The Thief of Bagdad

The Thief of Bagdad

Director: Raoul Walsh Cast: Douglas Fairbanks
Douglas Fairbanks
, Snitz Edwards
Snitz Edwards
, Julanne Johnston
Julanne Johnston
, Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong
Raoul Walsh
The Thief of Bagdad

The Thief of Bagdad

Director: Raoul Walsh Cast: Douglas Fairbanks
Douglas Fairbanks
, Snitz Edwards
Snitz Edwards
, Julanne Johnston
Julanne Johnston
, Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong
Raoul Walsh


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In the absence of the Kevin Brownlow/Thames Television edition of Douglas Fairbanks' production of The Thief of Bagdad (1924, directed by Raoul Walsh) -- which, at the time of this release, is reportedly tied up in all kinds of legal knots -- Kino International's February 2004 release may be the best that we're likely to have on DVD for the foreseeable future. What's more, that isn't bad -- it's not quite on the level of preservation observed in Kino's release of Metropolis, but the movie does look good. There are blemishes in the source materials, and shifts in brightness and density, but nothing close to what one sees in typical "public domain" editions of this movie. It's been mastered at the proper speed, bringing the running time up to 154 minutes (and it's a lot brisker than that figure would lead one to believe). Additionally, the transfer has generally achieved a consistency in contrast within the same scenes and shots that makes this one of the better presentations that one is likely to see; a lot of effort went into correcting what could be fixed, and the results are visually impressive, even after 80 years. The producers have preserved the subtle elements of tinting from the original as well: a uranium sepia for the shots of the city of fable, green for the scenes with the monsters, a roseate glow for the love scenes, and what the film's makers called a "Maxfield Parrish blue" for the seductive night scenes. All of this was done in a very low-key fashion in the first half of the movie, which allowed the original makers to push the visual envelope in a much more striking fashion in the purer fantasy of the second half. The original intertitles are present, and their shots do show the wear and blemishes more than most of the rest of the movie. At around 35 minutes in, the source print does have some truly rough spots, plus missing frames at 68 minutes, as well as major staining at 77 minutes, and some major frame damage (from what looks like oxidation) at 113 through 116 minutes into the film. Those are all extreme moments, however, and even then, except for the latter three minutes, the image here is superior to most of the rival versions out there, and there are other shots and scenes throughout that are stunning in their detail and resolution. The producers say that the disc was mastered from an "archival" 35 mm negative, but don't identify the particular archive, although one can guess it is the Paul Killiam collection. The other virtue of this presentation of the movie, besides the relative care that went into the transfer, is the score. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, which sounds to be about 20 pieces strong but is actually a lot smaller, has done well by the music track, assembled by Rodney Sauer and Susan Hall, and based on and inspired by James Bradford's original 1924 cue sheets, which, in turn, had been drawn from the music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov et al. It's been very well recorded and adds immeasurably to the pleasure of watching this DVD. The producers have also done a good job in breaking the 154-minute movie down into 20 chapters, which does work alright as far as delineating the plot. The bonus features start with the original introduction to the film from the public television series The Silent Years (derived from the Killiam collection), by Orson Welles. This is one of the best of its kind, the director/actor providing very personal and sincere comments about William Cameron Menzies and the movie. There is also a selection of outtakes (courtesy of film collector/scholar Bruce Lawton), most notably from the mermaid sequence (complete with clapper-board intros), depicting a dropped scene in which the thief is almost successfully seduced by the mermaids. Additional footage reveals the way in which the dragon sequence was created, using double-exposure, and a series of unused shots show how objects were made to appear and disappear, as well as the trick used to show many hundreds of warriors appearring on horseback. Two predecessors of the film are also excerpted: Paul Leni's 1924 German film Waxworks, which provided some of Fairbanks' inspiration for making The Thief of Bagdad, and Georges Méliès' 1905 Arabian Nights, a distant antecedent along the same thematic lines as Fairbanks' film. All of these excerpts, and the outtakes, come with musical accompaniment, and that brings us to the final section of the supplement, a detailed look at the sources for the score of The Thief of Bagdad, as presented here and as originally devised at the time of its release 80 years earlier. It's a great package, with one of the most enjoyable presentations of the movie that one is likely to find and enough supplementary materials to keep one coming back for more, allowing viewers to find new ways to look at the film. The only thing that might have made it perfect would have been a commentary track on Fairbanks and the movie, Walsh, and Menzies (who also designed the 1940 Alexander Korda remake). As it is, however, this is a DVD that can just about stand next to such recent triumphs from the silent era as Milestone's The Phantom of the Opera and Kino's own Metropolis.

Product Details

Release Date: 02/03/2004
UPC: 0738329032920
Original Release: 1924
Rating: NR
Source: Kino Lorber
Sound: [Dolby Digital Stereo]
Time: 2:34:00
Sales rank: 47,478

Special Features

Filmed introduction by Orson Welles; 19 minutes of rare outtakes (courtesy of Bruce Lawton); Rare special-effects footage; Excerpt of Paul Leni's Waxworks (Fairbanks' inspiration for Thief); Excerpt of Georges Méliès' Arabian Nights ("Le Palais des Mille et Une Nuits," 1905); Excerpts from the Souvenir Program; Newly mastered from an archival 35 mm negative; Digital stereo orchestral score performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, adapted from the original 1924 cue sheets

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Douglas Fairbanks The Thief of Bagdad
Snitz Edwards His Evil Associate
Julanne Johnston The Princess
Anna May Wong The Mongol Slave
Charles Belcher The Holy Man
Winter Blossom The Slave of the Lute
Sojin The Mongol Prince
Etta Lee The Slave of the Sand Board
Brandon Hurst The Caliph
Tote Du Crow The Soothsayer
K. Nambu His Counselor
Noble Johnson The Indian Prince
Charles Stevens His Awaker
Sam Baker The Sworder
Jesse Weldon Eunuch
Scott Mattraw Eunuch
Charles Sylvester Eunuch
Sadakichi-Hartmann His Couil Magician
Jesse Fuller Actor
Mathilde Comont The Persian Prince

Technical Credits
Raoul Walsh Director
Carl Davis Score Composer
Arthur Edeson Cinematographer
Douglas Fairbanks Original Story,Producer,Screenwriter
Anton Grot Set Decoration/Design
Mitchell Leisen Costumes/Costume Designer
William Cameron Menzies Production Designer
William Nolan Editor
Theodore Reed Producer
Elton Thomas Original Story
Mortimer Wilson Score Composer
Lotta Woods Screenwriter
Paul Youngblood Set Decoration/Design

Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Opening Titles [1:24]
2. A Street in Bagdad [4:59]
3. The Magie Basket [5:40]
4. Crime and Punishment [5:56]
5. A Mongol Prince [5:29]
6. Invading the Palace [7:55]
7. Fleeing the Palace [5:16]
8. Parade of Suitors [17:00]
9. Wooing the Princess [8:28]
10. The Princess Chooses [14:31]
11. A New Challenge [14:10]
12. The Defile [3:05]
13. Fire, Monsters & Trees [7:11]
14. Forbidden Treasures [9:18]
15. The Mongol's Apple [6:04]
16. A Princess in Distress [1:31]
17. Outcome Undetermined [9:01]
18. The Mongols Attack [4:54]
19. A Thief to the Rescue [6:52]
20. Happiness Earned [8:40]
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