58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
Few classic films demands or can benefit more from transfer to DVD than Alexander Korda's magnificent THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. At a time when British cinema lagged desperately behind Hollywood in technical proficiency, Korda was nothing short of a miracle worker. Although lacking the resources that Hollywood had to offer, Korda was able to produce a movie that stood up to the best of Hollywood in beauty, creativity, color, and fantasy. Two of the greatest fantasy films ever made appeared in 1939 and 1940: THE WIZARD OF OZ and THE THIEF OF BAGDAD.
There are two reasons that THE THIEF OF BAGDAD is a great film and has stood the test of time. The first is the tremendous art direction. The movie is a function of Korda's vision. French auteur criticism holds that the "author" of a film is the director, but this is clearly an exception to that. Korda, the producer, was the creative force behind this film, and, in fact, employed as many as a half dozen directors during the course of making the film. One of the uncredited directors and one of the credited art directors was the great William Cameron Menzies, regarded as one of the giants in art design in film history. Even today, this is a gorgeous film to look at, and in an age when computers can create absolutely anything on the screen, it is delightful to watch a film in which others managed to achieve magic working with considerably less than we possess.
The second reason that this film succeeds so marvelously is the cast. Ironically, the ostensible lead in the film is remarkably forgettable. But several of the other performances are quite unforgettable. Conrad Veidt is magnificently ominous and devious as Jaffar in what is probably one of his three most memorable roles (the others being his performance as the Somnambulist in the German Expressionist classic THE CABINENT OF DR. CALIGARI and his famous turn as Rick's nemesis Maj. Strasser in CASABLANCA). He is so fine in his role that it is hard to imagine anyone else being better. Sabu, who plays Abu, enjoyed one of the more unusual film careers in Hollywood history (to which he returned after returning from WW II as a highly decorated war hero), and this is possibly his finest film. But apart from Veidt, my favorite performer is the great Rex Ingram's memorable performance as the genie. In an era in which it was virtually impossible to have a film career as an African-American while refusing to compromise one's dignity by playing subservient roles, Rex Ingram was perhaps the great exception. While other black actors forged careers playing servants and red caps and cooks and various other undignified roles, Ingram always managed to stand out as a proud, self-respectful individual. After Paul Robeson and before Sidney Portier, Ingram was perhaps the finest black actor in Hollywood. He managed always in his films to project great intelligence, pride, and self-possession. In many roles, he was more than a little imposing, and that comes out in his portrayal as the Genie. Yes, Abu outwits him and extracts a promise for three wishes, but he clearly is not a safe, tame genie. Even while doing Abu's bidding, he radiates danger. Had Ingram's career spanned the decades at the end of the 20th century instead of those in the middle, he would have been recognized as a truly massive talent. Today he would have been a major star, something that simply wasn't possible in 1940.
This is a must-see film for anyone who loves great cinematic fantasy, adventure, or British film. It is also one of those rare films that can be enjoyed as much by small children as by adults.
155 of 168 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2008
Yep that's right, I own both the MGM and now the Criterion versions of, The Thief Of Bagdad, and after comparing the opening sequence (with the boats and the cityscape), the scene where the blind man is telling his story so far, to the harem girls (where there's slight blurring in the long shots as well as a slight over enhancement shimmer on the blind man's face) and the registration problem area (where Sabu meets the spider in the temple) the print used is exactly the same one, as both versions have the exact same problems in exactly the same areas.
As for the purported colour saturation differences between the two discs, from my close scrutiny of the movies, I'd have to say that there isn't any difference at all.
The reds look over saturated to the point where the Grand Vizier's turban bleeds slightly, the blues are sky blue bright, and the skin tones are coppery, which is true to the skin tones of the people populating this movie.
The real question now should be, why Criterion chose to release this film as is, without attempting to do any restoration?
I had thought that the reason for the exuberant prices of Criterion DVDs was because we where suppose to be getting the best possible prints of films, but in this case, we're giving the same print with some extras, and expected to pay 3 times the price of the MGM disc.
Also of note, the chapter selection is better on the MGM disc as there are pictures with the captions, where as the Criterion chapter select, is text only (something Anchor Bay did away with years ago, because it was too confusing, i.e. the Evil Dead DVD, "Evil dead attack", um, which evil dead attack, there are several, so the description is useless).
So, as far as I'm concerned, the choice as to whether to get the Criterion edition rests with whether you want the extras and not with the picture quality.
So if you have the MGM DVD and aren't interested in shelling out more cash for a couple of extras (which I didn't find all that spectacular; no feature length making of to be had on this disc) then skip it, but if you don't own the out of print MGM disc, want the extras, or (like me) are a completes, then pick this up, just don't expect an upgraded print.
Hope this helps.
Note: both DVD's where viewed on a 27" JVC higher end (but not progressive scan enhanced) tube TV with a year old model, Sony DVD player, with the TV colour, contrast, sharpness, etc., set up using the THX optimizer from the, "Cars", DVD.
61 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
What's that old saying? Too many cooks spoil the broth? In figurative terms it means if there are too many people working on a project, the result will be inferior...given the fact The Thief of Bagdad (1940) sports six directors, three credited, three uncredited, you'd think the film would be a mess, but it's actually the very opposite. The credited directors include Ludwig Berger (The Vagabond King), Michael Powell (Black Narcissus), and Tim Whelan (The Mad Doctor), while on the uncredited side there's three individuals, all whom share producing credits for the film in Alexander Korda (Storm Over the Nile), his brother Zoltan Korda (Jungle Book), and William Cameron Menzies (The Whip Hand). Starring in the film is Conrad Veidt (Casablanca), Sabu (Elephant Boy, Jungle Book), and John Justin (King of the Khyber Rifles). Also appearing is June Duprez (Little Tokyo, U.S.A.) and Rex Ingram (God's Little Acre) as the Genie, or Djinn,
As the film begins, we're introduced to a blind beggar named Ahmad (Justin), and his very intelligent dog, both of whom are more than they appear. Ahmad soon relates a tale, and we learn of a man who was once king, and how he became friends with a clever young thief from the streets named Abu, played by Sabu (see what they did? The just removed the `S' from Sabu to get Abu...pretty smart, huh?). We also learn of the king's downfall at the hands of Jaffar (Veidt), a greedy, dastardly fellow with a penchant for magics and trickery. Seems Jaffar, once Grand Vizer (that means a highly regarded executive type who councils the king in many different matters) to the king, covet too much, and through some ruse, he managed to usurp (hence his new moniker of `The Usurper') the throne, and now desires the lovely princess, played by Duprez, daughter to a Sultan (played by Miles Malleson, one of the writers) of the nearby kingdom of Basra, who, incidentally, is smitten with the once king, and he her (their first encounter occurs in the `forbidden garden'...take the meaning whichever way you like)...the pair (the once king and Abu) embark on a number of dangerous adventures to regain king's throne, free the princess from the Jaffar's clutches, and return things to the natural order. Seems like a simple enough task, right? Well, keep in mind Jaffar is not only a scoundrel, but a magical scoundrel, and he has no intention of losing what he has worked so little for...actually, his plans appeared pretty complex, almost to the point of being convoluted, so it was obvious he had been planning it for awhile.
The Thief of Bagdad (which won three academy awards, one for color cinematography, a second for color interior design, and a third for special effects) is one of those films that I wish I could have been their to see when it originally opened in the theaters, as I can't help but feel it must have been quite the awesome cinematic experience similar to the first time I saw Clash of the Titans (1981) in the theater (I was eleven at the time). In terms of fantasy films, very few can match the level of magic and whimsy of The Thief of Bagdad, although many have tried. The real key to the film's success, in my opinion, is that it is so well written, basically a fairytale come to life. Certainly the special effects helped propel this film, but without the core characterizations and well-crafted dialogue, the film wouldn't have been as popular. With regards to the acting, I thought all of the performers did very well, but given the strength of the material, it wouldn't have been too difficult for an experienced performer to come in and do as well, with a few exceptions, particularly in the characters of Abu, the genie (Ingram), and Jaffar. Sabu seemed a bit rough around the edges, but this was displaced by his infectious enthusiasm, which came through in nearly every scene he appeared. The genie, played by Harrison, is wonderful and comes through larger than life, exactly how you'd expect a genie to be (which makes me think Harrison's performance was what many other, later genie depictions were probably based on). Last, but not least, is the character of Jaffar, played perfectly by Veidt. This definitely was a case of finding the right actor for the part as Veidt creates what's probably one of the strongest characterizations of an on screen villain I seen in a long time. The only other one I can think of is Darth Vader, but the difference is in Vader's character, much of his menace comes through in the costume and effects, where with Jaffar, Veidt had to create his character from within, and does so almost too well (he even scared me a few times). As far as the special effects, some seem dated (keep in mind the film was made some 60+ years ago, and achieving effects on the level seen here was incredibly difficult) and obvious (the blue fringing of the Technicolor mattes often shows through), while others hold up quite well (the giant spider looked amazing and its' movements really made it appear to be alive). The sets, usually backed by lush and detailed matte paintings, are beautiful and befitting of the story, and the music, by Miklós Rózsa, is considered to be some of the finest ever made for a film. Generally I'm not big on characters within film breaking out in song, but it works here because it ties so well into the events on the screen.
The full screen (original format) looks really good, despite a few minor flaws, and the audio comes through very well. I was surprised at a lack of features (there's a good looking trailer) for this particular film, given its' significance in terms of being one of the best fantasy films ever released, but better to have it than not at all I suppose.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2008
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
It's true that both the Criterion and MGM releases of "The Thief of Bagdad" come from the BFI (British Film Institude) restoration and that the Technicolor look is well served on both discs, but there is at least one major reason to up grade to the Criterion release and that is the SOUND! Miklos Rozsa's score for this film is one of the greatest of all-time, but it was a challenge to capture his score within the limits of the sound recording means available at the time. The MGM release has a much lower recording level than the Criterion. One need only play the opening title music of both discs to hear the differences between the two discs. The MGM track distorts much more so than the Criterion. The Criterion release handles the sound track far better. The Criterion picture has been done at a higher bit rate and futher cleaned-up. It also offers the ability to play the film with an opitional music and sounds track only. Both commentary tracks are jewels and the second disc with its extras is outstanding. I have two copies of the MGM release, but I am delighted for the improved Criterion release. Now one can only hope that Criterion will see fit to release this gem on Blu-Ray!
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2001
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
So good it was even recognized by Hollywood. It won two Academy Awards (for color cinematography and costumes, I believe). Notable for many reasons. As mentioned by another reviewer, for the highly notable performance by Adelaide Hall as well as that of another underutilized black performer, the great Rex Ingram (not the silent film director). Ingram gives us the best genie ever, one whose cries of "Free, free!" when he is finally released from bondage carry an especial poignance consider the social situation in the U.S. the time the film was made. We also get the best evil sorcerer ever in Conrad Veidt's Jafar, who can have anything he wants except the love of the beautiful princess...whose father the Sultan is charmingly portrayed by Miles Malleson, who also wrote the erudite and delightful script. Throw in the best flying horse this side of CG, a spectacular mountain temple, a believable flying carpet, a necro-erotic statue, and one of the Miklos Rosza's best scores, and you have the Arabian Nights made real. No one should miss Sabu's naturalistic performance as Abu, the little thief. Note Conrad Veidt's makeup, that included gold dust to highlight his features. A film for the ages, and for all ages (and where, oh where, is the DVD? Please to strike it from the surviving 35mm original in the British Film Archive....)
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2008
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I see that there is some controversy here over whether the new Criterion transfer is an improvement on the 2002 MGM transfer or not. So I compared the MGM and Criterion DVD editions of this movie (which I love) on my 60-inch Hitachi HDTV today by syncing them up on two different DVD players and swapping the picture back and forth between them. I then switched the discs between the players and repeated the test. Other than a tiny sliver more picture information at the top and left on the Criterion disc, and a sliver more on the bottom of the MGM disc, they appear virtually identical. There is no significant difference that I can see in terms of color balance or saturation, brightness, contrast, shadow/highlight detail, or cleanliness of the prints. Criterion claims to have cleaned up "thousands" of instances of speckling and spotting, but the MGM print looks very clean to me, with little or no noticeable dirt or damage. In short, unless you really want the extras, or don't own the MGM edition, there is really no reason to upgrade as far as I can tell. Other than the digital cleanup that was supposedly done I can't understand how Criterion can claim that this version is "from restored film elements", other than to con potential buyers into buying a movie that they probably already own. I bought the Criterion release partly for the extras but was expecting a superior transfer based on their pre-release publicity, and now I feel just slightly ripped off considering the premium price they are charging for this set. The extras are nice to have but hardly merit charging double what the MGM DVD retailed for. Of course if you don't have the MGM edition (which is now out of print) then this is a worthy purchase, but as I would expect that most hardcore fans of this movie scooped up on the MGM disc as soon as it was released, this seems a little like double-dipping. At any rate, the bottom line is that anyone trying to tell you that either version is markedly superior in terms of picture quality hasn't done their homework. As anyone who knows anything about computer graphics will tell you, there are so many variables involved in displaying color on a monitor or on the Web that comparisons made by examining screen grabs on the Internet are all but worthless. As long as I'm on the subject, not all of Criterion's transfers are necessarily superior to those available from other DVD manufacturers. For instance, Image Entertainment's transfers of Warhol's Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein blow the (out of print) Criterion editions off the map in every possible way. So don't assume that just because it says Criterion on the box you're getting a superior product.
All in all, Thief of Bagdad is a personal favorite and one of the greatest adventure fantasies ever filmed. I'm only knocking one star off of what should be a five-star rating because of Criterion implying that you're getting a much improved transfer when you are not.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2003
"The Thief of Baghdad" is a masterpiece and should be seen by the present and future generations. It is a movie complete and all its aspects. I was 10 when I first saw "The Thief of Baghdad" and since then I could never forget the moments of enchantment it brought to me everytime (more than 10 times)I went to the movies to see it on the big screen. It was and still is my fantasy favorite movie. In the Middle 60's I finally found a copy in 16mm at a distributor and had to rent a projector to show the film at home. Although the copy was in very bad conditions I could even so, be able to go back to the days of my childhood while enjoying this wondereful film.
Recently I púrchased a VHS copy at Amazon[.com] and virtually "obliged" my 18 year-old daughter to watch it. It was a prize to have the film with me at all times. The new edition in DVD is perfect and reveals all the splendor the film brings.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
Not only is the 'THIEF OF BAGDAD' an exceptionally well crafted (considering the technology available in 1940) and considerate adaptation of the book, it features a rare movie appearance of the American Jazz legend Adelaide Hall. If you know little about this wonderful Lady, allow me to enlighten you a little on her career. Alexander Korda, personally requested Adelaide's appearance after witnessing a concert performance given by her at the Kilburn State Theatre in London, at which the audience near rioted with enthusiasm over her. Considering Adelaide's remarkable and ground breaking achievements in the Jazz World (Recordings and performances), Variety, Vaudeville, Music-Hall, etc. the film offers the viewer a rare glimpse at a talent that is sadly overlooked in the history of popular entertainment. During Adelaide's early career in America 1921 - 1935 she reached the pinnacle of the show-biz ladder to become the first black international superstar (Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald all followed in her footsteps and Josephine Baker was only a star in Europe. Florence Mills sadly never made recordings so her appeal was only felt in the theatre.)With the release of the recording 'Creole Love Call' in 1927 Adelaide's fame shot around the glode. Her starring role on Broadway in 'Blackbirds of 1928' during which she released 'I Must Have That Man' and made 'I Can't Give You Anything but Love' and 'Diga Diga Do' into household standards, took her career higher than any other black artist had ever gone. She fought racism, created a vocal style (Scat), on Broadway - with the hugely talented dancer Bojangles - created the only black competition to Fred and Adele Astaire, starred at Broadway's Palace theatre 7 times within 2 years (a record never beaten for a black artist),etc, etc. Her achievements in the world of entertainment were ground-breaking but more importantly she was a crusader for black-equality and opened the doors for the future generation of black entertainers. Sadly, her film appearances are rare so her performance in 'The Thief of Bagdad'is a real gem and one that clearly displays her remarkable talent (all be it in an unusual setting - a rose garden). Without taking any credit away from the director and the films wonderful stars especially Sabu, if only to capture a little bit of entertainment history the film is worth watching for Adelaide's performance alone. A truly important film both Historically and professionally and well worth buying for your archive ***** kind regards Iain Cameron Williams.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2008
I had to get this the day it came out - I already own the MGM disc but when I heard that Criterion was releasing a version....
I wasn't disappointed! Criterion has loaded these discs with tons'o'goodies (I won't list them here as they are listed on this page by another helpful reviewer and Amazon). The picture is great, the sound is great considering it's a mono track from 1940. There are a few jumps and skips but they are from missing film cells, not the DVD (I checked against my other disc). And as for those who have reviewed this disc and freaked out about the colors...
They are exactly the same.
No, seriously. I took screen captures at multiple points in the film from both the MGM and Criterion discs on my DVD player, and the color difference is if not exactly the same, imperceptible to the human eye. My eyes anyway... or my monitor.
But to the movie itself! I am guessing that if you are reading this you already know about this cinematic masterpiece but if not then read on! I won't summarize the plot as it has already been summarized on this page, but I will say that this is one of the greatest if not THE greatest fantasy films of all time. The Thief of Bagdad grips you, nay gets you in a chokehold with a sense of wonder from the word go and doesn't let go until the very end when you'll be be hitting the play button frantically so it can do it to you all over again. While you watch this you won't CARE if the acting is a little stilted in places or the effects crude by today's standards (in fact, the old SFX add to the charm!). The actors play their parts well. John Justin is adequate but not stellar (but I'll cut the dude some slack since this was his first movie). Conrad Veidt is a master villain, the inspiration for Darth Vader ("It is your... destiny...."). Sabu is awesome. June Duprez is lovely. Rex Ingram is Rex Ingram. It took at least six directors to make this puppy, but they managed to slap together the greatest Arabian Nights fantasy movie ever made. The only films in the genre that come close are the original Thief of Bagdad (1924) and the 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). The Golden Voyage of Sinbad from 1974 trails slightly behind.
Summarization: I love this movie. This Criterion version is excellent - like the previous MGM version, but with more Thief of Bagdady goodness! Highly Recommended.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This masterpiece, often referred to as the greatest fantasy movie ever, still holds up well over 60 years later. The Thief of Bagad has a terrific story with enchanting magic, enticing romance and terrific suspense. The acting is absolutely superb with fine performances turned in by Sabu the little thief, Rex Ingram as the powerful and scary genie, and Conrad Veidt who as the evil Vizier Jaffar is one of the best villians ever. John Justin, the blinded Caliph and his beloved princess (June Deprez) provide an engaging and often tragic romance that lends terrific depth to this story.
Best yet is the awesome imagination brought to life in this masterpiece epic. While some of the effects show their age (The spider, for instance), others, such as the flying mechanical horse and the magical carpet are still captivating. The immense attention to detail is evident in the palaces, the ships and the sultan's toy collection. Miklos Rosza's musical score along with this movie's wonderful cinematography recreates the legendary time of the Arabian Nights.
For my one complaint, while this movie clearly rates 5 stars, I'm knocking my review down to 4 stars due to the lack of DVD extras. When compared to spectacular golden age DVDs like Robin Hood, one begins wish all were made this way. Children from 8-13 (as well as adults) will still find joy in this delightful picture.