Wednesday, May 14, 2014

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924): NEVER WERE MOVIES MORE MAGICAL

Last night I had a dream fulfilled: I saw Douglas Fairbanks' THE THIEF OF BAGDAD on the big screen. 

I'm a modern movie goer who is a fan of film of all eras. I love the earliest to the latest, as long as it suits my fancy. And, boy, did this film suit! It embodied all that I absolutely hold dear about movies: innocence, magic, and adventure of the heart and spirit. 

Fairbanks, with all of his charm and adolescent swagger, is the human star, but the magnificent sets of William Cameron Menzies overwhelm all humans (and flying carpets, winged horses, and dragons and the like) on the screen.

The gates of the palace of the Caliph. The sets for this film filled 6 acres

The princess is a deep sleeper

The Moorish/deco design of the palace is breathtaking

who wouldn't swoon in Doug's arms?

Director Raoul Walsh, not normally a man drawn to fantasy, seems to share Doug's spirit of fun and we go off on a glorious adventure. 

The film opens with a wise man pointing out a lesson written in the stars:

Meanwhile, back in Bagdad (spellcheck wants me to use Baghdad, but I'm going with the way it is spelled in the title), Our Doug is a cheerfully amoral thief who manages to pickpocket jewels and even a magic rope. His motto is "if I see something I want, I take it." He and his partner in thievery (the wonderfully named Snitz Edwards) decide that what they really want is a chest full of jewels from the palace. However, once in the palace, Doug sees something he really wants: The Princess Beloved.
The Princess Beloved played by Julanne Johnston
But no magic rope can lasso this dame. He must win her love through hard work, courage and determination by bringing her the rarest of treasures and outdoing her 3 other princely suitors (including the evil Mongol prince who not only wants the Princess, but the entire city). Doug battles fire, dragons, giant bugs and sea monsters to gain the cloak of invisibility and a tiny box filled with magic powder. Doug trumps the treasures found by the other suitors (a magic carpet, a magic apple that can bring the dead back to life and a crystal ball), rushes back to the Princess on a flying horse and saves the city from the evil Mongol prince by using his magic powder to create a fearsome army.
rushing back to his beloved
Doug uses his cloak of invisibility in many clever ways, especially to spirit his darling away from prying eyes. At last, happiness has been earned and the princely hero and his beloved ride on their magic carpet and share a romantic kiss.
Doug frequently scratches his palm in the film: it means "I want this"
A real highlight of the film is the slinky, exotic and sensual presence of 19 year old Anna May Wong.


2 1/2 hours flew by. It was everything I hoped it would be.

10 comments:

Inge Gregusch said...

Terrific post with beautiful pictures and writing. Fairbanks was a presence: charismatic; sexy; handsome... Anna May Wong is a scene stealer. Thank you!

said...

Ugh, Doug, you sexy Arabian!
I just put this film in the top of my watchlist. Of course my experience won't involve seeing it on the theater, and that's why I envy your luck.
Kisses!

Michele Grabowski said...

It may be a 2-1/2 hour movie but it's so good that it goes by fast. I love Douglas Fairbanks and this is my favorite movie of his. Thanks for the great post!

FlickChick said...

Inge - it was such a beautiful experience - truly magical as it was meant to be.

FlickChick said...

Le - you MUST see this! And please let me know when you do.

FlickChick said...

Hello, Michele - the time does fly by, doesn't it? I, too, felt as though I was riding that flying horse and magic carpet.

Silver Screenings said...

Sadly, I've only seen bits of this film, but it does look magical. So glad it shows up on TCM occasionally so a person can set the DVR. :)

karen said...

I rented it and it was a terrible copy. I couldn't see half of what was designed. So disappointed. ):

FlickChick said...

SS - it is truly magical - I hope you get to see it in all of its glory.

FlickChick said...

Karen - oh, so sad! There is a beautiful version with a Carl Davis score avaiale from Kino.