I don’t care that this 1940 version of “The Thief of Bagdad” is set in some indeterminate past, nor that it involves Arabian legends, nor does it matter a whit to me who the villain was in the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks version. When you see that the 1940 version has THIS GUY as your evil character?
you just know strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
Actually, “The Thief of Bagdad” is a lot of fun. It bounds from start to finish with a cheerful energy. Even when Ahmad (John Justin) is blind, and Abu (Sabu (hand to Siskel, I’m not making this up)) is his dog, they’re happy. There’s a giant genie, who’s kind of a mean bastard for awhile till Abu tricks him. Even when he’s subject to Abu’s commands, he’s still sort of mocking and bullying, though in a nice enough way.
Jaffar (played by Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt)) is an oily, evil presence, a king-exiling, virgin-craving, double-crossing, son-of-a-bitch. Oddly, when he was shot by the Arrow of Truth, I suddenly felt like it was time to go to sleep. (Apparently, it’s not just Major Strasser: whenever Conrad Veidt dies in any film, I’m ready for sleep)) ((note: The Thief of Bagdad preceded Casablanca by a year or two. Some people might have sat in Casablanca, and said, “Holy SHIT! That Nazi is madre-freakin’ JAFFAR!”)
The special effects…well, they didn’t have Industrial Light & Magic back then, and certainly no CGI. There are some times when the onscreen image is almost laughable. The thing is, I was so sufficiently entertained–and so aware that the movie is 72 years old–that I didn’t care. In fact, “The Thief of Bagdad” won three Oscars, for visual effects, set decoration, and its gorgeous Technicolor cinematography. The film aims to appeal to families, to provide sheer escapism. There aren’t a lot of “Big Ideas” to discuss.
“The Thief of Bagdad” is a wonderful piece of entertainment. It wasn’t the best picture to come out that year–the Oscar nominees include “The Philadelphia Story,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Rebecca,” and “Foreign Correspondent” (as reviewed yesterday)–but it is a hoot. It’s not too long, definitely not too heavy-handed, and in the end, Major Strasser does NOT get the girl.
What more could you want?