The Thief of Baghdad

Dir: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell & Tim Whelan
Star: John Justin, Conrad Veidt, Sabu, June Duprez

Any effects-heavy film will inevitably date badly, as what looks cutting-edge one year becomes run-of-the-mill the next, then laughably primitive soon thereafter. So it is here, with the 1940 matte effects doing their best to take the modern viewer out of the story - in particular, the wires holding up the magic carpet are painfully visible. Fortunately, the story and performances have held up a great deal better, with deposed king Ahmed (Justin) a classic, square-jawed hero, accompanied by plucky sidekick Abu (Sabu), and prepared to go through any trial to win the hand of his maiden (Duprez) - Veidt is particularly creepy as evil villain Jaffar. And yes, if this all sounds familiar, it's because large chunks were brought on board for Disney's Aladdin.

Not the first version of the story made by Hollywood (there was a 1924 silent starring Douglas Fairbanks), it's interesting how the title character is not the hero - depending on your reading, the thief could either be Abu or Jaffar. Indeed, Ahmed vanishes in the middle, for a lengthy sequence where Abu and his genie go and get a gem from the forehead of a massive statue, which will let them discover Ahmed's location. This also includes a battle against a giant spider which is kinda cool, despite the limited effects, and the overall feel of the film is undeniably epic. A little more suspension of disbelief than usual may be required, but the sets and photography are still luscious, while as a straightforward tale of good vs. evil, this remains entirely solid and entertaining.

August 2004

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