Sunday, May 10, 2009
Day 101: The Thief of Bagdad (1940) - Rank 4/5
When you start looking at different genres of film, each has a representative that could be defined as the pinnacle of what the genre has to offer, presented in the form of a "sweeping epic." Drama has many choices, the most predominant in my mind being "Gone with the Wind." The biblical genre has "Ten Commandments." Science fiction has "Star Wars." Fantasy has "Lord of the Rings." Even comedies have "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." So when it comes to an offshoot of the fantasy realm involving the ancient world (the Sinbad films, "Clash of the Titans," etc.), I believe that "The Thief of Bagdad" fits right into that slot.
The basic plot has a lot of similarities to the tale of "Aladdin," except that the male protagonist (Ahmed) is actually a king and the princess resides in another kingdom. There is still a doddering sultan that both Ahmed and his evil Grand Vizier (aren't they all - this one is played with hammy glee by Conrad Veidt), Ahmed still ends up on a deserted island with a genie (a shirtless, painted Rex Ingram - far scarier than the voice of Robin Williams, but not as scary as the thought of a shirtless, painted Robin Williams...ugh, that's a big diaper on that djinn), he still has a partner named Abu (a small child thief rather than a thieving monkey) and there's still a magic carpet. Actually, it's a lot like Disney's "Aladdin"...or I should say that "Aladdin borrows very heavily from it.
This is the type of film that, upon watching it as an adult, I wish I'd seen as a kid. I would have really fallen in love with it. While it still doesn't top the marvelous world of Sinbad (primarily because it lacks the fantastic creations of Ray Harryhausen), there are still plenty of awesome visuals, bizarre characters and impressive special effects (for 1940 - hence it winning the Oscar for special effects, as well as cinematography and art direction). The funny thing is, while you feel as if you've just finished a three-hour film, it only runs 106 minutes. The illusion comes from the sheer bulk of excellent plot twists and sights that overwhelm while they entertain.
Watch the Trailer