Tuesday's Overlooked Films is a weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at SWEET FREEDOM. Don't forget to check in and see what other overlooked films other bloggers are posting about today.
I'm cheating here because the Oscar winning film, THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD wasn't all that overlooked when it first hit the theater screens in December of 1940. But since then, I'm thinking that some of us might have overlooked or forgotten it, so it's time for a reminder.
*******************THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD was one of British/Hungarian producer Alexander Korda's biggest and splashiest fantasy extravaganzas. Korda was so exacting, he went through six directors, though Michael Powell is generally the name most associated with the film. But the resulting film was worth all the backstage drama.
The cinematography is exceptional, as is the sound track by Miklos Rozsa. The art direction and set design by Vincent Korda are brilliant and the glamorous costumes by John Armstrong, Oliver Messel and Marcel Vertes, simply ravishing.
THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD won three very well-deserved Academy Awards in 1941: For cinematography, art direction and special effects.
Unfortunately, the film hasn't been re-processed yet, but the color on it is still good. At least on the version I watched on youtube which had to be viewed in parts. The only full version was, for whatever reason, only available dubbed in Spanish. Go figure.
Anyway, this is such a gorgeous film that I put up with the inconvenience. I think once someone gets hold of it and fine tunes it for Blu-Ray, I'm going to buy the dvd for my granddaughter. This is a perfect film for any holiday, full of razzle-dazzle fantasy and fun; a truly evil villain, a beautiful princess, a handsome king cast out of his kingdom and a wily thief who befriends the hapless hero.
The cast is superb, most especially the one and only Conrad Veidt as the evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar. Veidt was a brilliant actor born in Berlin. He'd had a successful silent film career, but left Germany with his Jewish wife in 1933. They lived for a short while in Great Britain then later, settled in the United States.
Veidt was generally called upon to play villainous Nazis for much of his career, but it's as Jaffar, I think, that he is best remembered. This wonderful actor unfortunately died young, in 1943 at the age of 50.
The exotic Jane Duprez is exquisitely beautiful as the Princess (un-named), a part originally planned for Vivien Leigh.(According to IMDb Leigh was offered GONE WITH THE WIND and that, as they say, was that.)
John Justin, in his first film is Ahmad, slim, chiseled, handsome and devoted. A young and very naive king of Baghdad who is easily tricked out of his kingdom by his Grand Vizier, Jaffar.
This is one of those fairy tales where love is all that matters and love at first sight matters even more.
The Princess is cursed with a transcendent beauty that apparently drives men to frenzied distraction. (Certainly Jaffar and Ahmad have that in common.) This was back in the day when a woman's beauty was all that mattered - it was naturally assumed that outer beauty meant inner beauty. You know how it is in myths and fables, not to mention, movies. Of course it isn't like that in real life. Right.
The wonderful Sabu, a popular actor born in British India and discovered by a documentary film maker, plays Abu, a wily thief who spends part of the film as a dog. (Jaffar's dirty work.)
Here's the plot:
We learn in flashback of the evil Jaffar's dirty work. As the Grand Vizier of Baghdad, he has great influence in the young king's court.
Through trickery, Jaffar has had Ahmad, the rightful king, thrown in prison.
There Ahmad fortuitously meets Abu who helps them both escape.
They travel to Basra where Ahmad spies the Princess and is instantly transfixed. Her father, a child-like Caliph played endearingly by Miles Malleson (who also wrote the screenplay) is a collector of mechanical toys, the bigger and more intricate the better.
When Jaffar demonstrates a flying white horse, the Caliph in his delight promises Jaffar his daughter, the Princess.
Jaffar beguiles the old man with his mechanical tributes..
But then he uses his wizardry to destroy the Caliph by having a many armed mechanical figure, a woman, lure him close then stab him to death.
Ahmad is blinded by Jaffar and reduced to begging in the streets. Abu has been turned into a dog. Jaffar absconds with the Princess but she is falls into a dreamy sort of sleep from which she won't awaken.
Jaffar has Ahmad brought to her bedside and the Princess awakes.
But, the pair are easily tricked once again. Jaffar lures the Princess on board his ship and they hit the high seas, sailing off into the wild blue yonder. Well, actually, they wind up back in Baghdad. The Princess must give herself to Jaffar in order for Ahmad's sight to be restored.
She allows Jaffar to hold her and presto-change-o, Ahmad's sight is restored. Abu is changed from dog back to human.
They jump in a small boat and sail after the Princess. Jaffar calls up a storm with his powerful wizard powers and Ahmad and Abu wind up cast away on a desolate beach. There, Abu finds a magic bottle which contains a genie, played by the fabulous Rex Ingram - an inspired bit of casting.
Long story short, the genie, after an aborted attempt to kill Abu, is tricked into re-entering the bottle. He promises to behave if Abu will let him out again. To that end, he grants Abu three wishes. Eventually Abu wishes Ahmad back in Baghdad, but he is left behind to get back without the help of the genie who has flown the coop.
Abu must evade a giant spider in its giant web as well as steal the all-seeing eye of a huge Buddha - the usual.
Eventually he also steals a flying rug and makes it back to Baghdad in style. Just in time to spark a revolt among the oppressed populace and restore the rightful monarch, Ahmad to his throne. But not before Abu kills Jaffar with a magic crossbow.
Ahmad the King and his Princess are rightfully restored to their proper rank. Abu takes off on the flying carpet for parts unknown (he has a horror of being sent to school) and all live happily ever after.