Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thief of Dreams

Classic Silent fantasy out on Blu-ray

By David Luhrssen
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 Douglas Fairbanks is beautiful as a faun, and as revealingly clad, as he reclines atop a fountain at the opening of The Thief of Bagdad (1924). And he moves with the fluid drama of Nijinski through this Orientalist fantasy, restored and out on Blu-ray. In a story inspired by the Arabian Nights and staged in a Hollywood recreation of that “dream city of the ancient East,” Fairbanks’ thief is a rascal who, given the challenge of winning the princess he loves, transcends his criminality after a dangerous hero’s quest. He crosses fiery chasms, slays monsters and returns with the power to raise an army from puffs of smoke to liberate Bagdad from the Mongol hordes who seized it by cunning.

The costumes are as fantastic as the minarets, latticed sliding gates and ramps ascending through a multitude of Moorish arches. The Thief of Bagdad is dreamlike and often surreal, drawing from stage magic and magic lantern shows with rope tricks, crystal balls and flying carpets. Directed by Raoul Walsh, who later helmed High Sierra and White Heat, The Thief of Bagdad is an artifact from a time when moving images were still thrilling, special effects were magical and watching motion pictures demanded an act of imagination. One imagines George Lucas saw The Thief at film school and had it in mind while making Star Wars.

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