Nov 23, 2010

The thief of Bagdad (1940): an entertaining adventure

As I promised, I'm reviewing the first of a dozen of adventure movies. This is the first because of actor John Justin. Really. I've never heard of him before (have you?) and I think he was just gorgeous and a fine actor. Seems that after this movie he never had much success in films, with the Second World War going on and all, but anyway his true passion was the theater. He was English, but his father was Argentinian. He lived some years in this neighbor country and even learned how to fly a plane when he was 12. I'm planing to see more films from him, like David Lean's The Sound Barrier and The Untamed with Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward and Agnes Moorehead. But that's another story. 

Princess: Who are you? 
Ahmad: Your slave.
Princess: Where have you come from?
Ahmad: From the other side of time, to find you.
Princess: How long have you been searching?
Ahmad: Since time began.
Princess: Now that you've found me, how long will you stay?
Ahmad: To the end of time. For me, there can be no more beauty in the world, than yours. 
Princess: For me, there can be no more pleasure in the world, than to please you.
British The Thief of Bagdad (aka An Arabian Fantasy in Technicolor) is the adventure of King Ahmad (John Justin) and thief Abu (Indian actor Sabu) trying to rescue the Princess from Jaffar (Conrad Veit), the Grand Vizier who took his throne. Evil Jaffar is really baaad. With his evil powers he:

a) makes Prince Ahmad blind
b) transforms thief Abu in a dog
c) kidnaps the Princess (June Duprez)
d) kills the Princess' father

Jaffar and King from "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940)

He looks just like Disney's Jaffar. And the Princess' father too, playing with toys and fooling around flying in a...toy horse. Oh, well, not to mention Ahmad and his friend Abu, stealing melons in the market and eating them on the tents roofs. At the end they meet a Genius and Abu finds a flying carpet. Yes, the way the characters look and the design of some scenes from Disney's Aladdin are clearly copied from here, even when both films are inspired in the tales from One Thousand and One Nights


Alexander Korda, the director, used very well the Technicolor. I like when movies invite me to a new world using colorful sets and I don't really mind if they don't look very real. This film has special effects that work, even when some of them look very outdated (the flying Genius for example). The main actors are fine in their roles: Justin being troubled because the kidnapping of his love and Sabu being a positive and cheerful rascal. He has some funny lines and helps the film to move.
Conrad Veit is great as Jaffar, assuming the way the villain is presented in this film: a bad guy who really wants the love of the Princess without using his magic powers and fails. June Duprez is fine as the Princess, but don't expect a very energetic character because the script just asked her to be pretty, fall in love at first sight and wait for her rescue (although in one scene she attempts to kill herself by jumping from a ship on the high sea). 

John Justin and June Duprez in "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940)

But what I liked the most is that Ahmad and Abu have to face many different vicissitudes, like escaping from prison, trying to survive with the limitations Jaffar has temporarily imposed to them, sailing in a little boat and being surprised by a storm created by the evil wizard, meeting fantastic creatures and people etc etc. It also contains a cool scene of Abu fighting with a huge spider. The scenes are not very extended, so the movie moves fast, showing you a kaleidoscope of exciting situations. 

Sabu and John Justin in "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940)

My only problem with this film is the way it's told, using flashbacks during the first half of the movie. At some points you don't know what is really happening and what is a memory. But when you get used to this, it doesn't really mind: The thief of Bagdad is that entertaining. Roger Evert called it "one of the greatest of fantasy films, on a level with The Wizard of Oz" (I wouldn't go that far though).

 You can see the complete movie in one file on Youtube : Click here!

5 comments :

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Flamingo said...

Hola Clara, no tengo mi blog de cine (Como niebla…) asociado al perfil, pero te he visto en mis seguidores y al ver tu blog me has fascinado, es maravilloso, enlazas fotos deliciosas (Gable y Lombard) y los films que eliges para tus entradas son míticos también para mí.

Aquí en España a los críos de mi generación no se les fomentó el idioma inglés pero es curioso, siempre he pensado que el lenguaje del cine es universal y más o menos me aclaro.

Lo que hacemos es muy bonito Clara, trasladamos a la red nuestro amor por el cine clásico, no dejaremos jamás que caiga en el olvido, dentro de cien años la Web será distinta pero alguien tecleará en su PC “Leo MacCarey” y aparecerán nuestros blog, en alguien despertaremos curiosidad y quizá se decida a ver “Make way for tomorrown” y el celuloide volverá a ser mágico de nuevo.

Vuelvo a decirte que tu blog es de lo mejor que he visto en la red, amiga mía.

José (Cantabria, España)

Clara said...

José:
Gracias por tus palabras, de verdad. Yo encontré tu blog hace poco, buscando info sobre Fredric March, y encontré interesantísimos los posts sobre los premios Oscar, muy útiles para tener a mano.
Sí, yo escribo mi blog en inglés porque me sirve para practicarlo y porque he encontrado cinéfilos angloparlantes cuyos blogs son una inspiración y una gran fuente de info. Coincido contigo, el cine clásico merece ser apreciado y me alegra saber que lo es.

Un abrazo,
Clara.

Clara said...

José:
Gracias por tus palabras, de verdad. Yo encontré tu blog hace poco, buscando info sobre Fredric March, y encontré interesantísimos los posts sobre los premios Oscar, muy útiles para tener a mano.
Sí, yo escribo mi blog en inglés porque me sirve para practicarlo y porque he encontrado cinéfilos angloparlantes cuyos blogs son una inspiración y una gran fuente de info. Coincido contigo, el cine clásico merece ser apreciado y me alegra saber que lo es.

Un abrazo,
Clara.

Flamingo said...

Hola Clara, no tengo mi blog de cine (Como niebla…) asociado al perfil, pero te he visto en mis seguidores y al ver tu blog me has fascinado, es maravilloso, enlazas fotos deliciosas (Gable y Lombard) y los films que eliges para tus entradas son míticos también para mí.

Aquí en España a los críos de mi generación no se les fomentó el idioma inglés pero es curioso, siempre he pensado que el lenguaje del cine es universal y más o menos me aclaro.

Lo que hacemos es muy bonito Clara, trasladamos a la red nuestro amor por el cine clásico, no dejaremos jamás que caiga en el olvido, dentro de cien años la Web será distinta pero alguien tecleará en su PC “Leo MacCarey” y aparecerán nuestros blog, en alguien despertaremos curiosidad y quizá se decida a ver “Make way for tomorrown” y el celuloide volverá a ser mágico de nuevo.

Vuelvo a decirte que tu blog es de lo mejor que he visto en la red, amiga mía.

José (Cantabria, España)

K in LA said...

We ought to correspond. If you like John Justin, I can introduce you to men, and women, of the silver screen who will not only make you swoon but who will also take you to cloud nine. Action! K.

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