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Douglas Fairbanks plays the role of Ahmed the titular thief of Bagdad and is the focus of this grand adventure. The story centers on a poor thief who in the midst of his thievery, is caught in the crossfire of the villainous Mongolian King’s grand scheme. The king is planning to take the gleaming city of Bagdad and the heart of The Princess. Upon first sight The Princess, played by actress Julanne Johnston, changes Ahmed and his initial motivation. As critic Darragh O’Donoghue states, “-from selfish marginality to selfless heroism, from everyday subsistence to eternal love-”[[(Senses of Cinema)->Works Cited Page]]. Inspired by The Arabian Nights, we see Ahmed get in and out of mischief with his athletic acrobatics, search for treasure, scale massive palace walls, and fight for his city and the safety of The Princess. To film such a fantastical story needed a well staffed production crew and the right vision.
Not enough can be said about the importance of teamwork that Thief of Bagdad’s production thrived on. The Director Raoul Walsh, the production designer William Cameron Menzies, and of course the lead actor and producer Douglas Fairbanks. Each of these artists carry with them legacies that have inspired noteworthy contemporary filmmakers. Douglas wrote the script, produced the film, and of course played the lead role. He hired William Cameron Menzies, a production designer, regarded as "possibly the most influential" by film historian John T. Soister'. To achieve the grand level of spectacle that Douglas Fairbanks envisioned would require new techniques in the special effects department as well as refinement of the old, and it would not have been possible without creative collaboration. The film heavily features magic tricks and mythical creatures, forcing the production to be Innovative in its craftsmanship. “Fairbanks wanted to out-do the magic that was then being performed by the German Expressionistic film wizards.”, [[John T. Soister (pg.562)->Works Cited Page]]. Even in the set design you can see the inspiration that German Expressionism had with the extreme characterized version of Arabian Architecture in the film.
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One of the great deterrents to modern audiences when it comes to watching older films is a dated product, whether in story, in acting or in themes. With a 140 minute runtime this film takes you on a journey that still captivates even now. The characters are charming, the pace of the story is consistently engaging and the acting is appropriately subdued compared to some of Fairbanks earlier films. In paraphrasing Joe Morgenstern shares a similar sentiment, “Silent films at their melodramatic worst can drive modern audiences to distraction with prosaic inter-titles that explain what should have emerged wordlessly. But the silent version of “The Thief of Bagdad” is a model of narrative clarity, with little need for elaborate titles, and no need at all for what we’d call a “back story,”~”[[(The Thief of Bagdad).->Works Cited Page]] Mise en scene is evident throughout the film; the importance of props, the physically looming presence of the large sets and camera composition all work in tandem in telling the story within the scene. We understand the roles that the characters play, their ambitions, and their character traits. Made clear through the costumes, their living environments, and of course the way the world around them treats them. With it’s dedicated team of artists; director, producer, lead actors, the production designer, and the extras, this film took what came before it and elevated it through innovation. I believe this film to a degree inspired what the studio system would strive to achieve with large productions later on. A refined process where multiple talented people came together to make a great picture.
The legacy of The Thief of Bagdad was cemented in its initial release and it has reverberated through other retellings or remakes over the decades. Critics, as well as the general public, can attest to the artistry of the film which is perfectly encapsulated by a 1924 review in The Times which boldly states, “It is an entrancing picture, wholesome and beautiful, deliberate but compelling, a feat of motion picture art which has never been equaled and one which itself will enthrall persons time and again.” [[(The Times)->Works Cited Page]]
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In terms of narrative works that have come before this film, there was The Cameraman's Revenge in 1912 which pushed the limitations of film. The Cameraman's Revenge played with scale in it's minature set design, where as the The Thief of Bagdad went giant scale in their set building. A link to more information about that film here:<a href=https://homi.neocities.org/2019/t/The_Cameramans_Revenge.html target="_blank">The Cameraman's Revenge</a>
In the following decades the film industry saw numerous retellings and remakes of The Thief of Bagdad. A remake was released less than twenty years later, in 1940. A film with its own grand legacy in every right, it took the magic of the Douglas Fairbanks original and used the new tools available, like technicolor to present a retelling to a new audience. In watching parts of the 1940 remake the flying horse trick is noticeably similar, almost identical to the trick in the 1924 original. With a little research I have come to find that Menzies worked on the remake as well. Menzies trick worked so well in 1926 that 16 years later they chose to do it the same way and hired him as well. [[(John T. Soister, pg. 561)->Works Cited Page]] In 1992 we see Disney’s Aladdin, another film that was based on The Arabian Nights, as well as Disney’s live action remake by the same name in 2019. Although not exactly the same, we can concur that The Thief of Bagdad had some influence on the Disney versions.
A work that came after this film that also showcased an air of fantasy and mise-en-cine was Alice in Wonderland in 1949. Interestingly enough this film, like The Thief of Bagdad was also an adaptation of an novel, and was later to be remade by Disney in 1951.
<a href=https://homi.neocities.org/2019/t/alice.html target="_blank">Alice in Wonderland (1949)</a>
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Cousins, Mark. The Story of Film. Pavilion, 2015.
O’Donoghue, Darragh. “The Thief of Bagdad (Raoul Walsh, 1924).” Senses of Cinema, 23 Oct. 2017, http://sensesofcinema.com/2017/cteq/the-thief-of-bagdad/ .
Soister, John T., Nicolella, Henry., Joyce, Steve. American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland, 2012. https://books.google.es/books?id=ajXwxJuYd5gC&pg=PA559#v=onepage&q&f=false
Vance, Jeffrey“The Thief of Bagdad.” The Thief of Bagdad | Silent Film Festival, http://www.silentfilm.org/archive/the-thief-of-bagdad .
“The Screen.” The Times, 19 Mar. 1924, pp. 1–1, https://www.nytimes.com/1924/03/19/archives/the-screen.html.
Kramer, Fritzi. “The Thief of Bagdad (1924) A Silent Film Review.” Movies Silently, 6 May 2015, http://moviessilently.com/2013/02/01/the-thief-of-bagdad-1924-a-silent-film-review/.
Morgenstern, Joe. The Thief of Bagdad. Lib. of Cong. N.d. 2002.
<http://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-film-preservation-board/documents/thief_of_bagdad.pdf>[[The Thief of Bagdad (Home)]]
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Film was like a blank canvas at this time, and almost every film released inadvertently introduced a new filmmaking technique as the medium was still young. Artists were excited about the potential of film and it shows in the accelerating advancement in techniques within the first two decades from 1900-1920. The systems of editing, film directing, and cinematography were not only invented with the emergence of cinema, but were laying the groundwork for most of narrative cinema in the future. The inventiveness and creativity of filmmakers is not only seen in the technical aspects, but in narrative story as well. As film matured audiences were looking for a richer complexity in content than the old trick films of the early 1900 's [[(Mark Cousins, The Story of Film)->Works Cited Page]]. New genre pieces like adventure, fantasy, and sci-fi films with complex narrative structures and characters were soon being produced. In 1924, The Thief of Bagdad introduced audiences to a grand level of epic fantasy. With the film’s large set pieces, immense production, dazzling special effects and meticulously planned out creative vision, it’s legacy as an important film of the silent film era can’t be ignored.
The film premiered on March 18, 1924. It’s well documented that Douglas Fairbanks wanted the premiere to be just as special and went all out in creating a spectacle for the attendees. As stated in Jeffrey Vance’s essay, “At great expense, Fairbanks hired Morris Gest, a master showman in the spirit of his father-in-law David Belasco, to oversee all the American road-show presentations of the film, which boasted “full scenic and stage effects, a band of Arabian musicians, with the instruments of their native country, as well as a Mohammedan Prayer Man.”. According to Vance, Photoplay magazine proclaimed “Here is magic. Here is beauty. Here is the answer to the cynics who give the motion picture no place in the family arts … It is a work of rare genius ....””[[(Jeffrey Vance)->Works Cited Page]]. High praise not just for the creators in making an exciting adventure film, but as a work of art, echoing the notion that the film elevated the entire medium as an art form with its execution. Jeffrey Vance recalls Poet Carl Sandburg’s review in the Chicago Daily News “Probably no one photoplay since the motion picture business and art got going has been greeted so enthusiastically in the circles known as highbrow and lowbrow,.” writes Sandburg [[(Jeffrey Vance)”.->Works Cited Page]]
The Arabian Nights/One Thousand and One Nights influence on the film is expressed in a very 1920’s style; as Fritz Kramer notes in his review, “A sort of Roaring Twenties version of Arabian Nights as painted by Maxfield Parrish”. There’s a clear influence from Douglas Fairbanks previous swashbuckling adventure films, like The Three Musketeers (1921) and Robin Hood (1922). Carrying into this new setting his reputation as the swashbuckling acrobat, The Thief of Bagdad has clear roots in his earlier work and almost plays out like an elevated version of those films. “Fairbanks also embraced the concepts of stylized performance and sets from contemporary German cinema.” [[Biographer Jeffrey Vance claims.->Works Cited Page]]
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