The first time I watched the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad, I recalled liking it more than the 1920’s version but when I thought about it recently I couldn’t remember why. It could have just been the superficialness of color and sound, or I might have just liked the characters better. I will say that yes I like some of the characters better but this movie has a very odd way telling the story and you can see the Disney version of Aladdin all over this movie.
So the movie at first is told in flashback, Ahmad, a blind beggar with a talented dog tells his story to a group of ladies. In his flashback we learn that Ahmad was the king of Bagdad and the dog was a young thief named Abu. Ahmad was kept at a distance from his people by his royal vizier, Jaffar. One day Jaffar convinces Ahmad to go out among the people and Ahmad learns he is not well liked and that there a prophesy about a hero descending from the sky on a magic cloud-like thing and golden crossbow. Jaffar then has Ahmad thrown in a jail where he meets Abu. They escapes and become friends. They leave Bagdad and head to Basra.
In Basra, Ahmad sees the princess, who doesn’t have a name. Ahmad and the Princess meet and fall in love. However Jaffar also travels to Basra intent on marrying the Princess. Jaffar gives the Princess’ father, the Sultan a mechanical flying horse as he loves toys in exchange for the Princess. The Sultan concedes and the Princess flees Basra however off-screen she is captured and sold in a slave market. Ahmad then confronts Jaffar and he turns Ahmad blind and Abu into a dog which they will remain till he holds the Princess in his arms.
That ends the flashback part. As it turns out, Ahmad was brought to the house where he just told his story because the Princess ( I wish she had a name) is sleeping a sleep which she can’t wake from till Ahmad shows up. The Princess is then told there is a doctor that can cure Ahmad’s blindness so she goes and she is told the doctor in one a ship. When the Princess boards the ship with Abu, it sails away. It was all a scheme by Jaffar. Jaffar was the one who bought the Princess and cared for her while she slept. He tells her that he can cure Ahmad if he holds her which she allows and Ahmad and Abu are cured. Prior to Abu changing back to a human he stow-a-way on the boat but was thrown off and changes back to human on reaching the docks.
Abu reaches Ahmad and they go after the Princess but Jaffar conjures up a storm and they are left shipwreck. Abu finds a magic lamp on the beach and a Djinn comes out. Abu’s first wish is a sausage. The Djinn then takes Abu to get an all-seeing crystal mainly because Abu claims he can steal it but the Djinn doesn’t believe him and he does steal it and uses it to see where Ahmad is.
As that is going on, Jaffar tries to magically make the Princess love him but can’t bring himself as he want her to love him truly. He then ask her to command him and she asks him to bring her back to Basra. Once there the Princess begs her father to not force her to marry Jaffar which he agrees to but Jaffar has the sultan killed with a mechanical toy called the Silver Maid which stabs him in the heart.
The Djinn takes Abu to Ahmad and they look through the seeing crystal, which is called the All-seeing Eye, to see the Princess. Jaffar arranges for her to smell the Blue Rose of Forgetfulness which causes her to forget her love and agony. This cause Ahmad to lash out on Abu and Abu wishes Ahmad way which is his final wish and he left alone.
Ahmad appears at Jaffar’s palace and the Princess regains her memory. Jaffar then orders them both to be executed. Abu the shatters the All-seeing eye and is transported to the Land of Legend. Abu is thanked for freeing the inhabitants who had been turned to stone and is gifted a magical golden crossbow and is named the king’s successor. Abu however steals a magic carpet to save Ahmad.
As Ahmad is about to be executed as the Princess is forced to watch, Abu comes flying done on the magic carpet. This sparks a revolt. Jaffar tries to flee on the mechanical flying horse but Abu shots him with the crossbow. Ahmad and the Princess get married and Ahmad names Abu as the royal vizier but Abu peaces out on the carpet for more adventures.
So much narrative.
This movie is presented with a lot of narrative and to be fair it could have a lot more. I would have loved to seen the Princess’s journey but the movie wasn’t about her it was about Abu’s adventure saving Ahmad who was in love with the Princess and Jaffar’s scheming. It’s a little weird but that the titular character is spend a fair chunk of time on the side and the other characters are not concern with him. The heart of the movie centers on Ahmad’s and his dilemma but it’s Abu who saves the day. It defiantly a weird direction to go in.
Despite all the narrative, there isn’t a lot of character development in this movie. None of the character grow and change. They are all static. They are likable enough but they don’t have any arcs. Personally, I enjoyed the interactions between Jaffar and the Princess over Abu and Ahmad.
I got to say, I found the Princess an interesting character. Yes, she is a damsel in distress but she did try to take her life in her own hands as she ran away and does resist Jaffar. She tries to be an active player. I wish she had gotten more screen time and a name.
I think this movie much like the 1920’s movie was more for style. This movie is impressive for the 1940’s and it did some great chromo work. You can see a clear style over substance in scenes like the Silver maid and Abu stealing the All-seeing eye. These scenes go on for a while but instead of character development it just a neat scenes to look at.
Also the costumes were lovely. Ahmad main costumes is like a reversal of Disney’s Aladdin costume. But for me everything the princess wore was like beautiful.
The 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad is an entertaining movie that while doesn’t have the most development characters and the plot is all over the place is fun to watch and enjoyable.
2022 Edit- I recently rewatched this movie. I maintain that it’s fun entertaining movie with a lot of great spectacle. I think some of the aspects that might have bothered me when I wrote this review, like the Princess’ journey being off-screen don’t bother me. The story wasn’t about that we just needed to know that she tried and we can use how imaginations. I do wish she had a name but the movie is more about Abu helping with buddy out. Also it’s not a character driven narrative and that is fine. It’s not a fault it’s more of a feature.Follow thehunchblog