Traditional themes and classical style action

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

Released January 14, 1944. Review written 2022.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is at a basic level a story of revenge. Yet we see and feel plenty of classical style action, adventure, love, and honour. It is a romantic style film. Based on the Arabian Nights tale, Ali Bab and the Forty Thieves was released on January 14, 1944, which puts it among the Golden Era of Hollywood filmmaking. I would like to see a Christian film with the same premise, where an Arabian Tales paced-epic is transported to a Christian-based romantic adventure.

Interestingly for modern audiences, Forty Thieves foreshadowed modern fantasies Krull and The Phantom Menace. Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves foreshadowed the average modern-day blockbuster with a template of shots, pacing, melo dialogue, lavish look, and plotting. Modern filmmakers might have drawn on these useful elements of the old-style blockbuster for their own blockbusters.

There is a hint of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace where the hero Ali Baba first meets Amara (Maria Montez) and the whole scene converges into a memory of a scene from that Star Wars film. Then the older Ali Baba (Jon Hall) tries to save a girl in distress, the daughter of the Prince of Bagdad which echoes Krull’s saving the princess from marrying the “Beast”.

Yet Forty Thieves look, and style is very much in keeping with classical style. Set in the days of Mongol invasions, Hulagu Kahn (Kurt Katch) and his army invade Bagdad. A band of thieves hate these invaders and seek to overthrow them and bring Bagdad back to normal. Ali Baba joins the thieves to avenge the killer of his father, the King of Bagdad.

While it is a story of revenge, on a higher level there are also themes of freedom form tyranny – that while revenge is not good, it is better to live in a world not beset by fear and oppression if that were possible – and there are nods to traditional style love and honour. The film is quite wholesome though looks a little too old technically to attract overwhelming positive reception these days, but still a blockbuster good of its time and a romantic style film.

Reviewed by Peter Veugelaers.

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