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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Thief of Baghdad (released in 1924) - starring Douglas Fairbanks and Anna May Wong

This movie is a epoch making movie of the silent film era and is treated as one of the classics of American cinema. This movie stars the effervescent Douglas Fairbanks and was the stepping stone for the Asian Actress Anne May Wong to gain a foothold in Hollywood. This movie takes place in Baghdad where a bare-chested and bare-footed thief Ahmed is living on the streets by his wits. He pilfers his food, wrangles a place to sleep and steals nicknacks to gain money. He never does any gainful work and is contemptuous about his religion.
But things change as he comes across a magic rope during one of his robbing sessions. He uses this rope to steal the ultimate treasure from the Caliph of Persia. As he magics himself in to the castle, he sees the caliphs daughter who is the ethereal beauty. He is completely smitten and even forgets the treasure he came to steal. The Caliph, meanwhile is hunting for suitors for his daughter and calls for princes far and wide. Soon the princes from India, Persia and Mongolia arrive along with the Prince from the Isle of Seven seas who is really Ahmed in his stolen finery.
Ahmed woos the princess and she chooses him to be her husband. The Mongolian Khan is the most disappointed as he had planned to conquer Baghdad on the pretext of the marriage. But Ahmed's deception is soon discovered and he is flogged and thrown out on the streets. A distraught Ahmed takes refuge in religion and takes the advice of the local Mullah. The Mullah tells him that “Happiness has to be earned” and he needs to work for his goal of attaining the princess.



In the meantime the remaining princes are given the task of getting a the most unique treasure to win the heart of the princess. The Prince of Persia buys a flying Carpet, the Prince from India get a crystal ball and the Khan from Mongolia gets the golden apple which can cure any malady. They combine their resources and rush back to Baghdad where the princess is in the throes of death due to the poison administered by the Khan's slave girl. The Khan cures her and the Caliph ponders on the question of the winner. The impatient Khan anyway conquers Baghdad and imprisons everybody in it.
Ahmed in the meantime gets a magic chest which gives him all he desires. He acquires all princely stuff, including a army and defeats the evil Khan. Ahmed gets to marry the princess and lives happily ever after. This silent Era film has amazing sets by William Cameron Menezies and these magnificent creations lend credibility to the adventure scenes which includes Palaces, fire breathing volcanoes, treasure caves, flying horses, lions and battle scenes. At the time of zero special effects, the movie scores on the art department itself. Another point I need to point out is the acting, which seems to be over the top by today's standards. But those actions speak louder than words as emotions are not conveyed by words but by facial and body movements. This movie has to be seen to be believed.
In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

The Thief of Baghdad (released in 1924) - starring Douglas Fairbanks and Anna May Wong

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