Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

Last week I wrote about the original The Thief of Bagdad with Douglas Fairbanks. That film was remade in England in 1940. Well, not a remake, exactly, since there was very little left of Fairbanks’ story, but it shared the title and a number of central themes.

The 1940 movie did not stay very close to The Arabian Nights stories. It developed the fantastic characters (the thief, the sultan, the princess, the genie) and their surroundings (the architecture, the clothes, the magical objects), but wove these into completely new stories, not based on the original film nor the books.

The success was spectacular (it is still a magnificent film) and it opened the gates for a flood of imitators. In 1942 came Hollywood’s response, Arabian Nights (the second-ever Technicolor movie), and in 1944 there were two more. Through the rest of the 40s and most of the 50s, Hollywood released on average one new Arabian Nights film every two years, culminating in 1958 with Ray Harryhausen’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. After that there were considerably fewer Arabian Nights movies from Hollywood for a while, which is ironic, considering that Harryhausen was the first one in eighteen years who actually offered something original to the genre.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Maureen O'Hara in Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

Typical of the kind was Sinbad the Sailor, the only one of these films that seems to exist at the Internet Archive. It follows the 1940 Thief tradition in that it uses some characters and themes from The Arabian Nights, but the stories told, indeed the entire storytelling strucutres, have nothing to do with the books.

Sinbad, who beside Aladdin is the most frequent Arabian Nights hero in the movies, tells the story of how he (once again) is about to embark on his previously unknown eighth voyage. (I wonder exactly how many eighth voyages of Sinbad there are.) In this telling, in accordance with the Hollywood Arabian Nights tradition, Sinbad is a thief and a swindler, rather than the peaceful merchant from the books. It all begins as he finds a ship adrift, the crew having been killed by poison in the drinking water. He and his sidekick Abbu take the ship to port, hoping to claim it as theirs. In the captain’s cabin they find an interesting chart and a medallion, and this sets them on the course for Alexander the Great’s(!) fabulous treasure. But others are also looking for the same treasure, including the beautiful woman Shireen.

Compared with The Thief of Bagdad (both versions), Sinbad the Sailor is cheaply made and does not really offer anything new. But it is still worthwhile if you are interested in Hollywood’s treatment of The Arabian Nights. Though cheaper, the sets share the fantastic and magical qualities of the older movies.

It becomes even more interesting because it features Douglas Fairbanks’ son, Douglas Jr., in the title role. Junior was not a bad actor and made a decent career, but he was doomed to act in his father’s shadow. Occasionally, as in this case, he was cast in an apparent attempt to reflect some of the light from his father’s greatest successes.

This film is best enjoyed for the colourful and interesting characters, which make up for the sometimes rather thin plot.

The Arabian Nights, as seen in Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

Sinbad the Sailor
Download link
Year: 1947
Running time: 1 h 38 min
Director: Richard Wallace
Stars: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Maureen O’Hara
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: h.264 (688 M)

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The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

The Arabian Nights. The very name suggests oriental mystery. Genies, flying carpets, tale-spinning princesses and giant rocs. The truth, though, is that the cultural fingerprint of the Nights is just as much a product of Western imagination as of Eastern. Even the first European translator, Antoine Galland, interpreted the original texts in his own ways, and added considerably from other sources. Thus, most of the well-known stories, such as those about Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sindbad, are not even part of the original collection.

The influence of The Arabian Nights on European culture during the past three hundred years has been tremendous, and early film makers were not late to catch on. On the Internet Archive can be found a delightful little French film from as early as 1902 titled Ali Baba et les quarante voleurs.

Douglas Fairbanks and Julanne Johnston in The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

The first feature-length production, however, was probably Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Bagdad. Fairbanks, at the time, was the most brightly shining star in Hollywood, and had more or less single-handedly created the costume adventure genre, as it still appears in Hollywood. Already, he had played Zorro, Robin Hood and d’Artagnan in interpretations that continue to define them to this day. No mean feat, that.

Unlike previous cinematic attempts, Fairbanks’ version of The Arabian Nights did not follow any of the original tales exactly. Instead, Fairbanks and his writers took bits and pieces from various tales and stitched them together with other elements, most notably the ever-present Hollywood romantic drama as the core of the story.

By and large, however, Fairbanks was still true to the original themes. The thief, although far from typical, exists as a heroic character in at least one tale, and the story of the poor boy who becomes a prince is of course from Aladdin. Most other major plot elements can also be traced to Galland’s version of the work, and archetypal objects, such as the flying carpet, exist more or less within their original dramatic contexts.

In the years following immediately after its release, however, The Thief of Bagdad was less important as an interpretation of The Arabian Nights. Its immediate effect was to reinforce Fairbanks’ status as “The King of Hollywood” and, in particular, the master of the costume adventure.

This film is best enjoyed for the magnificent sets, Fairbanks’ cat-like athletics, and his powerful screen personality. It is literally cinematic history in the making, and thoroughly enjoyable at that.

Snitz Edwards and Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

The Thief of Bagdad
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Year: 1923
Running time: 2 h 20 min
Director: Raoul Walsh
Stars: Douglas Fairbanks
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (320×240)
Soundtrack: Good; synchronized with images
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: MPEG4 (629 M)