A Baghdad thief, a Danish prince, a Japanese artist: movies

THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1924) stars the wonderful Douglas Fairbanks as a swashbuckling thief who falls madly for the city’s princess. He connives to abduct her as one of the suitors for her hand, but “When I touched your hand, all that was evil in me died.” (if his initial scheme puts the movie beyond the pale for you, now you know to avoid it). After he’s exposed, he and the other suitors set off to find a treasure worthy of the princess, but one of them is secretly scheming to take her and the city itself.

Like Fairbanks’ Robin Hood this is a good film easily outstripped by its successors, Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood and the Korda Thief of Baghdad. At 2.5 hours it’s longer than it needs to be. Enjoyable, and Fairbanks is an amazingly charming, athletic hero, but if you had to pick, Korda’s version is the one. “Allah hath made thy soul for happiness, but thou must earn it.”

HAMLET (1980) is one of a series of Shakespeare adaptations the BBC did back in the late 1970s/early 1980s (my first encounter with many of the plays). This stars Derek Jacobi as a prince very obviously upset by first losing his father, than seeing Mommy (Claire Bloom) marry someone else immediately, and that’s before Daddy’s ghost tells him it was murder, courtesy of scheming, unctuous Claudius (Patrick Stewart, with hair!). At 3.5 hours, this is the longest Hamlet I’ve seen (I believe the Branagh is longer) and doesn’t have the spark Kevin Kline’s version did; then again I wound up watching it with lots of family interruptions, so maybe the fault was with the viewer. “Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay/Might stop a hole, to keep the wind away!”

CUTIE AND THE BOXER (2013) profiles Japanese artist Ushio Shinuhara and his wife Noriko, who fictionalized their relationship in her Cutie and the Boxer ‘toons. This feels oddly familiar — Ushio is very much in the mold of multiple fictional artists who treat their partner as a footstool on the road to success — but Noriko is more interesting, putting up with him but not coming off as the standard long-suffering spouse of fiction. Interesting, but not compelling. “Sometimes there are not enough nutrients for both of us.”

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