When the charming street-thief Ahmed (Douglas Fairbanks) breaks into Baghdad Palace with the aim of stealing some treasure, it is the beautiful sleeping Princess (Julianne Johnston) who steals his heart instead. So begins a swashbuckling adventure that takes Ahmed through valleys of fire and monsters and under the sea and up to the stars in his bid to win the Princess’s hand in marriage, a quest that will not only pitch the handsome rogue against some spectacular creatures and a ruthless Mongol Prince but which will also teach him humility, selflessness and the valuable lesson – which is stated at the very start of the movie – that ‘happiness must be earned’.

I’ve got to admit something. I’ve avoided watching Raoul Walsh’s ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ for as long as I can remember, mostly because – as far as I was concerned – cinematic Arabian Nights fantasies began and ended with the Ray Harryhausen / Charles H Schneer ‘Sinbad’ movies. If Tom Baker wasn’t conjuring up a stop-motion homunculus to spy on our hero, or Zenobia the Witch wasn’t commanding a giant metal minotaur to harpoon her enemies with a boat hook, I wasn’t interested. I remember watching the 1940 version of ‘Thief of Bagdad’ (starring Sabu) on television one Christmas and, despite all the reviews telling me what a classic it was, I was completely unmoved. As for the 1979 ‘Arabian Adventure’ car-crash starring Oliver Tobias and Christopher Lee… I walked into the cinema a curious 14 year old and I left the cinema twenty minutes later a disgusted 14 year old who made such a scene at the popcorn counter they gave me my ticket money back. There’s nothing as offensive as a bad movie to make you stand up for your consumer rights. And it also took several more years and a late-night showing of ‘The Wicker Man’ before I could ever trust Christopher Lee again.

So where am I going with all that? Well, simply to tell you not to make the same mistake I did.

Raoul Walsh’s ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ is a masterpiece and Eureka’s new high-def 1080p restoration is the most stunning presentation of the film we’re ever likely to see. It is absolutely not-to-be-missed. From the rich opening notes of Carl Davies’ ‘Scheherazade’-inspired score to the sumptuous sets, costumes and special effects (it’s impossible to believe this film is ninety years old) to a central performance from Douglas Fairbanks imbued with so much humour, energy and athleticism it pretty much puts every modern adventure-movie star to shame, this has got to be one of the most outstanding Blu-Ray and DVD presentations of 2014.

The picture is exquisite. Detail is wonderful, especially in close-up, and textures and skin tones – even though this is a silent ‘black and white’ movie (although it’s not really black-and-white, every frame is faithfully tinted according to interior and exterior, day and night, beneath the sea or above it etc.) – are a revelation, especially considering the age of the source material. Blemishes are few and far between, save the occasional not-distracting flicker, and I spotted only one very brief instance of missing frames that is hardly noticeable and pretty much miraculous for a film of this vintage.

As for Extras, the disc comes with a choice of stereo or 5.1 surround soundtracks, an engrossing audio commentary by Fairbanks’ biographer Jeffrey Vance, and a video essay – assembled by Vance – of production stills, costume shots and behind-the-scenes photographs. Both the commentary and the video essay are packed with fascinating details about the star, the film and the incredible state of the art technical feats accomplished by Raoul Walsh and his crew. Finally, the package includes a very nicely illustrated booklet with a newly-commissioned essay by Laura Boyes about the making of the film.

‘Variety’ called ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ “A masterpiece. A rare, brilliant picture” and the ‘New York Times’ declared it “A feat of motion picture art”. I couldn’t agree more. I also can’t imagine anyone of any age not falling head-over-heels in love with this film the way that I have. On one hand I’m sorry it has taken me so long to finally discover it, but – on the other hand – there hasn’t been a more perfect way to watch ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ until now. Eureka! have done it again. Very, VERY highly recommended.

Blu-ray Review: The Thief Of Bagdad
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About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white