In the early 1920s, Douglas Fairbanks was transformed from comedy star into swash-buckling heartthrob via The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921) and Robin Hood (1922). Arguably one of the high-notes amongst his sensational ripping yarns is 1924’s The Thief of Bagdad, a reworking of the Arabian Nights that gave ample opportunity for his charisma to burst from the screen. His performance is complemented by lavish production design and unparalleled special effects in what was one of the decade’s most expensive features. Now released on a terrific blu-ray transfer as part of the Masters of Cinema collection, this silent fantasy epic is well worth revisiting.
The city constructed around Ahmed is a marvel in itself, a gigantic art deco Bagdad designed by William Cameron Menzies that provides the hero with all manner of impressive palace walls to scale during his escapades. Elsewhere he clambers magical ropes, just one example of a whole new world of impressive visual effects that also included a winged horse and a flying carpet. Director Raoul Walsh, who was famously neglected by contemporary critics, shoots everything with a shimmering quality that only heighten the dreamlike milieu that Fairbanks had always wanted. All of which amounts to a rollicking magic carpet ride that suffers from narrative lulls, but The Thief of Bagdad remains airborne thanks to splendid sets, cinematic wizardry and the sheer star power of its leading man.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson