The Thief of Bagdad (Raoul Walsh / U.S., 1924):

An oneiric Arabian Nights medley spun under the stars, just the trampoline for Douglas Fairbanks in full flight. An electric grin and a bronze torso, his eponymous pickpocket is a pleasure-seeking grasshopper surrounded by pious ants: When a scrape is interrupted by the call for prayer, the scamp skips over the backs of his prostrated pursuers like stones in a river before smashing through a large vase. (Kurosawa's Kagemusha offers an ornate recollection.) Climbing the palace's walls with a magic rope, he comes for the treasures but stays for the Caliph's daughter (Julanne Johnston). Love teaches the hero humility, though the ravenous impetus lives on in the Mongol Prince (Sojin Kamiyama) with eyes on the throne. From the bottom of the ocean to the staircase on the moon, Fairbanks' gusto demands all the space in the world. "Devouring flames, foul monsters, shapes of death" beset the path to happiness, Raoul Walsh dreams alongside his leading man, one marvel after another. Apes, enchantresses, giant lizards, aquatic spiders and winged horses adorn William Cameron Menzies' cavernous sets, a ship's sail is lowered like a stage curtain (or perhaps an oversized Chinese fan) and suddenly a new exotic backdrop fills the screen. As the reformed scoundrel rides to the rescue, the villain gloats cheerfully over his rivals: "You shall add joy to the wedding by being boiled in oil." The Koran is quoted and Lang is acknowledged (Der Müde Tod is a model, Die Nibelungen a competitor), but the boyish élan of star and filmmaker on the flying carpet is distinctively American. (By contrast, the eccentricity of the 1940 version is British down to the last grain of Technicolor sand.) With Snitz Edwards and Anna May Wong. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home