USA, 1924 (MIFF 1960, Programme 28)
Director: Raoul Walsh
Early in the 1920s, German historical films (Passion, Anne Boleyn) greatly impressed movie fans and movie producers alike with their lavishness of scene and production. Douglas Fairbanks, by now one of the best paid stars, was casting around for a challenge to his business acumen (now established by the success of Robin Hood) and found it to hand in the threat of German films. He meant The Thief of Bagdad to dwarf his own past and the German present. In the huge Pickford-Fairbanks studio, he outdid the Germans to the extent of creating a dream picture unrelated to any known reality. And it seemed he had outdone them in spectacle and trick illusion, which many people in 1924 thought were the best novelty the movies had to offer. A second generation of moviegoers, then growing into adolescence, enjoyed the new thrill of seeing fairy tales set in motion. The Fairbanks of The Thief became their Fairbanks for keeps, for they were too young to have known his earlier incarnation - the all-American bank clerk. The Thief was, and is, a sort of juvenile epic. But somehow, for the wide and older audience, it did not register. A world public that knew and loved the pattern of Fairbanks' heroics was impatient of overlong romantic and processional pauses in between the gymnastics. The box-office told a story that Fairbanks was too good a business man to ignore: Robin Hood, made for $700,000, grossed much more than The Thief, made at the then unprecedented cost of two million dollars.
After The Thief, Fairbanks returned to his earlier style, of which The Black Pirate is by far the best example. New feats of daring, combined with the warm mellow tones of this finest achievement of early Technicolour, gave the picture a peculiar and memorable charm.
A few years later, Fairbanks accomplished the difficult transition to the talkies by appearing with Miss Pickford in The Taming of the Shrew, and in 1932 concluded his American career with Mr. Robinson Crusoe, a final salute to the natural life. In 1934, he went to England and made for Alexander Korda what was to be his last picture, The Private Life of Don Juan.