the third act where Abu meets a genie (Rex Ingram) would be a showcase for some primitive yet effective visual effects as it add to the sense of adventure that Abu would encounter. Even as the film’s climax is filled with a lot of visual splendor in its compositions as well as maintaining a sense of adventure. Overall, Korda creates a majestic and exhilarating film about a thief helping a blind prince reclaim his throne.
Cinematographer George Perinal, with Technicolor direction by Natalie Kalmus, does incredible work in the cinematography with its gorgeous Technicolor approach to the visuals including some scenes set at night as well as the attention to detail in the look of the colors. Editor Charles Crichton does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts for some of the action. Production designer Vincent Korda, with scenic background by Percy Day, does brilliant work with the set design in creating lavish sets that would play into the colors of the backgrounds.
Costume designers Oliver Messel, John Armstrong, and Marcel Vertes do amazing work with the costumes as it play into the element of fantasy and in the time period as it help play into the vibrancy of the film’s look. The special effects work of Lawrence Butler does fantastic work with the visual effects as primitive as it was in the late 1930s/early 1940s as it have some wonderment in the effects as it relates to the genie flying as well as the mechanical toys in the film. The sound work of A.W. Watkins does superb work with the sound in the scenes with crowds as well as the sound effects of the toys that Jaffar brings to the sultan. The film’s music by Miklos Rozsa is phenomenal for its bombastic and heavy orchestral score filled with loud drums and percussions and sweeping orchestral arrangements as it is one of the film’s major highlights.
The film’s marvelous cast feature some notable small roles from Adelaide Hall as a singer for the princess, Allan Jeayes as a storyteller talking about the need for a rebellion, Mary Morris in a dual role as Jaffar’s agent Halima and a mechanical toy known as the Silver Maid, and Morton Selten as an old king that Abu would meet late in the film. Miles Malleson is terrific as the Sultan of Basra as a man that is obsessed with mechanical toys as he is swayed by Jaffar in getting a toy in exchange for Jaffar to have the princess. Rex Ingram is superb as the genie as a man who had been inside a lamp for 2000 years as he has issues with humans but is willing to grant Abu three wishes for freeing him. John Justin is fantastic as Prince Ahmad as a young man trying to understand the world he’s ruling and its people only to be usurped by Jaffar and become humble over his situation in his pursuit to reclaim his throne and win the heart of the princess.
June Duprez is excellent as the princess as a woman of such beauty that it is forbidden for regular people to see her as she is pursued by Prince Ahmad whom she sees as a man that is right for her while not wanting to be with Jaffar. Sabu is brilliant as Abu as this young thief that meets Prince Ahmad and wants to help while taking on a journey of his own where his enthusiasm and courage is key to Sabu’s performance. Finally, there’s Conrad Veidt in an amazing performance as the Grand Vizier Jaffar as a mysterious sorcerer who is intent on ruling Bagdad and other places while proving to be powerful and cunning as it’s just Veidt bringing a lot of charisma to a villainous character.
The Thief of Bagdad is a spectacular film from producer Alexander Korda. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a sumptuous music score, and an engaging story of adventure and fantasy. It is truly one of the finest films of the fantasy genre as well as a visual marvel that is stunning in its imagery and sense of imagination. In the end, The Thief of Bagdad is a phenomenal film from Alexander Korda.
© thevoid99 2018