The Thief of Bagdad (1924) (Force)

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Released 17-Dec-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Featurette-The Thief Of Bagdad - "A Film Essay"
Biographies-Cast-Douglas Fairbanks
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1924
Running Time 139:39
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (86:26) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Raoul Walsh
Studio
Distributor
Douglas Fairbanks
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Douglas Fairbanks
Julanne Johnston
Snitz Edwards
Charles Belcher
Sojin
Anna May Wong
Brandon Hurst
Tite Du Crow
Case PUSH-T1
RPI ? Music Mortimer Wilson


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Ahmed (Douglas Fairbanks) is a thief in the streets of old Bagdad. He lives by his wits, stealing food and jewellery, in cohorts with his colleague (silent film cult figure Snitz Edwards). One day after observing a magic rope trick (the one where the rope appears to hang from the sky) he steals the rope, and that night uses it to steal into the palace in search of treasure. While in the palace he sees the Princess (Julanne Johnston) and falls in love with her.

    The Princess's birthday arrives, and her father the Caliph decrees that she must marry a suitor. One of her slave girls (Anna May Wong) is a spy from the court of the Mongol Prince (Sojin), who seeks to conquer Bagdad by marrying the Princess, or by more foul means. She overhears a prophecy that the suitor who first touches the rose bush in her garden will marry the Princess, and tells the Mongol Prince of this.

    Ahmed meanwhile hears of the Caliph's decree and dresses himself as a prince to enter the palace as a suitor. When the Mongol moves close to the rose bush, he disturbs a bee who then buzzes around Ahmed's horse which tosses him into the rose bush. When the Princess see this she falls in love with Ahmed and names him as her chosen husband, but he is soon unmasked and forced to flee. The Princess decrees that her suitors shall venture forth for seven moons, and whoever brings back the rarest gift will win her hand. Ahmed hears of this and sets forth on his own quest.

    One of the most famous of silent films, this is also the most easily accessible of the vehicles of Douglas Fairbanks. Fairbanks was the biggest male star of the day, athletic and roguishly charming, in a sequence of highly entertaining films. Starting his career in modern day comedies, he progressed to costume epics that took full advantage of his athleticism and good humour. With his soon-to-be wife Mary Pickford he was one of the four founders of United Artists, under whose banner this film was released in 1924. It was not a major success in comparison to the star's earlier films, but it has endured as one of his best. And it has been remade several times, notably in 1940.

    The film was directed by Raoul Walsh, who divided his time between acting and directing before the former career was ended by an eye injury in the late 1920s. He continued to direct into the 1960s, most notably films with Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn in the 1940s.

    This film was a true epic, costing US$2 million and with spectacular sets designed by William Cameron Menzies, a winning story and some fine performances, especially by the star, though his extravagant gestures may be hard for some to take. There are also some impressive special effects for the era. An enjoyable film that still entertains after 80 years.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which in those pre-soundtrack days would have been the original aspect ratio. This transfer though has been cropped slightly on the left hand edge, which is most likely because the print used for the transfer contained a soundtrack. The print was from Blackhawk Films, who specialised in silent film sales on 16mm to the home market.

    The film print used for this transfer was in excellent condition, with only a few minor problems. The film varies in sharpness from scene to scene, probably reflecting that the film has been pieced together from various sources. In some scenes, it looks like the original transfer was done from 16mm rather than 35mm film. The film is tinted in a variety of colours, which I believe was added for the Blackhawk release based on the original tinting scheme, so the colour looks quite good. While the case indicates that the film has been remastered from a 35mm negative, the presence of some video artefacts and the overall slight fuzziness to the video suggests that it is in fact from a video master.

    There is a brief instance of excessive noise reduction at 50:00. There is also a more severe artefact at 106:18 affecting the top half of the image which looks like an analogue tape tracking error. There were also smaller such errors in the latter half of the film in the form of brief horizontal lines, though these were mercifully few.

    There is a flicker throughout due to variations in contrast, and there is also some vertical judder which is sometimes noticeable, though this is typical of films of this age.

    As you would expect, the film is not in perfect condition, with spots visible on the film and occasional scratches and marks. There is some decomposition visible, especially for a couple of minutes from 105:59. During this sequence the titles are single frames displayed for the required time, probably so that the decomposition would be less marked.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change placed at 86:26, positioned when the screen is black during a fade to a title. There are no subtitles provided.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sole audio channel is Dolby Digital 2.0, and sounds mono to me. This would be consistent with the original recording.

    There is of course no audible dialogue. The score is by the veteran organist Gaylord Carter, responsible for many silent film scores on the Wurlitzer. This one is based on the original music cues, and contains excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade well blended into the continuous score. The music is very well put together, suits the film and is played with Carter's usual finesse. The sound is acceptable for a recording from the 1970s of this type, and I seriously doubt whether anyone would find fault with it when hearing it in context.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Introduction, Animation and Audio

    With an excerpt from the score as background, the menu is introduced with the crystal ball scene, with the menu becoming visible in the crystal ball.

Featurette - The Thief of Bagdad: "A Film Essay" (11:57)

    This short film uses footage from the film and stills, with a commentary written by R. Dixon Smith and spoken by Russell Cawthorne. This gives an overview of the film and its production, but does not contain much in the way of depth. Worth watching once.

Douglas Fairbanks: "A Biography" (6:23)

    This is a useful scrolling text biography of Fairbanks. Most will use the fast forward button as the text scrolls fairly slowly.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There has been one previous release on DVD in Region 4 of this film, by RBC Entertainment in a budget priced issue. This appears to be the same material as used in the Force release, and features the same score. This version runs 122:56 and is contained entirely on a single layered disc, being transferred at a lower bitrate than the Force, resulting in a lesser video quality. There are also more film artefacts present than on the newer disc. The shorter running time seems to be due to the transfer speed, as it contains the same score as the Force, with the same Blackhawk end credits. I do recall seeing a sequence on this disc that looked as though it was missing some footage, and I did not see this on the Force, but I have not been able to locate the exact scene to verify that the footage is included in the Force transfer. The RBC also has what seems to be the same text biography as the Force release, plus a list of the film's credits and a Fairbanks filmography that looks to have been taken from the IMDb.

    The UK Region 2 release from Eureka Video is identical to the Force release. In fact the Force release has the Eureka logo on the spine and back of the slick.

    Previous Region 1 releases include a disc from Alpha Video that includes a different orchestral soundtrack and the transfer was taken from a 16mm print, so this one could not be recommended in preference to the others.

    Image released a version in Region 1 which is no longer available, and appears to have been the same transfer as used on the Force release.

    The current release of choice is from Kino, which features much better picture quality and additional footage not included in the previous VHS release. The additional footage meant that the Gaylord Carter recording could not be used, so a new score has been recorded with the Mont Alto Orchestra based on the original 1924 cue sheets. This release also includes:

    The Kino would be the release of choice.

Summary

    An excellent and entertaining silent film starring the great Douglas Fairbanks, this release is good, but the Region 1 is apparently better.

    The video quality is quite good.

    The audio quality is acceptable.

    The extras are okay but not very generous.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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