As part of the continuing Masters of Cinema series
from Eureka Video, The Thief of Baghdad is released on
a special Blu-ray edition and brings to the small
screen in a new print one of the great films in the
career of the hugely admired Douglas Fairbanks.
Directed by Raoul Walsh, but produced by the highly
independent Fairbanks, Thief tells the story of Ahmed
(Fairbanks) who encounters danger and adventure in
equal measure in a purely studio based film.
Featuring ahead of its time special effects such as
the famous climatic flying carpet ride, the film is
indicative of one man's vision. In stark contrast to
the stringent Hollywood studio system that was still
10 years away from its heyday, this was a film full of
invention and imagination.
Fairbanks was a contemporary of the other two
Hollywood darlings of the mid to late 1920s, Mary
Pickford and Charlie Chaplin. The three of them helped
found United Artists; the independent production
company that allowed the three stars to make what
films they wanted and give them the power to produce
and in Chaplin's case ultimately direct. It gave
them the freedom to pursue artistic endeavours of
their own volition.
In Fairbanks case it was a chance to do something of
the a is scale, a film with vastness of a Cecil B.
DeMille film but with the imagination of Melieres
reined in by the actor. In a way you could say
Thief is the first actor led film who was not reliant
upon the name of a director be it Griffith/Lubitsch
above the title.
We are still ten years from Capra's coming out party
with It Happened One Night, 15 years from John Ford's
Stagecoach the same year as Hitchock's final UK film
before he came to America in 1940 under David O.
Selznick to make Rebecca. In the mid 1920s three years
before the advent of sound in cinema, the art form was
following theatre by making the actor the star.
The stars knowing this wanted more creative control of
their final product.
If that's the case the Thief of Baghdad is an amazing
Hollywood product - larger than life, fantastical,
amazing and hugely entertaining. The reason a silent
cinema featuring a white man play a Muslim is down to
the sheer photogenic presence of Fairbanks himself.
Like his contemporary Chaplin, there is a magnetism
about his performance the way he moves and does his
own stunts all with a charm burning from his shirtless
torso and a smile beaming from whiter than white teeth
set against the vast production and set design.
From shimmering up a rope out of a basket to the
carpet ride, there are thrills and spills a plenty in
this brisk 140 minute running time. It would be a
great introduction for many to the joys of silent
cinema, helped by the sprightly new score by Carl
Davis and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The dual
format Blu-ray/DVD edition has an accompanying 40 page
booklet by Laura Boyes from the North Carolina Museum
The Thief of Baghdad will be released on Blu-ray/DVD
dual format on Monday 24th November 2014 at £14.99 rrp