A children’s film that takes enchantment very seriously, a magnificently beautiful toy which can outperform any of the other toys in the toy box, The Thief of Baghdad stuns, astonishes, tickles, pleases and even charms (a small triumph unlikely to occur without the touch of a gentleman like Michael Powell at the helm).

Dreamt up by the Kordas as a British response to The Wizard of Oz, the use of Technicolor, the vital (one could say animistic) performances of Sabu (jumping, stealing, fighting and shooting arrows into people’s foreheads) and Conrad Veidt as the villain, commanding nature, stealing the eyesight of a prince and transforming a mischievous enemy into a dog, earmarks Thief as something very special, a dream that could have overcome a young reader who had spent the afternoon reading a very old copy of The Arabian Nights.

Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese hit the tennis ball of the commentary track back and forth, like two athletes in love with the same girl, demonstrating their vastly different techniques (Coppola sentimental, personal, kind of lugubrious; Scorsese analytical, quick, referential). It’s not unlike encountering Chaplin and Keaton on the same stage at the finale of Limelight, or perhaps De Niro and Pacino making eye contact in Heat. Criterion has done it again.

Grade: A

The Thief of Baghdad is currently available.