Year-End Sub Promo Film Comment Film Society of Lincoln Center

Classic Pick: The Thief of Bagdad

By Meredith Slifkin

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(Cohen Media, $24.98)

The Thief of Bagdad Raoul Walsh

Quintessential fairbanks swashbuckling abounds in this Raoul Walsh–directed adaptation of the Arabian Nights stories, in which Fairbanks’s crafty but charismatic (and remarkably agile) thief impersonates a prince to win the heart of princess fair Julanne Johnston. At the height of his reign as “the King of Hollywood” with wife/Queen Mary Pickford, Fairbanks is a magnetic screen presence, combining Chaplin-like physical comedy skills with (possibly the original) Hollywood good looks. But it is often Anna May Wong who steals the film as the duplicitous Mongol Slave—Wong would go on to become one of the most visible Asian-American film stars, though critics often lament her relegation to stereotypical “dragon lady” or “lotus blossom” roles. The film’s 149-minute running time might test the patience of even the most devout silent film fan, but the decadent costumes, elaborate sets, and Fairbanks’s copious talents provide more than enough baroque pleasure to pass the time.

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