Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Thief of Bagdad


I had the exact same reaction watching this film now as I did when I saw Star Wars (A New Hope) for the first time when I was eight years old, one of pure awe. The technicolor cinematography is astounding, the special effects are wondrous (the opposite of modern, deadening, 3D CGI nonsense). The story is a combination of pure bed-time narrative and eternal mythology. This is a great work of art, one that exemplifies both sophisticated technical expertise and the innocent experimentation and imagination of a child. The Thief of Baghdad re-presents to us everything that is wondrous and strange and magical about films, things that no other art form or forms of storytelling can quite reproduce. Genies fly and magicians turn people into dogs and the good prince becomes blind and there is a realm of magic which men have forgotten but which the purity of a child can rediscover. This film is good for the soul in untold ways and is a prime reminder of why films are among the most wondrous, magical and astounding discoveries of humankind. If you have not seen this film you should try to as soon as possible. It is lovely and beautiful and strange.

Prince Ahmad of Bagdad (John Justin) is tricked by his Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt - the astoundingly evil nazi from Casablanca) and cast out of his kingdom. Jaffar casts a spell on Ahmad, turning him blind, but not before Ahmad catches a glimpse of the princess (June Duprez), the most beautiful woman in the land. Together with his plucky friend Abu (Sabu), prince Ahmad seeks to defeat the evil wizard Jaffar and return to his rightful place as the ruler of the land, freeing the people from the oppression of his predecessors and the evil vizier. 

Obviously a huge influence on both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, The Thief of Bagdad is a wonderful adventure, one which utilizes the language of cinema to its fullest potential. It is the kind of film that will leave your jaw hanging for much of its running time, creating magical scenarios that still manage to enchant and amaze, outdoing modern special effects through sheer imagination and technical wizardry. No computer generated special effects could ever come close to the artfulness of these scenes. The performances are lovely, simple and straightforward, later echoed in Lucas' original Star Wars films. Veidt is delicious as the evil wizard and Duprez and Justin do an excellent job with their roles. Special kudos go to Sabu and Rex Ingram as a Djinn.  

The greatest compliment I can grant to this film is that it reminds me of Saint-Exupery's majestic The Little Prince: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly." This is a great film and one that deserves to be studied and contemplated deeply. 

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