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Thief of Bagdad, The (1940)

Courtesy of Carlton International

Main image of Thief of Bagdad, The (1940)
Production CompanyAlexander Korda Film Productions
 London Film Productions
DirectorLudwig Berger
 Michael Powell
 Tim Whelan
ProducerAlexander Korda
ScenarioLajos Biro
Screenplay/DialogueMiles Malleson
Chief PhotographerGeorges Perinal
Music/SongsMiklos Rozsa
Music DirectorMuir Mathieson

Cast: Conrad Veidt (Jaffar); Sabu (Abu, the thief of Bagdad); John Justin (Ahmad); June Duprez (Princess); Rex Ingram (Djinn)

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With the help of the young thief Abu, the overthrown king, Ahmad, triumphs over the wicked Vizier and wins the Sultan's beautiful daughter.

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Producer Alexander Korda originally assigned this Arabian Nights-style adventure - which had been a hit in its 1924 Hollywood version starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr - to the German director Ludwig Berger, but brought in Michael Powell when he was unhappy with Berger's vision for the film. When Berger refused to resign, Korda, in the most extreme example of his interfering tendencies, insisted on co-directing all of Berger's scenes, to the confusion of cast and crew and the disgust of Berger himself, who finally walked off the film. Korda strongly disapproved of Berger's style which, with its concentration on actors at the expense of the lavish sets, was almost the exact opposite to Korda's own approach as a director.

In the end, no fewer than six directors were involved in the picture. Powell handled many of the most spectacular sequences, including the celebrated scene in which the djinni (Rex Ingram) is released from the bottle. American Tim Whelan shot the battle scenes, and Berger was left with a few love scenes, most or all of which were later re-shot by Korda himself. When the production moved to America after the start of the war, Zoltan Korda and William Cameron Menzies shot additional footage there.

Despite its troubled production, The Thief of Bagdad was a great success when it was released in December 1940, its colourful fantasy offering audiences a welcome escape from the grim daily reality of war, at a time when both colour film stock and genuine fantasy were a rarity in Britain. As well as the spectacular effects, for which Laurence Butler won one of the film's three Academy Awards (the others were for cinematography and art direction), the film featured spirited performances, particularly from Sabu, already a star thanks to Korda's The Elephant Boy (d. Robert Flaherty/Zoltan Korda, 1937) and The Drum (d. Zoltan Korda, 1938) and the German star Conrad Veidt, whose sojourn in Britain had already included appearances in Powell and Pressburger's Spy in Black (1939) and Contraband (1940).

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Flying horse (2:06)
2. 'I'm blind!' (2:00)
3. Djinni in the bottle (4:32)
Original poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Chu-Chin-Chow (1934)
Biró, Lajos (1883-1948)
Hall, Adelaide (1901-1993)
Johns, Glynis (1923-)
Kalmus, Natalie (1887-1965)
Korda, Alexander (1893-1956)
Korda, Vincent (1896-1979)
Korda, Zoltán (1895-1961)
Malleson, Miles (1888-1969)
Menzies, William Cameron (1896-1957)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Périnal, Georges (1897-1965)
Sabu (1924-1963)
Veidt, Conrad (1893-1943)
Alexander Korda and London Films
Powell and Pressburger