The Thunder Child

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Vol 1, Issue #9
"Stand By For Mars!"
September 2006

The Thunder Child: SOURCE BOOK: The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
The Making of The Thief of Bagdad

The Thief of Bagdad was more than a year and a half in the making, and much like The Wizard of Oz, is famous for the amount of directors it went through before its technicolor brilliance finally hit the big screens, in both England and the United States, on the same day, December 25, 1940.

The film was a hit and is also notable for being one of the first films to take merchandising into consideration. Beautiful costume jewelry was created based on what the characters wore, mainly from pewter. As you can imagine, these are now very rare and collectible items, although they still turn up now and then in forgotten places, like at UPack pods storage auctions. Pewter figurines of the fat Sultan and the flying horse are among the most rare, and you can see examples of these at this external site: Costume jewelry photos at Powell & Pressburger Pages. Look closely, if you ever see these items at a pods storage auction or Salvation Army, snap them up and you'll make a small fortune!

Read our comprehensively illustrated synopsis at: The Thief of Bagdad.

[Production History] [Notes of Interest] [The Music] [Quotes] [Links]

To the left: a still of an unused scene from The Thief of Bagdad, in which Conrad Veidt as Jaffar looks hopefully at the blue rose of forgetfullness.

RARE AUDIO FILES! (Supplied by Roland Bush)
Click a link below:

Listen to:
The Djinn Song

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Listen to:
A line from
The Djinn Song

Sung by Rex Ingram.


From Arrows of Desire, The Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger:

The original Thief of Bagdad had been a spectacular vehicle for Douglas Fairbanks Senior in 1924...[Alexander] Korda intended his version to be quite different - and indeed he stood little chance of matching the immense exterior sets and thousands of extras deployed by Fairbanks. He started from a new script by Miles Malleson [the Sultan of Basra, also] and his closest Hungarian confidant Lajos Biro, and the sets would be by his brother Vincent....

The production ran into immediate difficulty after it started in February 1939. Korda began to disagree with the director he had hired, the German Ludwig Berger, and appointed two additional directors, [Michael] Powell and Tim Whelan from Hollywood. Powell seems to have worked mainly on the sequences with Veidt.

From A Life in Movies by Michael Powell:

Connie Veidt, who was in the next sequence, was standing nearby. "Alex, did you see the dailies of the scenes with June?" he asked.
June Duprez had got the part of the Princess in the picture, and a picture she made of the part.
Alex said: "Yes, Connie, they were very good."
"Don't you think, Alex, that I was overacting in my close-up a little bit?"
"My dear Connie, you are supposed to be a magician in a Technicolor film. Nobody minds if a magician overacts. A little bit."

From Conrad Veidt, From Caligari to Casablanca, by Jerry Allen:

Mary Morris (Halima, the Silver Maid) tells this story:

"Just as I was about to perform, Connie noticed I was quite nervous and tense. He came very close, and, with a naughty twinkle in his eye, whispered in a risque tone, "Mary, just think what a wonderful night you could have with six arms!"

Morris laughed and continued the scene perfectly.


Symbolism in Thief of Bagdad
Michael Powell claimed responsibility for having the enormous eye painted on the bow of Jaffar's ship, which fills the screen at the beginning of the film and establishes its dominant motif - echoed in Jaffar's hypnotic powers and Abu's theft of the great statue's All Seeing Eye.

Influence of German Expressionism
• The doppelganger

King Ahmad, dressed in white, walks toward the edge of the Palace. A few steps behind him, clad in black, follows his Grand Vizier Jaffar, like a shadow. The king places his right arm on the crenellation, as he places his left arm on the crenellation, Jaffar's left arm goes up simultaneously on the crenellation next to him.

• Shadows
The shadow of the hands of the thief Abu fall on the pieces of fish, before his real hands follow suit and steal them.

As Jaffar rises to his feet in the palace of the Sultan to curse Ahmad, his shadow rises behind him on the wall.

Jaffar and the Princess face each other within the hold of the ship. There is a shadow over the Princess's forehead and eyes, until Jaffar steps forward and raises her veil.

Missing footage

There were six directors (three uncredited), and innumerable script changes. When 'the two beggars found in the garden' are brought into the Palace of the Sultan of Basra, and Ahmad shouts out Jaffar's name - he sounds happy, delighted to see him. It is only when the camera returns to him that he is now angry and begging for a sword. His only lines to the Sultan of Basra are: "I speak the truth, my eyes bear witness", but he has said nothing about his adventures to justify that line. Obviously several lines of filmed dialog were cut here. [And it is at this point that Jaffar blinds him.]

Memories of John Justin

The filming of The Thief of Bagdad was a rather disorganized affair, thanks to Alexander Korda. According to John Justin (in a letter read at the ceremony to inter Conrad Veidt's ashes at Golders Green on April 3, 1998), "The production and direction departments were, of course, a total disaster, so typical of Alex Korda. Chaos reigned. It took a year, cost a million and became the greatest success since bread. I went to war and Alex insisted in continuing to pay me five pounds per week for the duration. Another fond memory is that of Rex Ingram, a fine actor and amazingly patient while chaos reigned."

Written by Roland Bush
The score for The Thief of Bagdad has been described thusly in a Films In Review article about Rosza: The Thief of Bagdad was more in the spirit of Max Steiner's score for King Kong, "a symphony accompanied by a movie." Moreover, it showed Rozsa writing in various idioms and styles, from the gently playful Abu's Theme ("I Want To Be a Sailor") to the fierce passages accompanying his battle with the giant spider in his quest for the AU-Seeing Eye. And it did what the best filmusic can and must do, telling the entire story as surely as an opera score.

Indeed, the music is what keeps the giant spider sequence, which looks rather hokey today, exciting to a modem audience, with its pounding rhythms and savage attack on the instruments, and makes the entire sequence inside the idol just as tense and mysterious today as it seemed 55 years ago. And all of that music is built, one way or the other, around "I Want To Be A Sailor".

The "Djinn's Flight Theme" similarly carries the Rex Ingram/genie sequences, despite some model work that now looks rather crude (if they could've plucked an extra five years out of the last 40 or so, Ray Harryhausen and Charles Schneer should have found a way to buy the remake rights to the entire movie, as well as the synchronization rights to the score, and just done it again), and elevates some of the Miles Malleson dialogue (especially the genie's exit speech about the foibles of the human race) to some of the most memorable in screen history.

(Note: One cryptic published source indicates that Rozsa's score for the movie was replaced with one written by Hubert Bath ("The Dream of Olwyn") for release in the Far East, but there's never been any confirmation of this.) The film was released in an era before there were soundtrack recordings, but the score quickly took on a life of its own, with "I Want To Be a Sailor," becoming popular in its own right and the "Djinn's Flight Theme" later becoming the basis for the wartime flyers' tribute.

Originally Oscar Straus was to do the music, but was replaced by the great Miklos Rozsa. Sir Robert Vansittart wrote the lyrics. The film must have originally been fashioned as a musical - there is a full score for many sequences and there are many songs that were composed but ultimately not used. There is a waltz song, Abu's Thief Song, a Love ballad, caravan song, a Djinn song, Market place song, etc. There's also additional lyrics for Abu's "Sailor" song (see grey box).

The music by Miklos Rozsa, Lyrics by R. Denham, Additional lyrics by Wm. Kernell. (It's not apparent if the song (in the grey box) was intended for the movie, or for a song tie-in. The melody isn't the same as for the filmed "Sailor Song."

Unused Lyrics for: "I Want To Be A Sailor"

Verse I
Some boys want to be a thief,
Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief,
But as for me, I've only one plan,
And that is to be
A Sailor Man.
Other fellows may desire
To explore or fight a fire;
Give me a Gale,
Or give me a breeze,
For I want to sail the seven seas:

Chorus I
I want to be a sailor
Sailing to the sea,
No plough-boy, tinker, tailor's
Any fun to be.
Aunts and cousins,
By the bakers dozens,
Drives a man to sea
Or highway robbery.
I want to be a bandit
Can't you understand it?
Sailing to the sea, A pirate free,
What joy for me.

Verse II
So I'm off across the blue,
And many daring deed I'll do.
I'll rant and raid,
With my pirate's blade,
Until there's no thrill
I've not been through.
Maid may weep and maids may mourn
And scan the ocean all forlorn,
But I'll ride the foam,
And never come home,
To stand for the lands-man's
Life I scorn.

Chorus II
I want to be a sailor
That's the life for me.
I want a girl in ev'ry port
Beyond the sea
Land...I'm leaving
Thru' the waves a-weaving
Sing and roll along
A happy sailor song
Just like a feather
Floats my boat in stormy weather
Sailing the sea, the bounding sea
Where I'll be free.

Below are PDFs of sheet music. Click on the thumbnail for the complete view:

: Jaffar: is part of the cue for ''Sultan's Toys and Introduction of the Flying Horse.'' The sheet music shows the bars of music as Jaffar holds up his hand to summon his servants to bring the horse forth. Princess: is the cue "Rape of the Princess" where Jaffar orders Abu (as the dog) thown overboard. (Look close, there's also a note about 'Jaffar's boat' - in the film after Abu is thrown overboard the scene does cut to a long shot of Jaffar's boat.)

Both of these files have handwritten notations by Rozsa himself, who at this time (1940) did his own orchestrations as well.

The deserted garden scene, where the Princess tells her father that she doesn't want to marry Jaffar, and he replies "never while I live" was originally scored with melody of the the unused love ballad. When the latter was not used Rozsa obviously reworked the material, retaining the arrangement but changing the melody (which is far superior to the original incarnation). There's also a different version of the flying horse theme.


The Grand Vizier to his trusting king. Prophetic words: ''Men are evil, hatred behind their eyes, lies on their lips, betrayal in their hearts. You will learn one day, great king...''

Abu: "I am Abu the thief. Son of Abu the thief. Great grandson of Abu the thief."

Jaffar: "Do you call the lisping of two children in the garden love? Love she has yet to learn. But I am here to teach her."

Read our comprehensively illustrated synopsis at: The Thief of Bagdad.

The Powell and Pressburger Pages
The Conrad Veidt Society

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