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The Thief Of Baghdad, 1940


[3/5/2017 3:14:33 PM]

AMMONNEWS - By Feras Werr - Time never withered away the significance of this beautiful old classic. It’s still regarded by many critics and drama scholars as the iconic birth of an age of special effects that made the production of many movies possible afterwards. In 1940 where even the earliest generation of computers hadn’t begun yet and technology was relying on very basic achievements in various fields of business and commerce, such a movie was a very powerful production in all aspects. It compares back then to our present day high quality productions such as The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings Trilogies. Blue screening was used for the first time in production which greatly helped the team of directors in furnishing the backgrounds of the scenes with the proper visual settings without traveling sometimes to the respective places in the scenario; even different time lapses and ages were made possible by this method. The philosophy and mechanics of fiction film production were more at hand especially after this particular film which was produced in technicolor.

Generally speaking the movie is a beautiful and colourful cultural mix between international actors filming in the UK and then the US (after the breakout of WWII), and an enchanting plot that relates to a past age of our Arabian cultural heritage. Despite being in English and filmed in a western world by non Arabian directors the Film was enriched with an exceptional oriental touch that most probably was the reason for its splendid reception upon its release by the critics and audience. The Arabic names, the clothes, the settings in the city, the geniousness of the plot, and the wealth of imagination used to make it catching for the audience all played a role in its success. Arabia back in the world war era was just an overseas region of the world that the American community knew nothing about; foreign lands that western military only discovered more closely when its armies had to travel for combat with its enemies. Depicting a fictitious story from our cultural heritage inspired by the famous Arabian Nights and presenting it in film was a successful venture which would leave its effect on future dramatic films inspired by A Thousand And One Nights. Disney’s Aladdin directly inspired characters from its heroes. The video game Prince Of Persia may contain elements inspired from this Hollywood production as well.

The Thief Of Baghdad is about Prince Ahmad who gets ousted from power by the cunningness of his advisor and evil sorcerer Jaafar. The story scenes begin after a stray blind man arrives from sea into a prosperous area of Baghdad. The man begins to beg for alms when he grabs the attention of Jaafar who was passing by the area. Jaafar orders one of his loyal servants to summon him to his palace. Shortly afterwards the man is showed into the palace and we see him engaging in conversation with the palace servants. The man compelled by the occassion begins recounting the hardship he saw lately in his life announcing that he is a prince...a flashback begins telling the viewers what happened with Ahmad.

After sending Ahmad to prison Jaafar assumes power of his province. There bounded by the misfortunes and bitterness of his misery he meets Abu, a thief, who helps him escape in the hopes of retribution. While fleeing from the wake of the guards that Jaafar sends after them their destiny takes them to Basra where they cross the path of the princess of the lands by coincidence. Under extreme security till she gets betrothed to a suitor by her father she is deprived of many social privileges among which is not to bee seen by the locals and commoners of her city. Ahmed falls for her from the first sight and vows to break into her quarters in the royal palace to see her again. After a successful attempt aided by Abu he manages to introduce himself to her. Feelings grow in their hearts for each other and very soon Ahmed speaks to Abu about his will to delay their departure from Basra. We then see Jaafar as a competitor suitor for the princess. As the princesse’s father is fond of toys he arrives to Basra with an array of presents to gain his favor in hopes of marrying his daughter. Nevertheless the princess refuses and eventually Jaafar finds out that Ahmad is the reason. As she seeks asylum in Samar Kand after her farther agrees to Jaafar’s terms the guards in the palace tell her farther about her sudden disappearance. They also find Ahmed and Abu in the palace. At a moment of frustration and anger Jaafar casts a spell on Ahmad and Abu. The spell blinds Ahmad and turns Abu into a dog.

The flash back stops here and we are returned to Ahmad’s present times. One of the servants tells Ahmad that the princess he is seeking is ill at their palace. He asks to see her and at that moment she recovers from her illness. The servant ushers Ahmad out of the palace while the princess gets kidnaped by Jaafar. Eventually the princess surrenders to Jaafar’s will to embrace her when she finds out from Jaafar that this is the only way to heal Ahmad her love. At that point Abu is spared from the spell and returns to his human form and Ahmad’s sight is restored. However upon pursuing the princess at sea Jaafar summons a mighty sea gale by his magical powers accompanied by a thunderstorm and very soon the storm tears their unity apart. Abu gets stranded on a beach in a remote area and Ahmad finds himself in a foreign land.

Abu passes many obstacles before uniting with Ahmed. With the help of a genie whom he releases from a small bottle he travels to a far away land and snatches a magical crystal ball to see where his friend is. He then asks the genie to unite him with his friend, but a sudden brawl parts them again sending Ahmad back to Baghdad. Afterwards fate brings Abu to the throne of an enchanted land where the leader grants him a flying rug to Baghdad. There he finds Ahmad in the proper time before his execution. There they overcome their powerful adversary and Ahmad finds his way back to his rightful throne and gets reunited with his love.

This film was the produce of a big team of directors and producers. The reference books accredited Alexander Korda as the director and member of the directing team. The rest of the directors are Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan, Zoltan Korda, and William Cameron Menzies. The screen play was written by Miles Malleson. The film was produced by London Films and distributed by United Artists UK/USA. The film starred Conrad Veidt, Sabu, John Justin, June Duprez, and Rex Ingram. Being a very old production any drama criticism for it would be useless and purposeless. But for the sake of professional ethics I had a couple of points that I hope will help drama pioneers pay more attention to facts rather than Hollywood-ising or stereotyping some details. The clothes of the sailors were by far totally different from what was worn by the actual Arabian sailors. Shorts that seemed like long cloths that only covered the waist of the sailors were definitely not an option for sailing back then. The name Abu which was the name of Ahmad’s friend is only the first word of a compounded very common nickname used to call the male parent in any Arabian family. Abu is usually connected with the name of the first born in any Arabian family. What was also noticeable was that the princess doesn’t have a name in the production. Even the references on the internet render her nameless. It would have been a powerful asset for such a big production if the heroine had a clear name. However compared to even the Later cartoon Alladin by Disney and later similar productions in Hollywood and Even the Middle East this movie towers as a hulk due to the special effects that were created especially for the film. They were done so professionally that they served their purpose really well. The miniature cities done to make the genie tower in height were convincing and the scenes were Abu interacted with the giant were very thrilling and beautifully designed. This is a cinema worthy of respect. Korda set out to create a movie fantasy from the wildest depths of imagination and story telling and did an excellent job at it. This is why he gained the respect of the audiences for many generation after. No wonder this movie is still well respected by the biggest cinema figures and institution in the USA and world wide.

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