A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 362 – The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

The Thief of Bagdad (1940) – February 25th, 2011

We own two versions of this story and we did a bit of debate over them tonight. We do indeed have a rule that states that series must be watched in the correct order, but we don’t have anything about remakes or different versions of a story. There’s nothing in the rules saying that we had to watch all our versions of Hamlet in chronological order. We watched the original Hairspray after the remake, after all, but then we didn’t own the original when we watched the remake, so we couldn’t have. Still, it feels a little odd, watching the 1940 version of this when we have a silent version from 1924 as well. But the silent version is super long and we just weren’t up to it tonight and well, it’s not against the rules. So here we are.

There’s a lot of movie in this movie. It’s a grand old film full of elaborate sets and fun special effects that are far and away better than anything Sharks in Venice had despite being from about fifty years earlier. And it’s not a budget thing. It’s an attention to detail thing. It’s a pride in the end product thing. Because it’s a fantasy epic and it feels large and well made from start to finish.

There’s also a lot of story in this movie. The title would suggest that the story is about the thief, Abu, but the begin the movie hearing the story of Ahmad, an exiled king whose grand vizier (seriously, it’s always the grand vizier and they need to abolish the position) tricked him and tried to have him killed before blinding him and leaving him a beggar. A good half to two thirds of the movie follows Ahmad and his romance with the princess of Basra. Ahmad is imprisoned by his grand vizier, then Abu helps him escape. They go to Basra, where Ahmad sneaks into the garden where the princess is and meets her (and of course they totally fall in love), and then he’s caught by the vizier again. The vizier blinds him and turns Abu into a dog and we hear all about this from Ahmad himself, telling the story to a group of women in his old palace where he’s been brought to wake the princess from a deep sleep that only her true love will break.

Sounds like it’s all about Ahmad, right? Except no. It really is largely about how Abu saves Ahmad’s ass again and again. While there’s a romance going on and the story of an exiled king and an evil usurper, the real story here is about the plucky thief who manages to get into the middle of it all and bring it to its rightful (and prophesied) end. It’s kind of fascinating to see the movie try to do both stories, and it largely succeeds. Sure, there are bits where it feels a little uneven, but I’d have to say that Sabu’s performance as Abu is what makes the movie about Abu. He steals every scene, which is as it should be. He is playing a thief, after all. And that’s not to say that John Justin is bad as Ahmad, it’s just that Sabu really plays his part up. I liked Justin and thought he did a nice job with the romance and I thought the same of June Duprez as the princess. But they’re just not as interesting to me as characters as Abu is. But then, I do like clever thieves.

Truth be told, I could have done with even more Abu, but I did get quite a lot for him anyhow. He meets a djinn and goes to steal a magic eye from a hidden temple and there’s some great stuff there. The djinn is a nicely sinister character who enjoys tricking Abu, but Abu ends up with the upper hand. I did feel that the magical kingdom that showed up out of nowhere was a bit of a cop out, but eh, it was fun, and they gave Abu a pretty pink quiver of arrows and a bow and a magic carpet, so how can I argue?

It’s a fun movie, and really, it stands up fairly well considering its age. The plot could have been a little tighter, with the various plot points joined together more smoothly, but that’s really my only complaint. It was well acted, with lovely sets and some fantastic makeup and effects. There’s whimsy to it, and not the cloying kind. It’s fanciful and enjoyable and I had fun watching it. I’m very curious now about the silent version, but we’ll be seeing that one soon enough.

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February 25, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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