The Thief of Bagdad: "Arabs" and Genies

The next film on our list is The Thief of Bagdad, a 1940 adventure fantasy based on the Arabian Nights stories.  This film won three Oscars (including one for special effects, le shock!) and earns a place at #306 on the TSPDT list.

Full Disclosure:  When I started to watch The Thief of Bagdad, I thought to myself: Is this movie going to feature ridiculously offensive stereotypes of Arabs?  Are there going to be a ton of white men with bronzer trying to pass as Middle Eastern?  In short: is this movie going to piss me off?

We'll see movie.  We'll see.

Ahmad is the king of Bagdad, but Grand Vizier Jaffer is the real ruler.  One day Jaffer convinces Ahmad that he should go and learn about his people, so he heads out into the city...only to get imprisoned and find out that everyone hates him.  Sad times.

While in jail, he meets the thief Abu, who manages to steal (quelle surprise) the guard's keys.  After nightfall, they escape...and Ahmad finds out that Jaffer has told everyone that the king died and seized power.  Again, quelle surprise.  So the dynamic duo flee to Basra, where Ahmad glimpses and immediately falls in love with the Princess (how degrading is it that this girl doesn't even have a name?).  But Jaffer has also come to Basra with plans to marry the Princess.  When he sees that Ahmad is still alive, he blinds him and turns Abu into a dog, with the curse that they will remain in this state until the Princess is in his arms.

Eventually Jaffer captures the Princess and once she hears of Ahmad's curse, she allows Jaffer to embrace her.  Ahman gains back his sight and Abu turns back into a person.  But then Jaffer sends a storm to destroy their boat, so they are shipwrecked.

Abu wakes up on the beach, but Ahmad is nowhere to be found.  Abu stumbles upon a bottle in the sand (really?) and a ginormous genie pops out of it...threatening to kill him, because the genie's angry that he was imprisoned.  But then Abu tricks the genie into going back into his bottle.  Hey genie, did you know that the word gullible isn't in the dictionary?

So now Abu is the genie's master, and he gets three wishes.  He demands to find Ahmad, and the genie takes to him to steal the All-Seeing Eye from a magical statue up on the highest mountain and blah blah blah I wasn't listening to this part because I was too distracted by the genie flying.

Once he gets the eye, he looks into it and discovers when Ahmad is.  They fly to him, and Abu offers him the eye because Ahmad's whining about his girlfriend.  Apparently Jaffer has used a Blue Rose of Forgetfulness (that's a mighty convenient flower to pop out of nowhere, isn't it, movie?) to make the Princess forget...well...everything.  Then Ahmad yells at Abu for letting him see the princess (WTF, dude?), they get into a fight, and Abu unthinkingly wishes him back to Bagdad.  Leaving him alone on a rock face, with the genie no longer in his power.  Nice.

So Ahmad is transported to the palace in Bagdad and of course seeing him makes the Princess remember everything (again...that's convenient).  Jaffer, enraged by this persistent cock-blocking, sentences both of them to death.  Luckily, Abu is presently being crowned king of Fantasia, the land where children's imaginations flourish, look I don't know,'s frankly just some weird excuse to give Abu a flying carpet and a weapon.

Abu shows up in the nick of time, saving Ahmad and the Princess, and taking Jaffer off his fancy horse with a head shot.  The rightful king returned to the throne, with his best girly by his side (one wonders what happens to the other 365 wives?  Are they out of work now?), Bagdad is in safe hands once again.  And Abu rides off on his magic carpet to have some more adventures.  The end.

Random Musings:

  • Pretty impressive sets.  This seems like the prototype of the sprawling epic blockbusters of the 50s and 60s.

  • Ahmad really needs to get rid of that moustache...he looks like an eighth grader who's just starting to hit puberty and is trying desperately to prove it.  And how much guyliner does one king need?  That's got to be hard to apply, him being blind and all.

  • Hold up.  365 wives?!  So you could literally go an entire year and not have to see the same wife twice.  I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around this, the sheer numbers are too staggering.

  • Abu, you're awesome.  I was worried he was going to be a grovelling little minority servant stereotype, but he actually sort of seems like the brains of the operation.  I mean, does Ahmad really do anything in the entire film without Abu making it possible?  Also, respect for the fact that he's actually Indian, which know...closer than these movies normally get.

  • "I am Abu the Thief, son of Abu the Thief, grandson of Abu the Thief."  I love you, Abu.  You make me colon capital D.

  • Poor sucks that he just wanted to go out and interact with the people, only to get imprisoned and find out that they all hate him.  He's not having a great day, is he?

  • So...the guards are launching a full scale assault just to make sure that nobody catches a glimpse of the princess?  That seems excessive...or, you know, psychotic.

  • Yeah, I could really do without all the singing.  I like musicals and everything, but random singing in non-musicals really throws me off.

  • "Don't be afraid.  I'm not a genie." I'm just some random guy you don't know creeping around your garden pretending to be a genie.

  • Aw...Ahmad and Apu: the love that will last until the stars turn cold.

  • Oh boy, this Sultan is pure Christmas ham.  And I thought the Sultan from Aladdin was over the top.
  • Holy flying horse!  And I'm actually not completely appalled by the special effects here.  No, Sultan!  Don't pimp out your daughter for a stupid flying horse!

  • And I like that with Jaffer there's very little pretense.  He's not interested in convincing people that he's a good guy, not for long anyway.  It's nice, because normally with characters like that I'm always like, "How do you people not realize he's the bad guy?!"

  • Umm...why is there a Hindu goddess?  I thought they were Muslim.  I mean, I get that the Sultan has toys from different places, but if I was a Muslim sultan, I don't think I'd really want to be physically embraced by a Hindu god.  And not to be a nitpicker, but I'm pretty sure that some of the people saying "Praise Allah" are wearing Sikh turbans.  Just saying.

  • Holy crap, Abu just found a genie, Major Tony Nelson style!

  • Abu, you did not just waste a wish on five sausages!

  • OK, the genie flying up the mountain is one of the silliest things I've seen in a long time.

  • Giant spiders?

  • So the king's gotten a little whiny, hasn't he?  I mean, Apu risks his life to get the eye and rescue him, and he's all, "Why did you show me this? Wah wah wah!"

So that's The Thief of Bagdad.  In all honesty, it's a pretty silly movie, but it's also a lot of fun.  It's easy to see why Sabu was such a popular figure at the time, he's got a lot of personality and you've to give him credit, there weren't a lot of successful Indian actors in the 1940s.  I think that the film works a lot better in the first half, when the focus is on the beautiful sets and the characters.  Once the flashback ends, it begins to rely on action sequences, which is really the film's biggest weakness (in terms of modern viewing -- this was apparently a very technically advanced film at the time, so credit where credit's due).  I like the relationship between Ahmad and Abu, but I don't really buy Ahmad and the Princess.  Like, at all.  So is what it is.

That's it for me!  Thanks for reading, and check back tomorrow for my review of La Jetee!

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