The Thief of Bagdad (1924), starring Douglas Fairbanks, is an epic silent film many people have probably not seen or even heard of, but that for its time was a major film in terms of its ambitious story, setting and effects, as well as its star. If you don’t mind silent films, and you want to sample the waters, this is a good film to start with (another might be Buster Keaton’s The General) — though be warned, it is two-and-a-half hours long. Set in long-ago Baghdad, it has all the elements of a great tale, complete with a hero’s test to win the hand of the princess. To round out your viewing pleasure, there is also the 1940 version.
Mammy (1930), an early talkie starring Al Jolson, appears to have been made to give the famous singer a vehicle to, well, sing. Jolson stars as Al (another clue!), the star of a traveling minstrel show somewhere in America. Eventually, he is falsely accused of murder, but the real reason to watch the movie at all is to hear Jolson’s singing and see a minstrel show in early Technicolor. (I note the latter as a historical artifact, not as something to really celebrate, though watching it with an historical mind would be a great way to start a discussion.)
Suez (1938), starring Tyrone Power and Loretta Young, is ostensibly about the building of that famous canal, but it’s as much about geopolitics as it is about construction, and in fact a good part of the movie is about Power’s character, Ferdinand de Lesseps, as he meets a pretty French tomboy in Egypt, survives the machinations of Napoleon III (and meets Victor Hugo in the process) and tries to convince Benjamin Disraeli to have England help finance the project. As with The Thief of Bagdad, the special effects here are, for their time, very impressive, and are one reason why the film is certainly worth a view.
Posted by: David