The Thief of Bagdad

Some films just scream for you not to care a whole lot about the plot and just watch the cool scenes in front of you. Whether it is an explosion, kick ass fighting or car chases, modern films sometimes rely on this trope a little too often. Arguably one of the first films to employ this philosophy, the Thief of Bagdad is rife with daring skill shots and special effects that dazzle the viewer when thinking back on how limited they were in the twenties. The plot is a familiar one to anyone who had a childhood that was raised on Disney films. A thief in Bagdad schemes to woo the princess, inherit her massive fortune and win her love. He faces various challenges and conquers them all with a finesse unique to the original Douglas Fairbanks.  Produced by Mr. Fairbanks under his recent United Artists studio formation with his wife, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, this film easily was the most expensive film of the twenties. The money was well spent. The sets are lavish and expansive. The special effects including a Pegasus horse, a magic carpet, and a rope that stiffens by itself makes this film of historical value solely on the innovations. The special effects is what makes this film interesting to me. Although you can tell that the horse is galloping on a ramp angled upwards and covered by smoke (the sky), the effects look like something out of a Melies film.

Douglas Fairbanks excels at his stunts and being a handsome individual, but for me he was a little operatic to be seen that close up. I guess I have an aversion to overacting, because it seems to come up again and again while writing about the silent. Most of the actors in this film are overacting on an epic scale. The one actress I could recommend watching is Anna May Wong who plays a servant to the princess, but is really spying for one of Fairbanks’ rivals. She portrays what I think about when I think of a good performance from the silent era. She emote from her face, more than grand gestures and  you completely aware of her motivations without her having to say a word about it. She is also drop dead gorgeous. If I were Douglas Fairbanks, I would have prefered her to the princess.

Douglas Fairbanks is such an overbearing presence here that it is hard to write about anything else but him. He is silly and campy, constantly puffing out his chest and his grand gestures constantly pointing things out that we can plainly see with our eyes. However he has this magnetism in him that shines when he does his stunts. He does everything with such clear ease that it is hard to see if he ever takes himself seriously. I am definitely interested in his comedic roles that he did before he became a swashbuckler. It seems that would be the perfect role for him, as a comic. Not that he sucks as a swashbuckler, but I feel when he isn’t doing stunts he isn’t really doing anything on camera of interest. I think that is a little harsh, but true.

The running time on this film was a little long, but if you are interested in the evolution of special effects, epics or falling asleep lulled by the sweet score, then I would suggest watching this film. If you do not fit into any of these categories than it is better off skipped.


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