Thomas Gladysz has written for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival: "The Thief of Bagdad shows Douglas Fairbanks at the top of his form. Directed by Raoul Walsh and adapted from One Thousand and One Nights, the story revolves around a thief (Fairbanks) who falls in love with the daughter (Julanne Johnston) of the Caliph of Bagdad. To win her hand, the thief must bring back the world's rarest treasures. This rousing fantasy is replete with flying carpets, winged horses, and underwater sea monsters. Exquisite camerawork and lavish sets support the film's special effects, all of which make The Thief of Bagdad a wildly entertaining spectacle. Also in the cast are Snitz Edwards, Sôjin [Kamiyama], and the lovely Anna May Wong. Inducted into the National Film Registry in 1996 and voted one of AFI's top 10 classics in 2008, The Thief of Bagdad has recently received a crisp new restoration. That restoration will be shown at the Winter event."
Co-presented by Fandor, and introduced by film historian Jeffrey Vance with live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, The Thief of Bagdad was hands-down my favorite selection from this year's Silent Winter program; an uplifting and spirited fantasy-adventure.
USC School of Cinematic Arts. Fairbanks' film collection was one of the most important and earliest deposits of the fledgling Museum of Modern Art film library. So Fairbanks was at the forefront of many important things; a great leader; a great artist.
The Thief of Bagdad is generally considered to be Douglas Fairbanks's greatest film. It was also his personal favorite of all his own films. The film's superb visual design, spectacle, visual effects and Fairbanks's performance all contribute to making this his masterpiece. It took 65 weeks to make and the sets covered 6½ acres at the Pickford-Fairbanks studio lot in West Hollywood. It was also one of the largest and most expensive films made up until that time. The negative cost for The Thief of Bagdad was a little over 1.1 million dollars; an enormous sum for an American film at that time.
William Cameron Menzies, a former commercial artist, as the film's art director. Fairbanks wanted the design of the film to first and foremost suggest the extravagance and imagination that was wonderful in the Arabian Nights tales. Fairbanks was also inspired by the German spectacles he had seen, as well as Diaghilev's ballets, particularly Scheherazade: Diaghilev's great success danced by Nijinsky. Fairbanks had definite ideas for the design of the film. Fantasy pictures up until that point had been self-consciously theatrical. Fairbanks, Walsh, and Menzies worked together to create a new world for The Thief of Bagdad and they developed a design on which the whole production pivots. Applied to the Art Noveau décor, Menzies's pen-and-ink effects—which registered like a drawing on the screen—were revolutionary. Prior to The Thief of Bagdad, set designs and décor in major films had been at best and in most cases a jumble. Menzies's sets for The Thief of Bagdad created a world where the cast and the setting melded in rhythm and motion.
Radiating such a larger-than-life persona, Vance has often been asked, "How tall is Douglas Fairbanks?" As actual fact, he stood 5'8" tall at the time of Thief of Bagdad and was already 40 years old and weighed 150 pounds, which—according to Raoul Walsh—was 150 pounds of muscle, not an ounce of fat. One character in the film with a bit more than an ounce of fat on him is the corpulent Persian prince. The role, however, was played by actress Mathilde Comont in an uncredited performance. Outfitted with a small moustache by the make-up department, this helped Comont create her gendered illusion. The ladies in the film of note who actually play ladies are Julanne Johnston as the Princess and the one and only Anna May Wong as the Mongol slave girl.
Probably the only thing larger-than-life than Fairbanks were the sets he surrounded himself with. These spectacular, background sets were enormous and were upward and outward expansions of his Robin Hood (1922) sets; the same foundations but with different facings put on them that ingeniously transferred Nottingham Castle into the Palace of Bagdad.
The reviews for the film were astounding and included responses from Pulitzer-prize winners like Robert Sherwood and Carl Sandburg who said this was the greatest thing ever put forward on film. The critics were ecstatic but audiences preferred Fairbanks in simpler material with less fantasy so Fairbanks never made anything as ambitious again.
Cohen Film Collection in 2012 insures that this great masterwork of world cinema will continue to be enjoyed well into the 21st century. Scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray the following week, Vance enthused that the Silent Winter audience was truly fortunate to have the Mont Alto Orchestra perform this superb presentation. He concluded by saying, "The Thief of Bagdad is a great work of art; but, it's also a lot of fun. If you find yourself laughing at Fairbanks, you're not clued in on the joke. You should be laughing with him. His spirit is here today, I don't doubt. His family's here. He wouldn't have wanted to miss an audience of 1400 people. He liked applause and encouragement, especially from the young and the young-at-heart, so don't hold back."