Wednesday, July 23, 2008

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (Michae Powell, 1940, UK/USA) This 1940 Technicolor extravaganza is a visual feast with glorious over-saturated colors and beautiful cinematography. The set designs and Impressionist background matte paintings are truly art and the wonderful special effects will awaken your childlike imagination. Unfortunately, the film spends more time in showing off the special effects than it does in character development. A rather simplistic love story that assumes the princess will automatically fall in love with the exiled prince Ahmad. They are portrayed as monotone individuals and carry little burden in the film except to react to the conflict. The story really belongs to Abu, the little thief of Bagdad, who takes the initiative and becomes the hero and saves both Ahmad and the princess. His adventures with the Djinn, the giant spider-puppet, and the Old King belong to the Land of Legends…where he steals a flying carpet, catches a tail wind to Bagdad, and bullseyes the bad guys with a magic crossbow. When was the last time you saw a beheading, facial lacerations, and two Ajna puncturing crossbow bolts, and a man (even an evil one) falling hundreds of feet to his death…in a children’s film? By today’s standards, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD is probably too violent…but that’s why I enjoyed it. Conrad Veidt as Jaffar is the other thief of Bagdad, the villainous usurper, who steals the show with his wide-eyed magically delicious performance. The Djinn is a force of nature and larger than life and really creeped me out: he is no cutely obnoxious protagonist! Though Abu tricks him into the three wishes to help Ahmad you know the Djinn would eat Abu’s intestines if given the chance. He is no likable roguish character who returns to save the day: he’s probably busy changing his diaper after two thousand years. Miklos Rozsa’s bombastic score sometimes overpowers the film and is more Hollywood than Middle Eastern. This is an enjoyable Arabian adventure with inadvertently campy acting and spectacular and imaginative scenarios. (B-)

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