The Thief of Bagdad


1h 46m 1940
The Thief of Bagdad

Brief Synopsis

A young thief faces amazing monsters to return Bagdad's deposed king to the throne.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Family
Fantasy
Release Date
Dec 25, 1940
Premiere Information
London premiere: 19 Dec 1940
Production Company
Alexander Korda Films, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 46m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Synopsis

As the Princess slumbers while awaiting the blind man whom she loves, Jaffar, the evil magician who desires her, sends his aide to lead the blind man to his palace. At the palace, the man reveals that he is Ahmad, the King of Bagdad, and relates his life story and that of his dog, the prince of thieves: After being betrayed by his vizier, who is the same treacherous Jaffar, Ahmad is imprisoned and meets Abu, the boy thief. The pair escape and flee to the city of Basra, where Ahmad falls in love with the beautiful Princess, but their romance is shattered by the shrewd Jaffar, who offers the Sultan a winged horse in exchange for his daughter. When the Princess runs away rather than marry the dreaded Jaffar, the magician eliminates his rival by blinding Ahmad and turning Abu into a dog. His story finished, Ahmad is led to the sleeping Princess by Jaffar's aide. Awakened by her lover Ahmad, the Princess is then kidnapped by Jaffar, who sails away with her after restoring Ahmad's sight and Abu's body. Ahmad and Abu follow, but their small craft is destroyed by the winds that Jaffar commands. Shipwrecked, Abu finds a bottle and releases a genie who grants him three wishes. The genie leads Abu to Ahmad, but the boy squanders his last wish by cursing Ahmad to return to Bagdad. The genie complies, and in Bagdad, Jaffar arrests Ahmad and the Princess and sentences them to death. As the two await execution, Abu is rescued by "the legendary ones" and is presented with a bow of justice. Commandeering a magic carpet, Abu flies to Bagdad just in time to rescue Ahmad and slay Jaffar with an arrow of justice.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Family
Fantasy
Release Date
Dec 25, 1940
Premiere Information
London premiere: 19 Dec 1940
Production Company
Alexander Korda Films, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 46m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Award Wins

Best Art Direction

1941

Best Cinematography

1941

Best Special Effects

1941

Articles

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)


One of the great fantasy films, The Thief of Bagdad (1940) is also included on that short list of movies which had long, complicated production histories of false starts, script rewrites, and multiple directors (Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan), yet managed to emerge as a special entity, effortlessly carrying off a unique single vision. In this case, that vision belonged to London-based Hungarian producer/ director Alexander Korda. By the late 1930s Korda had amassed an impressive crew of artists and craftsmen around him at London Films' Denham Studios, and much like his American counterpart David O. Selznick had with his production of Gone With the Wind (1939), Korda sought out a property to showcase the talent under his wing.

Inspired by the success of his personal discovery - Indian actor Sabu - in his films Elephant Boy (1937) and The Drum (1938), Korda hit upon the idea of casting the energetic youth in an Arabian Nights fantasy. In 1924, Douglas Fairbanks had scored one of his biggest hits as The Thief of Bagdad. The title, which Fairbanks owned, was irresistible, so when Korda found himself seated near Fairbanks at a banquet at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1938, he asked if he could buy the rights to the title. A new story, also drawing from the Thousand-and-One-Nights tales, would be fashioned around it.

The elegant final screenplay for The Thief of Bagdad was by actor/ writer Miles Malleson, (who also took a major role in the film, playing the befuddled Sultan of Basra). We are introduced to Abu (Sabu), a thief amongst the many merchants in the marketplace of Bagdad. The city's ruler, the good-hearted Prince Ahmad (John Justin), is undermined and overthrown by the evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). Abu and Ahmad escape their prison and flee to Basra, where the Prince falls in love with the Sultan's beautiful daughter (June Duprez). Unfortunately, Jaffar has his own designs on the Princess and bargains with the toy-obsessed Sultan (Malleson) for her hand. Jaffar eliminates his competition by blinding Ahmed and transforming Abu into a dog. The two are returned to human form only when Jaffar embraces the Princess, now under his control. Ahmad and Abu, as well as the viewer, take in many more wonders on the way to vanquishing the Vizier and rescuing the Princess; Korda's team conjures such visual treats as a magic flying carpet, a deadly six-armed dervish, a full-size mechanical horse, a stolen all-seeing ruby eye, and most spectacularly, the bombastic Genie of the Lamp (Rex Ingram), who grants three wishes of Abu.

Sabu was a stable boy for the Maharaja of Mysore when he was discovered by Korda and cast in The Elephant Boy at the age of 13. The success of that film, co-directed by Zoltan Korda and the great documentarian Robert J. Flaherty, led to several more starring roles in Korda productions: The Drum, again directed by Zoltan Korda; The Thief of Bagdad; and perhaps his most famous role, that of Mowgli in the Korda brothers' adaptation of Kipling's Jungle Book (1942). (Sabu appeared in several low-budget Hollywood films before his death in 1963, though along the way he worked again with director Michael Powell in the Powell-Pressburger classic Black Narcissus, 1947).

Korda had only one choice in mind for the villainous Jaffar in The Thief of Bagdad: Conrad Veidt. As Michael Powell was later to write, Veidt was "a legendary figure. For us, he was the great German Cinema...he was invention, control, imagination, irony and elegance."

To oversee his original conception of The Thief of Bagdad, Korda brought in German theater director Dr. Ludwig Berger. Berger envisioned a lyrical, black-and-white fantasy film. Korda saw the sketches his brother Vincent was creating and determined instead to film the picture in Technicolor. In his autobiography, A Life in Movies, director Michael Powell writes, "Alex was not going to sit in his office and let Dr. Berger make a stylishly directed, modestly black and white, decorated film. As his mind cleared and crystallized under the influence of Vincent's magnificent designs, he realized that what he wanted was a great, big colourful extravaganza..." Korda brought Powell in on the pretense of having him shoot footage of Sabu with the Genie's bottle, in order to have something to show to the film's backers. The actual assignment, though, was to take over the picture. Powell wrote that Korda told him, "'...there are a thousand decisions for which I need Dr. Berger here with me. Now, I would like you, Micky, to take Sabu and a film unit down to Cornwall and start making the film there.' This was the only briefing that I ever received from Alex Korda about the making of The Thief of Bagdad. I consider it the greatest compliment ever paid me."

Aside from Michael Powell, Korda enlisted several others for design, directing, and supervising on The Thief of Bagdad. The third credited director was Tim Whelan, who "was particularly good at action comedy scenes," according to Powell. Exerting additional influence (as well as directing chores) were associate producers Zoltan Korda and the wonderful production and effects designer William Cameron Menzies, fresh from his design work on Selznick's Gone With the Wind. As a young man, Menzies had also served as Art Director on the 1924 version of The Thief of Bagdad.

Before The Thief of Bagdad could be completed, war was declared between Germany and England, on September 3rd, 1939. Korda had made a promise to Churchill himself to turn his London Films resources over to wartime propaganda as soon as a state of war existed. Powell and others at Denham were taken off the Arabian Nights fantasy and assigned to quickly produce a documentary about the R.A.F., The Lion Has Wings (1939). Production on The Thief of Bagdad shifted to America and, since Korda was unable to shoot planned scenes in Africa, to locations in the Grand Canyon. American distributor United Artists put up additional funds to complete the picture. Miklos Rozsa wrote the Oscar®&-nominated score for the film; he had been also surreptitiously brought on by Korda behind the back of Berger's original choice, Oscar Straus.

Released in December, 1940, The Thief of Bagdad won OscarsĀ® for special effects, color cinematography, and art direction, as well as a nomination for Rozsa's score. The film also won near-universal praise from the critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times echoed the general sentiment when he called it a "beguiling and wondrous film" and wrote that "the least one can do is recommend it as a cinematic delight, and thank Mr. Korda for reaching boldly into a happy world." Coming as it did just at the outbreak of World War II, The Thief of Bagdad eventually came to represent for many a cinematic last gasp of Old World innocence, magic, and adventure, forever lost during the horrors of war.

Producer: Alexander Korda
Associate Producer: Zoltan Korda, William Cameron Menzies
Director: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan
Screenplay: Miles Malleson, Lajos Biro
Cinematography: George Perinal
Film Editing: Charles Crichton
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Production Design: Vincent Korda
Costume Design: John Armstrong, Oliver Messel, Marcel Vertes
Special Effects: Lawrence Butler
Cast: Conrad Veidt (Jaffar), Sabu (Abu), June Duprez (Princess), John Justin (Ahmad), Rex Ingram (Genie), Miles Malleson (Sultan of Basra), Morton Selten (Old King), Mary Morris (Halima), Allan Jeayes (Narrator).
C-106m.

by John M. Miller
The Thief Of Bagdad (1940)

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

One of the great fantasy films, The Thief of Bagdad (1940) is also included on that short list of movies which had long, complicated production histories of false starts, script rewrites, and multiple directors (Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan), yet managed to emerge as a special entity, effortlessly carrying off a unique single vision. In this case, that vision belonged to London-based Hungarian producer/ director Alexander Korda. By the late 1930s Korda had amassed an impressive crew of artists and craftsmen around him at London Films' Denham Studios, and much like his American counterpart David O. Selznick had with his production of Gone With the Wind (1939), Korda sought out a property to showcase the talent under his wing. Inspired by the success of his personal discovery - Indian actor Sabu - in his films Elephant Boy (1937) and The Drum (1938), Korda hit upon the idea of casting the energetic youth in an Arabian Nights fantasy. In 1924, Douglas Fairbanks had scored one of his biggest hits as The Thief of Bagdad. The title, which Fairbanks owned, was irresistible, so when Korda found himself seated near Fairbanks at a banquet at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1938, he asked if he could buy the rights to the title. A new story, also drawing from the Thousand-and-One-Nights tales, would be fashioned around it. The elegant final screenplay for The Thief of Bagdad was by actor/ writer Miles Malleson, (who also took a major role in the film, playing the befuddled Sultan of Basra). We are introduced to Abu (Sabu), a thief amongst the many merchants in the marketplace of Bagdad. The city's ruler, the good-hearted Prince Ahmad (John Justin), is undermined and overthrown by the evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). Abu and Ahmad escape their prison and flee to Basra, where the Prince falls in love with the Sultan's beautiful daughter (June Duprez). Unfortunately, Jaffar has his own designs on the Princess and bargains with the toy-obsessed Sultan (Malleson) for her hand. Jaffar eliminates his competition by blinding Ahmed and transforming Abu into a dog. The two are returned to human form only when Jaffar embraces the Princess, now under his control. Ahmad and Abu, as well as the viewer, take in many more wonders on the way to vanquishing the Vizier and rescuing the Princess; Korda's team conjures such visual treats as a magic flying carpet, a deadly six-armed dervish, a full-size mechanical horse, a stolen all-seeing ruby eye, and most spectacularly, the bombastic Genie of the Lamp (Rex Ingram), who grants three wishes of Abu. Sabu was a stable boy for the Maharaja of Mysore when he was discovered by Korda and cast in The Elephant Boy at the age of 13. The success of that film, co-directed by Zoltan Korda and the great documentarian Robert J. Flaherty, led to several more starring roles in Korda productions: The Drum, again directed by Zoltan Korda; The Thief of Bagdad; and perhaps his most famous role, that of Mowgli in the Korda brothers' adaptation of Kipling's Jungle Book (1942). (Sabu appeared in several low-budget Hollywood films before his death in 1963, though along the way he worked again with director Michael Powell in the Powell-Pressburger classic Black Narcissus, 1947). Korda had only one choice in mind for the villainous Jaffar in The Thief of Bagdad: Conrad Veidt. As Michael Powell was later to write, Veidt was "a legendary figure. For us, he was the great German Cinema...he was invention, control, imagination, irony and elegance." To oversee his original conception of The Thief of Bagdad, Korda brought in German theater director Dr. Ludwig Berger. Berger envisioned a lyrical, black-and-white fantasy film. Korda saw the sketches his brother Vincent was creating and determined instead to film the picture in Technicolor. In his autobiography, A Life in Movies, director Michael Powell writes, "Alex was not going to sit in his office and let Dr. Berger make a stylishly directed, modestly black and white, decorated film. As his mind cleared and crystallized under the influence of Vincent's magnificent designs, he realized that what he wanted was a great, big colourful extravaganza..." Korda brought Powell in on the pretense of having him shoot footage of Sabu with the Genie's bottle, in order to have something to show to the film's backers. The actual assignment, though, was to take over the picture. Powell wrote that Korda told him, "'...there are a thousand decisions for which I need Dr. Berger here with me. Now, I would like you, Micky, to take Sabu and a film unit down to Cornwall and start making the film there.' This was the only briefing that I ever received from Alex Korda about the making of The Thief of Bagdad. I consider it the greatest compliment ever paid me." Aside from Michael Powell, Korda enlisted several others for design, directing, and supervising on The Thief of Bagdad. The third credited director was Tim Whelan, who "was particularly good at action comedy scenes," according to Powell. Exerting additional influence (as well as directing chores) were associate producers Zoltan Korda and the wonderful production and effects designer William Cameron Menzies, fresh from his design work on Selznick's Gone With the Wind. As a young man, Menzies had also served as Art Director on the 1924 version of The Thief of Bagdad. Before The Thief of Bagdad could be completed, war was declared between Germany and England, on September 3rd, 1939. Korda had made a promise to Churchill himself to turn his London Films resources over to wartime propaganda as soon as a state of war existed. Powell and others at Denham were taken off the Arabian Nights fantasy and assigned to quickly produce a documentary about the R.A.F., The Lion Has Wings (1939). Production on The Thief of Bagdad shifted to America and, since Korda was unable to shoot planned scenes in Africa, to locations in the Grand Canyon. American distributor United Artists put up additional funds to complete the picture. Miklos Rozsa wrote the Oscar®&-nominated score for the film; he had been also surreptitiously brought on by Korda behind the back of Berger's original choice, Oscar Straus. Released in December, 1940, The Thief of Bagdad won OscarsĀ® for special effects, color cinematography, and art direction, as well as a nomination for Rozsa's score. The film also won near-universal praise from the critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times echoed the general sentiment when he called it a "beguiling and wondrous film" and wrote that "the least one can do is recommend it as a cinematic delight, and thank Mr. Korda for reaching boldly into a happy world." Coming as it did just at the outbreak of World War II, The Thief of Bagdad eventually came to represent for many a cinematic last gasp of Old World innocence, magic, and adventure, forever lost during the horrors of war. Producer: Alexander Korda Associate Producer: Zoltan Korda, William Cameron Menzies Director: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan Screenplay: Miles Malleson, Lajos Biro Cinematography: George Perinal Film Editing: Charles Crichton Music: Miklos Rozsa Production Design: Vincent Korda Costume Design: John Armstrong, Oliver Messel, Marcel Vertes Special Effects: Lawrence Butler Cast: Conrad Veidt (Jaffar), Sabu (Abu), June Duprez (Princess), John Justin (Ahmad), Rex Ingram (Genie), Miles Malleson (Sultan of Basra), Morton Selten (Old King), Mary Morris (Halima), Allan Jeayes (Narrator). C-106m. by John M. Miller

Quotes

I am Abu the thief. Son of Abu the thief. Grandson of Abu the thief.
- Abu
But she loves the blind man.
- Doctor
Do you call the lisping of two children in the garden love? Love she has yet to learn. But I'm here to teach her.
- Jafar
Forget Ahmed. He's no longer blind. For a man with eyes the world is full of women. Only I am cursed, that I can see only you.
- Jafar
You're a clever little man little master of the universe, but mortals are weak and frail. If their stomach speaks, they forget their brain. If their brain speaks, they forget their heart. And if their heart speaks
- Genie
... they forget everything.
- Genie
Where do you come from?
- Princess
From the beginning of Time.
- Ahmad
How long have you been looking for me?
- Princess
Since the beginning of Time.
- Ahmad
Now that you've found me, how long will you stay?
- Princess
To the end of Time.
- Ahmad

Trivia

Filmed at London's Denham Studios, which had just merged with Arthur J. Rank's nearby Pinewood Studios.

Notes

This picture was inspired by a tale from A Thousand and One Nights, author unknown (circa 1450). According to pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter, Vivien Leigh was scheduled to appear in the film and David O. Selznick loaned production designer William Cameron Menzies to Alexander Korda for this picture. Modern sources add that all of the large sets and most of the dramatic actions were shot in England from early spring-late summer 1939. According to another news item that appeared in Hollywood Reporter shortly after the war began in Europe, while filming in London, the cast and crew came to work in gas masks which they removed for shooting. Later in September 1939, Korda closed down production on this film to begin shooting the propaganda film Lion Has Wings. In 1940, Korda moved to Hollywood to complete the picture, and according to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, the Grand Canyon stood-in for the Arabian desert. Other news items in Hollywood Reporter note that Michael Powell directed the spectacle scenes and Tim Whelan took over the direction from Ludwig Berger. Modern sources add that Korda disliked Berger's close, intimate style of filming and wanted a more lavish look to the film. Therefore, Korda hired Whelan to direct the action scenes.
       The film won Academy Awards for Best Special Effects and Best Technicolor Photography. Modern sources credit Zoltan Korda, William Cameron Menzies and Alexander Korda as directors; Tom Howard and Johnny Mills with special effects; William Cameron Menzies, Frederick Pusey and Ferdinand Bellan as associate designers; Robert Krasker as camera operator; David Cunynghame as production manager and Andre de Toth as production assistant. Actor Rex Ingram also appeared in the 1924 version of the story for United Artists, also entitled the Thief of Bagdad, starring Douglas Fairbanks and Julanne Johnston, and directed by Raoul Walsh (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30). Other versions of the story with the same title include the 1961 Italian film directed by Arthur Lubin, starring Steve Reeves and Giorgia Moll, and the 1978 British-French television movie, directed by Clive Donner, starring Roddy McDowall and Peter Ustinov.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1940

Released in United States January 1991 (Shown at Sundance Film Festival Park City, Utah January 17-27, 1991.)

Released in United States 1940

Released in United States August 1990

Released in United States December 1993

Released in United States January 1991

Released in United States March 1985

Released in United States November 1989

Released in United States on Video August 31, 1988

Shown at Edinburgh International Film Festival August 11-26, 1990.

Shown at London Film Festival November 10-26, 1989.

Shown at the Sydney Kids' Film Festival December 1993.

Director Raoul Walsh shot the film in 35 days. In 1987, "Great Performances" presented a newly restored print of the film, complete with its original color tinting, and introduced by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Released in United States March 1985 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Fabulous Fifty-Hour Filmex Fantasy Marathon) March 14-31, 1985.)

Released in United States August 1990 (Shown at Edinburgh International Film Festival August 11-26, 1990.)

Released in United States on Video August 31, 1988

Released in United States November 1989 (Shown at London Film Festival November 10-26, 1989.)

Released in United States December 1993 (Shown at the Sydney Kids' Film Festival December 1993.)