This is really old-fashioned spectacle. Fantastic that they could do so much without a computer to generate their FX, but with the sets, the costumes, the score, the fantasy elements of an Arabian Nights story, and the beautiful June Duprez as the Princess, this is truly a great ride.
It’s a British film, so even the credits are unusual. “Alexander Korda presents (the title) An Arabian Fantasy in Technicolor. Conrad Veidt and Sabu with June Duprez, John Justin and Rex Ingram. Screenplay and Dialogue by Miles Malleson. Scenario by Lajos Biro.”
Next Zoltan Korda and William Cameron Menzies (remember, on the 1924 film he was Art Director), are listed as Co-Producers.
“Production Designed in Color by Vincent Korda. Special Effects Directed by Lawrence Butler. Directed by Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, and Tim Whelan. Score and Songs by Miklos Rozsa. Produced by Alexander Korda. Distributed by United Artists.”
I’m sure this is the first time I’ve ever seen the distributor get the final billing card; as you know, it’s usually the director.
Incidentally, the three Kordas listed above were brothers.
A ship is docking and amidst the activity a song is used to cover the lack of dialogue. The song asks why men come back from the sea, since while the sea is cruel, it is also clean. Then the song attributes the purity of the sea to the fact that there are very few men out there. Jaffar the magician, former Grand Vizier, and current King of Bagdad (Conrad Veidt) disembarks and asks a slave girl named Halima (Mary Morris) about the Princess (June Duprez), the daughter of the former Sultan of Basra (Miles Malleson). He learns that she is still asleep and that “the blind man” has been found. Cut to a blind beggar (John Justin) whose dog barks every time someone gives him a phony coin. The man who gave the counterfeit puts down two coins and says to the dog, “Come, oh frequenter of tree trunks, now which is the bad one?” The dog picks up the false coin and gives it to the man, who says, “This is no dog, but the reincarnation of a tax collector!”
Jaffar sees the beggar and tells the girl “Bring him to me.” She introduces herself and offers him food and shelter. He accepts gratefully but, we suspect, with some reserve. He does not ride in her divan, but lets his dog lead him behind the conveyance, saying, “He gives me more than ever he can receive, like all dogs.”
Now we learn 4 important things: 1) The beggar’s name is Ahmad, 2) The sleeping Princess can only be awakened by Ahmad because they were children together, hinting at a less humble beginning for him, 3) Jaffar intends to dispose of Ahmad as soon as the princess is awake and to make her love him instead, and 4) when they were children, the dog was not a dog, but was Abu, a little thief (Sabu).
Then King Ahmad of Bagdad is shown in a flashback, and yes, yesterday’s King is today’s blind beggar. And even then Jaffar was in control as adviser and Grand Vizier, and said things like this,”Men are evil, hatred behind their eyes, lies on their lips, betrayal in their hearts. You will learn one day, Great King, that there are but three things men respect: the lash that descends, the yoke that breaks, and the sword that slays. By the power and terror of these you may conquer the earth.” Nice guy, huh? Just the type you’d want as your King or Sultan, and of course currently in control of both Bagdad and Basra. And the flashback ends with Jaffar magically blinding Ahmad and turning Abu into a dog – the curse will only be lifted when Jaffar holds the Princess in his arms.
Naturally there is a genie (Rex Ingram), who calls Abu “Little Master of the Universe”, and a mechanical horse that runs through the clouds, a flying carpet, a six-armed statue (a la Shiva) called “The Silver Maid”, Blue Roses of Forgetfulness, and the All-Seeing Eye of the Goddess of Light, which is guarded by a gigantic, and I thought more realistic looking than most, spider.
To me this seems more like Disney’s “Aladdin” than Fairbanks’s “Thief of Bagdad” (Jaffar=Jafar, Abu=Apu, the genie who has his own ideas about servitude, etc.). Maybe this was a major inspiration to the Disney writers and animators. As you can probably tell, even though each version is technically superior, both for its time and even now, I like this color talkie better than Fairbanks’s silent spectacle.
AND it is quite a nice way to spend an afternoon in front of the TV!