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Film / The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

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The Thief of Baghdad is a Silent Movie from 1924 loosely based on stories from One Thousand and One Nights.

It is about a thief from Bagdad who falls in love with the daughter of the Caliph, and pretends to be a prince in order to marry her. He subsequently goes on adventures to find a treasure in order to prove his worthiness. Meanwhile, one of the princess's other suitors is an evil Mongol Khan, who is actually planning to take over the city and is sneaking his soldiers inside the walls. The soldiers are disguised as porters bringing presents for the princess.

It starred Douglas Fairbanks (who also produced the movie and co-wrote the script), and was directed by Raoul Walsh. Anna May Wong, the first Chinese movie star in Hollywood, plays the slave who's acting as a spy for the Mongol khan.

Not to be confused with the 1940 remake.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: The princess is pretty freaked out by her other three suitors—the fat one, the ugly one, and the Obviously Evil Mongol one.
  • An Aesop: "Happiness must be earned." The Thief has an attack of conscience and can't bring himself to steal the princess. Instead, he goes on a long journey to eventually find the magic powder that allows him to liberate the city from the Mongols.
  • "Arabian Nights" Days: Baghdad, camels, sultans, magic carpets. The opening title card proclaims the film to be "An Arabian Nights Fantasy". The story isn't directly taken from any of the stories in the Arabian Nights, but the idea of a commoner falling in love with a princess was a common plot element in the original story collection, and things like flying horses and magic carpets do pop up in the stories from time to time.
  • Beautiful Slave Girl: The Mongol Slave, who is played by screen beauty Anna May Wong.
  • Brandishment Bluff: The thief gets the drop on the Mongol slave by holding a knife to her back. He then walks her into a corner, and braces the knife against her back with a pillow to make her think he's still there as he makes his escape.
  • Catapult to Glory: How Fairbanks gains entry to the palace in the final action scene.
  • Crystal Ball: The three princes are charged with finding rare treasures, the rarest one winning the heart of the princess. One of them finds a crystal ball, which reveals that the princess has been poisoned.
  • Damsel in Distress: The princess, who is poisoned or threatened by evil Mongols from time to time.
  • Dragon Lady: The female slave, who turns out to be a mole and spy. This led to her actress Anna May Wong being typecast as such for several years.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: "Happiness must be earned" is directly stated to be the moral of the story.
  • Epic Movie: Runs 2 1/2 hours. Cost $1.1 million dollars to make, which in 1924 was a ton of money to spend on a movie. It shows onscreen, with elaborate sets and costumes, innumerable extras, and special effects that were cutting-edge for The Roaring '20s.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In his first scene, the thief appears to be sleeping on top of a stone platform above a water fountain. When a traveler stops to drink, the thief steals his purse.
  • Flying Carpet: One of the other princes finds one, and the three princes use it to fly back to Bagdad. In the end, the thief and the princess fly away on one.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: The hero eventually realises what an asshole he's been halfway through the movie, and goes to the city mosque for guidance from the imam he had scorned earlier in the film. Fortunately for him, the imam is a Good Shepherd (okay, maybe not quite in the modern sense, but he still counts!)
  • Hermit Guru: The thief finds one, who gives him advice on how to find his way to the magic box.
  • The Hero's Journey: The thief leaves Bagdad and goes on a long, dangerous journey in which he fights many monsters, before finding the magic powder that allows him to free Bagdad.
  • The Infiltration: Used both by the thief, to get into the palace (and the competition for the princess' hand) disguised as a prince, and by the villainous Mongols, to sneak twenty thousand troops into the city disguised as porters bearing gifts. Given how easily both schemes work, a good example of The Guards Must Be Crazy.
  • Invisibility Cloak: One of two magic weapons found by the thief on his journey, along with the box of magic powder. He uses the cloak to sneak past the guards and save the princess.
  • Killer Gorilla: One of the beasts guarding the palace is a monstrous ape, played by a live chimpanzee that looks taller than a human thanks to forced perspective. Ahmed is nearly executed by getting thrown to the ape.
  • Loveable Rogue: Well, he doesn't seem much like this at the very beginning; he uses one of the daily salah to steal a merchant's wares, pops into a mosque specifically to tell the imam that he - the thief, that is - is better than Allah. Luckily, he sees the Princess soon after, and when he realises that she's not another item to be stolen away he becomes a better person for it.
  • Love Redeems: The thief isn't evil, exactly, but he certainly isn't good, and his plan to drug the princess and steal her away when she's unconscious definitely isn't good. But he falls in love with her for real, and can't bring himself to do it.
  • Meaningful Echo: The thief boasts to the worshippers at the mosque: "What I want - I take." Later, the Mongol Khan reviews a model of the Caliph's palace and says the same thing, inviting the audience to compare their morality.
  • The Mole: The princess's Mongol slave is a spy for the Mongol Khan.
  • Nameless Narrative: Almost, as no names are given except for the Mongol Khan, who is introduced in a single title card as "Cham Shang the Great." The thief goes by "Ahmed" when disguised as a prince.
  • Our Sirens Are Different: The hero comes across a few sirens in one of the trials he has to face. He's tempted... but then he looks at his beloved's ring, and snaps out of it.
  • Pegasus: The winged horse who carries the thief to the Citadel of the Moon.
  • Secret Underground Passage: Access via a well. Given how easily the thief and his associate get in and out of the palace, it exhibits Swiss-Cheese Security.
  • A Taste of the Lash: The thief watches in disgust as another thief is punished this way. Later he himself is flogged after he is discovered to be a thief and not a prince.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Douglas Fairbanks is shirtless for most of the movie.
  • Yellow Peril: The "Mongol" characters, all of which are villains.