The Thief of Baghdad
In 1924, The Thief of Baghdad was a state-of-the-art, effects-studded, star-powered blockbuster, and the years and the lack of sound can’t dim its appeal. The star in question is Douglas Fairbanks (who also co-wrote under a pseudonym and produced). As the titular scoundrel, he steals and freeboots his way across the ancient Muslim capital until he fixes his eyes on the ultimate prize—the Caliph’s daughter (Julianne Johnston). He hatches a plot to steal her away, too, but true love makes him want to win her heart for real, which entails a series of fantastic Herculean labors and wresting the city back from his rival for the princess’ affections, a sinister Mongol prince (the skeletal Sojin). Two things recommend this film to modern audiences. First, there’s the sheer visual dazzle: Director Raoul Walsh and production designer William Cameron Menzies create wondrous visual after wondrous visual, from the towering sets and seamless matte paintings to Fairbanks’ “undersea” adventures to the eerie tree people to at least one trick deep-focus shot that surely left Citizen Kane’s cinematographer Gregg Toland agape. Second, there’s Fairbanks himself, whose charisma, simian grace, and chiseled torso overpower the pantomime acting style.