It’s not often that I recommend a film classic that also happens to be fun for the whole family, but that’s the plan this week. “The Thief of Bagdad” has just been released in a loaded new edition by the fine folks at Criterion, and not only is it a genuine work of cinematic art, it’s a rousing adventure for kids (of all ages).
It’s not often that I recommend a film classic that also happens to be fun for the whole family, but that’s the plan this week.
“The Thief of Bagdad” has just been released in a loaded new edition by the fine folks at Criterion, and not only is it a genuine work of cinematic art, it’s a rousing adventure for kids (of all ages).
A noble prince (John Justin) is blinded and exiled by the evil Jaffar (Conrad Veidt, best known for playing the lead Nazi in “Casablanca”). He finds a friend in a resourceful young thief (the great Sabu) and falls in love with a beautiful (of course!) princess (June Duprez).
Along the way, the prince and the thief encounter overwhelming odds, breathtaking scenery, flying carpets and, most memorably, a colossal genie (played with gusto by Rex Ingram).
Even in 1940, when it was originally released, “The Thief of Bagdad” was nothing new storywise — and that’s what makes it fun. These are ancient tales, full of simple heroes and villains, and we know before we even get the wrapper off the DVD that good will triumph over evil.
What sets “The Thief of Bagdad” apart is how skillfully and imaginatively the filmmakers (led by legendary producer Alexander Korda) brought this fantastic story to life. In a time when computer animation wasn’t even an abstract concept, the directors, set designers and effects wizards of “Thief” did amazing work. What it lacks in high-tech precision, “Thief” more than makes up in honest, old fashioned charm.
Because it’s from Criterion, “Thief” arrives in a jam-packed two-disc edition. In addition to a restored print of the movie, disc one includes a pair of commentary tracks: one from historian Bruce Eder and another from directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, sharing their love of the film. The second disc has a documentary about the special effects, audio excerpts from co-director Michael Powell’s autobiography, a British propaganda film from producer Korda and a still gallery.
It’s a lot to digest, but here’s my advice: Watch the movie with your kids, then delve into all that film history after the young’uns are in bed, dreaming of giant genies and flying carpets.
‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’
If you’re looking for something closer to reality (and definitely not for the entire family), check out “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” a grim but compelling drama directed by Sidney Lumet.
With Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers who need a lot of money right away, “Devil” is one of those movies that starts out in a bad place and speeds headlong into darker territory.
In the setup, Hoffman convinces Hawke to rob their parents’ jewelry store. The gems are insured, no one will get hurt, and the brothers will each net a cool $60,000 once the loot is fenced. Everything, of course, goes horribly wrong.
“Devil” isn’t a great movie but is mesmerizing in the way it continually cranks up the tension. Both brothers keep digging a deeper hole for themselves, and by the time their father (Albert Finney) discovers who really committed the crime, matters are so far past any sort of redemption it’s almost comedic. If nothing else, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” will make you feel better about whatever mess you’ve made of your own life.
Will Pfeifer writes about new DVDs on Tuesdays and older ones on Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-987-1244. Read his Movie Man blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movieman/.
Some DVDs out this week:
“Andromeda Strain” (2008)
“Chips: The Complete Second Season”
“Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector’s Edition”
“Meet The Spartans”
“The Onion Movie”
“Rescue Me: The Complete Fourth Season”
Radiohead, “The Best Of”
Jewel, “Perfectly Clear”
Ashanti, “The Declaration”
Futureheads, “This Is Not the World”
Gavin Rossdale, “Wanderlust”
Aimee Mann, “@#%&*! Smilers”
Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com