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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Tipu

5001 Nights in the Movies
The Thief of Bagdad

From "5001 Nights in the Movies" by Pauline Kael

The Thief of Bagdad (1940) - Magical Arabian Nights adventures, on enormous, spacious sets and in brilliantly clear Maxfield Parrish colors; the screen seems to be made of velvet. Sabu is the boy thief who befriends Ahmed (John Justin), the prince [king] who has been blinded and has had his kingdom usurped by the evil magician, the Grand Vizzir Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). Though Justin is a wan embodiment of virtue, Veidt sparkles with villainy; in his dashing black ensembles, he makes superb entrances in the calendar-art vistas that the designer, Vincent Korda, supplied for this essentially cheery Alexander Korda production. Sabu seems most appealing when the wicked Jaffar has him turned into a dog; the dog seems to represent the essence of Sabu, and it even looks like him. [is she saying the dog was the better actor?] Best of all is the deep-rumbling-voiced Rex Ingram as the Djinni of the bottle; this Djinni is not only giant-sized but giant voiced, with a big roaring, threatening laugh and a grin that suggests trouble. (He also has a Southern accent. [Rex was born in Cairo, Illinois]) Bare except for a loincloth, he has talon fingernails and great quizzical eyebrows, and is bald-headed except for a pony-tail. As the heroine, June Duprez - with her soft-lipped pout and sensual, edgy diction - is an unusual enough choice to catch one's interest. And Miles Malleson does a quirky turn as the Sultan, her toy-loving senile father; Malleson is like a toy himself, and when he becomes enchanted by a mechanical flying horse, he and the machine seem a perfect pair. But as a writer, Malleson, who, along with Lajos Biro, did the script, lacks enchantment; the flashback device at the beginning [what flashback device?] is unnecessarily complicated, and the dialogue throughout is distressingly flat. This adds to the film's other problems - the uneven rhythms and the occasionaly dead spots, the stagey use of spectacular sets. Yet considering how many directors took turns on this picture (Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, and Tim Whelan are all credited, and Zoltán Korda and William Cameron Menzies, who are credited only as associate producers, also directed, as did Alexander Korda), it's surprising ho well it holds together. Miklós Rózsa score is intrusive and mood-shattering, but the cinematography by Georges Périnal (with Osmond Borradaile on the outdoor footage, and Robert Krasker as camera operator) and the costumes by Oliver Messel, John Armstrong, and Marcel Vertès have a fairy-tale richness. (This version takes off from the 1924 silent film that starred Douglas Fairbanks Sr., as the thief, but it's very different). Vincent Korda, Périnal and the special-effects team all won Academy Awards.

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