Douglas Fairbanks! His name, along with Errol Flynn’s, was once synonymous with swashbuckling adventure and derring do, and for some people, it still is.
See what the fuss was about when Le Cinéclub de Montréal / The Film Society presents The Thief of Bagdad on Saturday, May 30, 2015.
The Thief of Bagdad, which was made in 1924, is a silent film, but that just means that you won’t hear the actors speak. The evening itself will not be silent, far from it. Guillaume Martineau (piano) Joannie Labelle (percussion) and Jean-Sebastien Leblanc (clarinet) will provide lively musical accompaniment. (That’s one more person than the Cinémathèque Québécoise had on hand when it showed the film in 2013.)
The Thief of Bagdad appears on the “must-see” lists of many critics. The fairy-tale adventure was directed by Raoul Walsh and features sumptuous costumes by Mitchell Leisen, large, lavish sets by William Cameron Menzies, and genies, giant jars, magic baskets, flying carpets and other special effects, along with the proverbial “cast of thousands.” The $2-million budget was quite extraordinary for the time.
Douglas Fairbanks plays Ahmed, the thief of the title, who decides to go big and steal a princess, the daughter of the Caliph of Bagdad. But through one thing and another, he ends up in one of those competitions so common in myths, legends and fairy tales where a suitor has to prove his worth by doing, discovering, or defeating, some thing or someone.
Fairbanks is incredibly acrobatic, with lots of leaping, swinging, and climbing; he’s usually smiling, and he’s often shirtless, too. (Fairbanks was also the producer, and one of the screenwriters of The Thief of Bagdad.)
The princess is played by Julanne Johnston, whose name is not well known today. The better known Anna May Wong is listed as the “Mongol slave” of the princess, though she was actually more of a (scantily-clad) spy. In a different era she might have been given bigger and better roles.
Here are excerpts from some reviews of The Thief of Bagdad:
Kim Newman, Empire Magazine: “Grinning impishly, (Fairbanks) has an energetic magnetism that few stars have since managed to recapture, every set-piece designed to showcase his swashbuckling prowess. Silent cinema at its most magical.”
The New York Times: “. . . Fairbanks. . .essentially invented the American action star, with his combination of easy athleticism, can-do optimism and self-deprecating humour. By the time of “The Thief of Bagdad” he had moved from modern dress to costume roles (“The Mark of Zorro,” “Robin Hood”) and into the particular timelessness of the superstar, standing at the centre of his own universe. . . ”
“The film’s extraordinary production design — located somewhere between the swoony Art Nouveau curves of Aubrey Beardsley and the robust literary illustrations of N. C. Wyeth — is the first major work of William Cameron Menzies, a brilliant jack-of-all-trades who would leave his mark on movies from “Gone With the Wind”. . .to the low-budget nightmare “Invaders from Mars.”
“Using a panoply of optical and mechanical effects Fairbanks leads the viewer through a range of magical worlds. Most memorably there is an undersea kingdom, where the chandeliers. . . are giant jellyfish composed of Venetian glass.”
From an unsigned review in TV Guide: “Forty-year-old Douglas Fairbanks was at his peak when he released the film in 1924. Stripped to the waist virtually throughout, Fairbanks displays the physique of a 20-year-old gymnast and the exuberance of a person even younger. His daringly, beautifully florid performance is grounded less in dramatics than in dance. . .and acrobatics. . . Fairbanks’s kinetic performance is saved from pretentious posturing by his enormous likability, effervescence, and predisposition to self-mockery.”
The Thief of Badgad, Saturday, May 30, 2015, at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7.)
United Church 4695 de Maisonneuve W. (Vendôme Metro)
Tickets at the door, cash only, are $13, $9 (for students and those 65, and over, with ID).
Or buy your tickets online at lavitrine.com
INFO LINE: 514-738-FILM
The film is approximately two hours long. Coffee, tea, beer, popcorn, and sweet treats will be on sale before the film and at the intermission.
For more information visit the Facebook page for The Thief of Bagdad screening.
Learn more about Le Cinéclub de Montréal / The Film Society on its web page.