In Bagdad, the Grand Vizier Jaffar has King Ahmad cast into a dungeon and takes power for himself. But Ahmad manages to escape with the help of a young thief, Abu. In Basra, the king falls in love with the sultan’s daughter. But his rival for her affections is none other than Jaffar, who uses magic powers to blind Ahmad and turn Abu into a dog ... Michael Powell, on set with Natalie Kalmus said to himself, “we are not making coloured picture postcards for Technicolor”.. Despite the fact that The Thief of Bagdad can be said to have more than 1001 colours at its disposal, each scene is composed with deliberate nuance. Earthy red dominates scenes of the masses, while blue and green signify a paradisiacal garden. The sultan’s reception rooms glitter with gold and silver, and the Bedouin tent is a study in orange. By contrast, Jaffar, the villain of the piece, appears primarily colourless, dressed in black or white. Thus the “Arabian” fantasy developed utopian touches with “its glamour, its colour, its optimism, its happiness, at a time when the whole world was trembling with fear” (Michael Powell, 1986). Even today, the film delights the “all-seeing eye” from, as Ahmad might say, “the other side of time”.
United Kingdom / USA 1940, 106 min
Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan