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Submitted by Malcolm Pratt
The Thief of Bagdad
Review by Bosley Crowther
New York Times, December 6th 1940
Directed by Ludwig Berger and Michael Powell
Written by Lajos Biro and Miles Malleson
Cinematographer, Georges Perinal and Osmond Borradaile
Edited by William Hornbeck and Charles Crichton
Music by Miklos Rozsa
Production designer, Vincent Korda
Produced by Alexander Korda
Released by United Artists
Running time: 106 minutes
Conrad Veidt (Jaffar)
June Duprez (Princess)
John Justin (Ahmad)
Rex Ingram (Djinni)
Miles Malleson (Sultan)
Morton Selten (The Old King)
It is all too seldom that the films, in their headlong quest of "escape," invade the happy realm of legends and fairy tales. Yet Alexander Korda, the eminent British producer, has dared to venture within the regions of fantastic make-believe, has been so bold as to spin a motion picture from the innocent stuff of daydreams. And, as a result, The Thief of Bagdad, which arrived yesterday at the Music Hall, ranks next to Fantasia as the most beguiling and wondrous film of this troubled season.
Remember, though, all of you adults who will surely be taking the youngsters to see it - you must purge your grown-up minds of all the logic which a literal world demands. You must be prepared to accept with an open and childlike faith a fabulous run of miracles performed amid oriental splendor. In short, you must take to heart the wise words of the white-bearded elder in the Land of Legend, to which the little thief goes. "Everything is possible, " says he, "when seen though the eyes of youth." For everything - or most everything - that a child's imagination might conceive becomes perfectly simple and easy when seen through the eyes of Mr. Korda's cameras.
It is from the Arabian Nights stories that this colorful fantasy has been pieced -- from the rich and suspenseful tales which Scheherazade is supposed to have spun for a blasé sultan. And Miles Malleson has constructed it in the shape of a romantic adventure story of a handsome prince of Bagdad whose throne is usurped by his wicked Grand Vizier, of the little thief whom he meets in a dungeon cell, and of the miraculous things which happen to both of them as the prince seeks the hand of a beautiful princess who dwells in the faraway city of Basra.
Woven into the story are such legends as that of the flying horse, which in this case the Grand Vizier constructs for the father of the princess; the fable of the giant djinni which the little thief releases from a bottle and which carries him over the world on extraordinary errands; the legend of the All-Seeing-Eye; and finally that of the Magic Carpet, on which the little thief ultimately goes to the rescue of the prince and princess. All of these fanciful phenomena are represented upon the screen by means of trick photography which is accomplished with remarkable illusion, and credit for which is due in the main to William Cameron Menzies, the production designer.
But the particular glory of this film is its truly magnificent color: No motion picture to date has been so richly and eloquently hued, nor has any picture yet been so perfectly suited to it. Fairy tales are drenched in the mind with a pattern of colors, and here Mr. Menzies has filled the screen with a breathtaking succession of storybook illustrations -- teeming bazaars, marble palaces glistening white against the deep blue sky, the red sails of ships against the sea, dream gardens, the gleam of jewels, and open terraces beneath the starry night. The color alone makes this picture a truly exciting entertainment.
But so, too, do the performances of Sabu, the Indian boy, as the little thief; of Conrad Veidt as the turbaned Grand Vizier with eyes of amazing potency; of John Justin as the handsome prince; June Duprez as the luscious princess; and Rex Ingram as the monstrous djinni with the lock of jet black hair. So the least one can do is recommend it as a cinematic delight, and thank Mr. Korda for reaching boldly into a happy world.
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