The Thief of Bagdad (1924)    1 Stars


The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)


Director: Raoul Walsh

Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards

Synopsis: A recalcitrant thief vies with a duplicitous Mongol ruler for the hand of a beautiful princess.







Douglas Fairbanks (The Mark of Zorro, The Three Musketeers) plays the eponymous hero in this elaborate silent fantasy directed by Raoul Walsh. He struts around Bagdad, an oiled, perpetually grinning figure of exuberant theatricality, brimming with vitality and communicating with grand, sweeping gestures. He steals from anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path, and laughs at those whose outraged objections are disbelieved by the authorities. He’s not really a man to admire, it has to be said, and Fairbanks lacks the charm to be entirely convincing as a lovable rogue, but his perspective on life is irrevocably altered when he encounters, and is smitten with, The Princess (Julanne Johnston – The Big Parade, The Scarlet Empress). Her father, The Caliph (Brandon Hurst – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), is pretty much auctioning his daughter off for marriage but, feeling the same way about The Thief as he does about her, she delays making a decision about whom she shall wed by proclaiming that the lucky suitor will be he who returns with the rarest treasure after the passing of the seventh moon. Her proclamation sparks a competitive treasure hunt between three princes, one of whom is the dastardly “King of Ho Sho, Governor of Wa Hoo and the Island of Wak” (Sojin – The Sea Beast), and our hero which sees them travelling to fantastical far-off lands.

It has to be said that Douglas Fairbanks looks pretty good for a man of 40. He had a round face, which was something of a drawback for an action hero because it had the unfortunate consequence of making him look a little overweight on screen. But in The Thief of Bagdad he spends much of his time with his shirt off, and actually looks a lot more athletic because of it. While the film feels a little slow by today’s standards – especially in the opening part – it boasts some impressive special effects for the era and some stupendous sets which dwarf the actors. There’s also a great sequence set on the sea bed, apparently shot in slow motion through gauze, which demonstrates the ingenuity of vintage filmmakers which is perhaps not as prevalent in this age of CGI effects. At 140 minutes, The Thief of Bagdad is probably twenty minutes too long, but it nevertheless remains an impressive and engaging piece of work.

(Reviewed 22nd April 2015)

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