The Thief of Bagdad | United Artists | Raoul Walsh | 1924
I’m currently in the thickets of Kevin Brownlow’s ‘Parade’s Gone By,’ the book that might have become sixties cinephilia’s hardbound cause célèbre had Handy Andy Sarris’s checklist for chumps not marked its territory around the same time. Instead of loosely stapled-together cocktail napkin scribbles àla Sarris, Brownlow actually goes and talks to the people who made silent movies, fleshes out director appraisals with technical know-how and edifying anecdotes and an unparalleled sense of how a movie breaks down into its many pieces and parts. One of the perks of this book is that it treats sound cinema as a footnote better left out of the historical record. Even though Wellman and DeMille and Henry King and all those guys made movies well into the fifties, Brownlow only cares about the way their careers arced from the teens to the twenties. It’s refreshing in a big way and, not surprisingly, makes me wanna watch a boatload of silent cinema!!!!
Yesterday I picked a real winner, folks. It’s The Thief of Bagdad from 1924. Auteurists scrabble after this flick cuz Raoul Walsh’s name is on it, but what we really have here is a wonderful three-way convergence of top-tier talent, with the great Doug Fairbanks as the head honcho. Here, the onetime King of Hollywood moves like a pinwheel in the summer breeze, leaping and bounding in mirthful cavort around a big ol’ palatial set, the most glorified playground I’ve yet seen on the silver screen! And who is responsible for this jihadi jungle gym??? The great William Cameron Menzies!!!!!!! Anyone who has seen this film knows that Menzies deserved to retire on his Bagdad work alone. Stylized exoticism with a bit of oblong shaping and just the right balance of negative space, it’s a flickering feast for eyes starved for silents!
And if you’re into the auteurist thing, then there’s lots to talk about regarding Walsh in the infancy of his swashbucklin’ proficiency, learning from Fairbanks the ropes that he would soon wield with a furious vigor in his Warner’s work with Errol Flynn, the only true heir to the Fairbanks fortune reserved only for mustachioed acrobats with star pizzazz!
ALSO: anyone who’s into the fanciful orientalist Arabian Nights shit and can accept Arabs as heroes if brown-face and whacked out mysticism is involved, but who can’t wait to for us to bomb real-life Arabs with buckets of drones, then you can fuck off! This appreciation of Old Hollywood craft is NOT FOR YOU!!!!!!