Ahmed (Douglas Fairbanks) is a thief. He steals money, food, even a magic rope. His philosophy is “What I want, I take.” His only friend is a fellow thief, Abu (Snitz Edwards). One night, using the magic rope, he decides to break into the palace and steal the royal treasure belonging to the Caliph (Brandon Hurst). When he sees the sleeping figure of the Caliph’s daughter (Julanne Johnston) he immediately falls in love with her. He decides that he can’t steal the treasure and leaves. When Abu sees that Ahmed is in love, he tells him about a thief that stole a princess by putting her to sleep and taking her away.
The next day is the Princess’ birthday. The palace plans a big feast and Princes from far off lands come to ask for her hand in marriage. The princess’ soothsayer (Tote Du Crow) tells her that she will marry the one who touches the rose tree in the garden. Three princes arrive at the palace, a fat Persian prince (Mathilde Comont), a surly looking prince from the Indies (Noble Johnson) and a Mongol prince (Sojin Kamiyama). The Mongol prince fills the princess with dread. She is repulsed by him the most. The Mongol prince has designs on overthrowing Bagdad and will use devious means to take it over, but he is smart enough to bide his time.
The last to arrive is Ahmed dressed as a prince from clothes he stole. The princess is pleased with how he carries himself and would prefer to have him as her husband. A Mongolian slave, (Anna May Wong) tells the Mongolian prince about the prophecy. When he goes to touch the rose tree, he is attacked by a bee. When he swats the bee away it upsets Ahmed’s horse and Ahmed is thrown into the rose tree. He later sneaks up to the princess’ balcony with a rose covered in a sleeping potion. The princess tells him of the prophecy. When he kisses her, he decides that he loves her too much to steal her.
The princess selects Ahmed for her husband. The Mongolian slave remembers that Ahmed had been the one who tried to rob the palace. When the Mongolian prince learns of this, he outs Ahmed who then tries to flee. Before he goes, he confesses all to the Princess, who has fallen in love with him, and with her help he escapes. The princes demand that the princess make another choice to marry. To bide time, she talks the Caliph into sending them on a quest for the finest treasure. She says she will marry the one that brings her the rarest. As the three princes head out on their quests Ahmed goes to the mosque to ask the holy man (Charles Belcher) what to do. He sends Ahmed on his own quest.
“The Thief of Bagdad” was released in 1924 and was directed by Raoul Walsh. It is a silent adventure swashbuckler film. In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film was restored in 1998.
Most notable is that the princes themselves did not retrieve each treasure but had servants do the work for them. Ahmed, on the other hand, went through all his trials by himself. It makes him nobler than the actual princes.
The movie is epic in scale, full of lavish sets and an intricate but interesting story. It is full of action and some impressive special effects for the time. It boasts a giant dinosaur-dragon-lizard monster, a giant flying bat, a giant underwater spider and a Pegasus. Restored it is beautifully tinted and clear. Fairbanks’ performance is wonderful. The film is charming, amusing and a lovely romance.
The force perspective trick used to make the killer monkey look like an ape is the same used in the silent film “The Unholy Three” 1925 with Lon Chaney where the guards are played by children thus making the chimp look bigger. The Prince of Persia is played by a woman. As for other special effects, the flying carpet was done by the use of a three-quarter inch sheet of steel attached to piano wires and then attached to a crane. The underwater scenes were done by filming through a curtain of gauze. To be able to jump from giant urn to giant urn small trampolines were place in the jars for Fairbanks to jump on which allowed him to bounce from pot to pot.