On February 19, 2013, the seminal Douglas Fairbanks fantasy-adventure, The Thief of Bagdad (1924), debuts on Blu-ray from The Cohen Film Collection, with a stunning, pristine transfer restored from two 35mm prints, preserving the color tinting of the film’s original release prints. It’s every bit the flawless presentation such a wildly impressive feat of fine cinematic wizardry as The Thief of Bagdad deserves. (The added clarity does, however, make some of the filmmakers’ special effects wholly transparent, especially where wire work is involved. But for me this only adds to the film’s charm.) This is not to say that the transfer is entirely without flaw, but honestly, only the most critical, nit-picky eye will be able to spot the occasional fault transferred over here from the original film elements. That said, I don’t think I’ll point them out to you, as I don’t think you should be watching out for them. Other reviewers I’m sure will tell you precisely where to spot them if you really need to know, but wouldn’t you really rather just enjoy the film?
Because enjoy it you will, unless you’re a rabid cynic perhaps. This tale of the Arabian Nights is a visually arresting epic with an enchantingly animated performance by the athletic Fairbanks as the titular thief who falls in love with a princess far above his station. This age-old romantic tale is set against the backdrop of a ludicrously lavish studio Bagdad designed by William Cameron Menzies, who would later designer the sets for Gone With the Wind. (Honestly, if you haven’t seen this picture, but are familiar with Disney’s Aladdin, you already know the basics of Thief’s plot already, so I won’t go into great detail. Suffice it to say that if you removed Robin Williams’ Genie from the equation, you’re pretty darn close to understanding this picture.) Adding an elegant aural component to the film’s visual and narrative bravado is a score by silent film composer, Carl Davis, who in part employs Rimsky-Korsakov’s Orientalia in his score here. The Thief of Bagdad is honestly the most exciting silent film you’re apt to see in your life, and if you truly love film, I’d say you probably owe it to yourself to pick this up on Cohen’s wonderful Blu-ray release.
Of course, the release is not without its down side, I’m sad to say. The release boasts an extremely limited array of special features, including audio commentary by Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance, which is thoroughly engaging and absolutely worth a listen; a video essay of sorts featuring behind-the-scenes stills from the production of The Thief of Bagdad interspersed with brief passages written by Vance; and the trailer for the restoration release of the film. The features are admittedly few in number, and overall I don’t really have any problems with them as such. However, I really would have liked to have seen a restoration demonstration on here at least. That would have surely made for extremely illuminating supplemental viewing, given the age of the source materials and the superb clarity of the final product. The release also includes a booklet with a four-page essay Laura Boynes, Film Curator at the North Carolina Museum of Art. However, the essay, whilst extremely informative and interesting, does come off as rather list-heavy in its approach to the film’s production history. In short, this is an absolutely terrific release, that could have honestly only been made better through the inclusion of some additional special features.