The Thief of Baghdad (1979)


UK. 1979.


Director – Clive Donner, Screenplay – A.J. Carothers, Additional Material – Andrew Birkin, Producer – Aida Young, Photography – Dennis Lewiston, Music – John Cameron, Visual Effects – Zoran Perisic, Special Effects – John Stears, Art Direction – Edward Marshall. Production Company – Palm-Victorine


Kabir Bedi (Prince Taj el Malukh), Roddy McDowall (Hassan), Terence Stamp (The Wazir Jadoa), Peter Ustinov (Caliph), Paula Ustinov (Princess Yasmine), Marina Vlady (Perizadah), Ian Holm (Gatekeeper)


After Prince Taj ascends the throne of Saka, he decides to seek the hand of the beautiful Princess Yasmine of Baghdad. His evil and scheming wazir Jadoa desires the throne himself and sends bandits to ambush Taj along the journey to Baghdad. Taj survives the attack when another man is killed in his place and is thought to be him. He makes his way to Baghdad and becomes a thief in the market. He gets to Yasmine and asks for her hand but Jadoa then appears to also ask for Jasmine’s hand and calls him an impostor. They fight but Taj is unable to kill Jadoa because he has removed his heart. Yasmine decides to solve the problem by asking her suitors to go forth on a quest to bring her The Most Valuable Thing in the World.

This was the fourth film version of The Thief of Baghdad. This version is a shoddy made-for-tv movie that was also released to cinemas in some countries. It is entertaining in a very juvenile way. However, the story’s inherent flight of imagination is let down by mediocre scripting and inevitable comparison to the infinitely superior earlier versions of the story, The Thief of Bagdad (1924) with Douglas Fairbanks and especially the sound version The Thief of Bagdad (1940) with Sabu from which most of the story is taken.

Most of all, this version is sunken by the cheapness of the production, especially in the special effects department. Effects supervisor John Stears did work on Star Wars (1977) but from the awful flying horsemen and giant roc attacks and persistent matte lines one would be hard pressed to guess. There are obvious jumps between stop-action shots – the statue when Taj is turned to stone is clearly made of plaster and does not look at all like him. The sets look obviously painted. The fade-outs for commercial breaks have all been left in from the tv version. The romance between Kabir Bedi and Paula Ustinov never flies. For that matter, the film never makes it clear whether the titular thief refers to Kabir Bedi’s prince or Roddy McDowall’s roguish sidekick. The kindest comment one could make is that the film’s heart is in the right place. Roddy McDowall overplays broadly and likeably and Terence Stamp does well in the cold, imperiousness stakes as the evil vizier.

The other versions of the story are:– the classic silent version The Thief of Bagdad (1924) with Douglas Fairbanks; Alexander Korda and Michael Powell’s sound version The Thief of Bagdad (1940) with Sabu; and the Italian-made The Thief of Baghdad (1961) with muscleman Steve Reeves.

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