THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD
(Il Ladro di Bagdad)
This version was produced at the height of the Italian peplum fad, more commonly known as the sword-and-sandal cycle. The cycle had been begun with Hercules (1958) starring Steve Reeves. Independent US producer Joseph E. Levine brought up Hercules and pumped a great deal of money into promoting the film, making it a huge hit Stateside. This resulted in dozens of Italian-made adventure films with bodybuilders playing the parts of classic heroes such as Hercules, Samson and Ulysses. The Thief of Baghdad has been mounted in a clear attempt to emulate the success of Hercules and again unites Joseph E. Levine and Steve Reeves.
This version of The Thief of Baghdad is certainly made with a degree of lavishness. Joseph Levine and the Italians have clearly spent some money on it (much more than the other peplum) there is an extravagance and a colour to the sets and costumes. The filmmakers also went on location in Tunisia making this possibly the first Arabian Nights adventure to actually shoot in an Arabic country and the authenticity of the Muslim architecture and peoples in the marketplace give the film a rare realism that the previous versions, which were all studio-bound, lacked. Steve Reeves even looks Arabic in features, although this is an illusion that is promptly shattered by his blue eyes.
The problem with the film is that, despite the lavishness afforded to it, it befalls director Arthur Lubin. Arthur Lubin was primarily a comedy director who had made a number of Abbott and Costello films, as well as directed the entire Francis the Talking Mule series begun with Francis (1950). Lubin had previously ventured into genre material with the Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi mad scientist/brain transplant film Black Friday (1940); the Abbott and Costello Old Dark House comedy Hold That Ghost (1941); the dull colour remake of Phantom of the Opera (1943) with Claude Rains; a previous Arabian Nights adventure Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944); the dull Greek myth drama Night in Paradise (1946); It Grows on Trees (1952), a comedy about trees that grow money; and The Incredible Mr Limpet (1964) wherein Don Rickles turns into a porpoise.
Despite a grounding in genre material, Arthur Lubin has a workmanlike pedestrianness of approach and resolutely refuses to allow the fantasy in the film here to fly in any way. An Arabian Nights film like The Thief of Baghdad should swashbuckle, it should delight with the dexterity of the sword battles, the magic of the flying carpets and genies but Lubin seems unable to direct action sequences. Instead, he throws in silly slapstick scenes with Steve Reeves running about the palace, fooling the guards into thinking he has run the other way. There is a sequence, mind-boggling in its witlessness, where Steve Reeves manages to make an escape from prison as a shooting star passes in the sky by fooling the guards into believing that shooting stars becomes pearls, then throwing a handful of pearls on the ground and slipping out while they are squabbling for them. The sequence is so moronically conceived that it defies belief. Where the Douglas Fairbanks and Sabu versions of The Thief of Baghdad were swashbucklers, this version has clearly been made in the post-peplum era where Steve Reevess Thief is a muscle-builder when he encounters a troll he ends up wrestling him rather than engaging in any sword duelling. Lubin mounts a moderately impressively scaled battle sequence at the climax but this is severely undercut by the silliness of the image of Steve Reeves running across the battlefield spanking the villain with a log. What displays of magic there are in the piece are crude stop-action effects a belt transforms into a snake, the old man appears to walk through a wall. We do finally arrive at some out-and-out fantasy sequences about two-thirds into the film a forest of ambulatory trees (although the effects work on these is down around the level of the average 1970s episode of Doctor Who [1963-89]), pits of fire, a lost city with a seductive queen wanting to dull Steve Reevess wits and make him stay, an invisible cape and finally a Pegasus. Although these are colourful, Arthur Lubin almost seems to be engaged in an active conspiracy to wring as little imagination out of them as possible.
Full film available online here:-