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STUDIO: Cohen Media Group
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 155 minutes
• Audio commentary with Douglas Fairbanks’ biographer Jeffrey Vance
• Video essay with rare behind the scenes photographs
• 2012 restoration trailer
The 1924 silent fantasy epic comes to Blu-ray to charm the pants off of a new generation of film lovers.
Directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Douglas Fairbanks, Snitz Edwards, and Julanne Johnston.
The impossibly charming Douglas Fairbanks stars as a loveable street urchin who’s out to win the heart of a princess. You know the story from Aladdin. Only this time there’s no Robin Williams or musical numbers – there’s only pure, unadulterated movie magic. This 89-year-old fantasy epic sports some of the craziest set pieces and stunts you will ever see. If you’ve never seen it before, be prepared to be knocked on your ass, Fairbanks style!
I’m not gonna front. I haven’t seen many silent films. Back in college I had to watch some for film classes, but they were never something I sought out on my own time. There were so many movies I’d rather watch instead – even if I was just visiting The Karate Kid for the 25th time. That being said, watching 1924’s The Thief of Bagdad was like a swan kick to the face. From the first frame I was completely engrossed in this 2 1/2 hour swashbuckling epic. And the whole time I kept thinking what it must have been like to been around when this bad boy first came out. People must have jumped out of their skulls in sheer joy. Not to sound sappy, but that’s what this film is: pure magic and joy. There are giant monsters, gnome ghosts, flying horses, simply a wealth of fantastical bliss. Oh, it’s also absolutely BANANAS.
If you’ve seen Disney’s Aladdin then you already know the story: street urchin falls in love with princess, villainous foreigner vies for the throne, and a magic carpet rips shit up. There’s no genie though – instead there’s Douglas Fairbanks, the hunkiest petty thief who ever stole a loaf of bread. The film begins with him stealing everything in sight at a Bagdad bazaar. The best part is, he shows zero remorse. He’s literally shoving handfuls of rice in his mouth and belly-laughing in between swallows. He looks absolutely psychotic during this whole sequence. There’s this fat slob sleeping on the street, so Thief steals some accessories off of his pointy-dunce hat. When the fat guy wakes up, Thief is above on a balcony laughing his face off.
I was enjoying all of this until Thief swipes a magic rope from a street performer. Just some poor magician on the street trying to make a living and Thief has to snatch his one good prop. So, he’s kind of a dick that way. After he’s done robbing everyone blind, he retreats to his underground lair accessed via a well. He lives in this cesspool with a character credited as “his evil associate,” played by Hungarian actor Snitz Edwards. Snitz sleeps all day while Thief does his thing, then they split up the booty. I’m not sure why Thief shares his treasures with Snitz. Maybe he’s the landlord? They’re really tight though and when a parade of suitors hits town, Snitz helps Thief convince everyone he’s royalty entitled to a shot at the princess.
Through his gymnastic skills and inability to take a hint, Thief sneaks into the princess’ chambers. Ok…this part’s pretty insane. Earlier in the film, when Thief gets the urge to steal, he scratches his palm and makes a grabbing motion, like he’s reaching for an invisible breast. Inside the princess’ chambers, he gives her a rose. As she’s smelling it, he reaches down near her crotch and makes the same grabbing motion (see picture above)! Like he wants to steal her vagina! It’s only on screen for like two seconds! I looked around the net and couldn’t find any other reference to what’s got to be one of the sleaziest gestures in silent film history! Has no one else noticed this in 89 years?!?!
Anyways, the wicked Mongol prince has his own plan for the princess and the city of Bagdad. He’s got spies everywhere who thwart the plans of the other competing suitors. One of them exposes Thief for the common man he is and he gets banished from the palace. To prove his worth, he embarks on an epic quest through valleys of fire, monsters, and scary-as-hell tree people. He even goes to the moon! THE MOON!
All of this is achieved with innovative special effects and staggering, full-scale sets that made it one of the most expensive films of the 1920s (estimated cost: $2 million). In our contemporary world of slick digital effects, Theif‘s visual wizardry is really something special. Yeah, you can see the wires holding up the magic carpet (especially in HD). But the gesture is so large in scale, so moving in scope, that, really, who the hell cares.There are lots of creepy double exposure effects too – like when that shit-eating gnome ghost on the moon materializes to point Thief in the right direction.
Fairbanks himself is the best special effect. His other-worldly athleticism allowed him to scale and jump around these massive sets like it was nothing. In some scenes, every crevice, ledge, and step is used as a springboard for Fairbanks. I’m an action lover and I gotta say, some of the stunts he pulls off here are genuinely kickass. If that wasn’t enough, he could charm the scales off a rattlesnake too.
We’re so numb to fantasy elements in films nowadays. CGI and all that 3D bullshit is supposed to immerse an audience in realms beyond our imagination and it’s all created on a computer. It rarely works (for me anyway). I can’t remember the last time a giant CGI landscape made my jaw drop. But The Thief of Bagdad gave me some of that ol’ awe-feeling back. I recommend any film lover see it once in their lives. It’s an honest to goodness feast of visuals, stunts, and production designs, not to mention crotch grabs and a psychotic street urchin. I bet you’ll enjoy just as much (if not more) than any contemporary blockbuster.
If you don’t agree, I will steal your rice.
The Cohen Film Collection presents The Thief of Bagdad in a 1080p transfer with 1.32:1 ratio. There are some minor warps during transitions, but other than that the transfer looks amazing. It includes the original color tints and there’s plenty of crisp detail (check out the close-up above). The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 nicely exploits Carl Davies’ brilliant score.
AUDIO COMMENTARY WITH FAIRBANKS’ BIOGRAPHER JEFFREY VANCE: Being his biographer, Vance spends a lot of time talking about Fairbanks the man. He also offers up a grip of insight on the film’s production, although not too much about the groundbreaking special effects. Overall it’s a conversational and enjoyable commentary track.
FAIRBANKS AND FANTASY: This 18-minute visual essay features tons of rare behind the scenes photographs accompanied by informative text from Jeffrey Vance. The organ track playing through it is painful.
The booklet contains an informative essay by Laura Boyes, a film curator at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars