(1924) dir. Raoul Walsh
My latest effort in my exposing my kids to silent films was the epic fantasy The Thief of Bagdad, starring Douglas Fairbanks. I hadn’t seen it myself, so the level of risking their interest was higher perhaps than with one of the comedies of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, which has been their primary exposure to the period.
But this film held up quite well for them, too. The special effects that come into play in earnest in the latter part of the film are really quite striking in many ways, even now. One can only imagine how fantastic they must have seemed in their day. The flying horse, the flying carpet scenes, and the stunts were quite good, too.
The thief (Fairbanks) is a wild, carefree pickpocket, living the high lowlife in Bagdad. When he fancies the princess, he decides to kidnap her, pretending to be a prince vying for her hand in marriage in competition with three others. But when he meets her, they fall in love and he admits his scheme.
The princess does not want to wed any of the other three, though her father commands it. She sends them out to find the greatest treasures of the world, saying that the one who brings the rarest of treasures will have her hand in marriage.
The prince of the Mongols is the sinister one, who slyly places members of his army within the walls of Bagdad, while he sneaks off to find the treasure of treasures.
Ahmed, the thief, is redeemed by religion (Islam is good!) and sets off on the most arduous of journeys for a treasure greater than others, forcing him through many harrowing places.
It’s excellent through and through. The largely bare-chested Fairbanks is an energetic and physical hero, doing some stunts that would give Keaton a run for his money. The sets are hard to fathom, they are so massive and ornate. True fantasy filmmaking, the type that no doubt influenced generations of filmmakers like Spielberg and Lucas and who knows what else.
And the kids did enjoy it. Samantha turned to me during one part and said, “This is awesome.” And while I know that they prefer comedies for the most part, this film was well-liked. And even though Clara got a little bored (the movie is more than 2 hours long), she said she liked it well, too.
I love the experience of watching the films with them, reading the intertitles, explaining some of the narrative points, anachronisms, and just cuddling on the couch. That is my favorite thing.