If you’ve seen Disney’s animated Aladdin, then chances are you’ll enjoy The Thief of Bagdad, an adventure film made on the cusp of the 1940s which looks to adapt the very familiar story that had been set out in the silent, 1924 original of the same name. While its merits, story and message are similar, the Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger and Tim Whelan directed piece looks to take the story to richer areas of disbelief, magical storytelling and incredible cinematography. I can’t imagine how great this would have looked upon initial release, but it’s a testament to the abilities of this directing trio that The Thief of Bagdad is still a surprisingly brilliant film to this day.
Starring Sabu as Abu, The Thief of Bagdad tells the well-known story of a Prince Ahmad (John Justin) teaming up with a scrappy young thief, Abu, to reclaim his palace and princess from the villainous Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). A classic adventure tale that has been told countless times before, and will, of course, be told many more times down the line, but this adaptation, in particular, is truly special. Its utilisation of the camera and cinematography is far beyond anything else that could be provided at the time. From a visual and technical merit, The Thief of Bagdad is a revelation, a must-see for those interested in how movies have evolved and expanded themselves to be more than mindless entertainment.
That’s not to say The Thief of Bagdad is a merely artistic affair, it holds within it a classic re-telling of an ancient story. Although it lacks Robin Williams, the film makes up for it with some well-rounded performances and interesting characters. There’s not all that much depth to any of them, but that isn’t really all that necessary, and in time it’s easy to overcome this rather glaringly obvious shortcoming. If you can mount that obstacle, The Thief of Bagdad will prove itself an enduring favourite, a strong film that utilises Technicolour to its full, glorious advantage. There’s not much in the way of acute, detailed storytelling, but the broad picture is more than enough to craft a clumsy, albeit heart-warming and engaging adventure.
A colourful, mesmerising early adventure film that has some astounding visuals considering the restraints of the time. It’s clear to see why it picked up Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards with its boundary-pushing knack for effects and simply ground-breaking utilisation of green screens, camera tricks and lighting. Although The Thief of Bagdad suffers from some hammy supporting performances and relatively small pacing issues, it’s still a thoroughly fun adventure film that borrows plentiful amounts from Arabian Nights and spins it into a foolhardy visual risk that just so happens to pay off. It paints a glorious picture, masquerading some rather forgettable leading performances and an adventure worth taking.