When I was a kid, way back in the midst of the Seventies, movie viewing was restricted to visits to the cinema or the schedules of three TV channels. That’s right, kids, there was a dark time in our history when you couldn’t grab the remote and watch what you liked when you liked. There was a time, long since passed, when the bovine masses of Britain only had three TV channels to keep them distracted. In the days before pay-per-view, YouTube, DVD or even video tapes, we weren’t exactly spoiled for choice.
Back then, trips to the cinema were like a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. At least, they were for me. And to a lesser degree, movies on TV were events in themselves, far less commonplace than they are today. Looking back, you remember the movies you loved at the cinema, but there are also those movies that you will forever associate with magical childhood afternoons before the magic television box. For me, it was the old adventure movies like Jason and the Argonauts, the Sinbad movies, Jack the Giant Killer, One Million Years B.C. and The Valley of Gwangi. In the age of CGI, it’s easy to forget how impressive stop-motion animated dinosaurs, Cyclops and skeletons were. And boy, they were. That great fight scene between the Argonauts and the skeletons will always have a special place in my heart, no matter what swish effect James Cameron invents next. Fighting skeletons are cool.
Last night I had the chance to revisit another of those cherished childhood gems, The Thief of Bagdad. I’m talking about the 1940 version, not the silent 1924 movie of the same name. It’s been years since I last saw this movie, and I watched it with the kind of perma-grin that only a bout of surprise nostalgia can evoke. I was delighted to find that viewing The Thief of Bagdad through adult eyes did nothing to dilute my enjoyment of it. Sure, I was far more aware of its shortcomings; the white actors and an Indian playing Arabs, the Genie with the distinctly un-Middle Eastern accent (‘this is the foist moment of mah freedom’) and one of the worst giant spiders ever dangled from a wire and shaken around a bit. But The Thief of Bagdad is still a remarkable film for the era in which it was made, with some special effects that must have seemed astonishing at that time, particularly in those scenes involving the Genie and one very memorable ride across the rooftops of Bagdad on a flying horse.
Still, the part that really had me gurgling like the child I used to be was the Silver Maid scene. Evil Grand Vizier, Jaffa, wants to dispose of the toy obsessed King and so constructs The Silver Maid, a six-armed, blue-skinned woman. The King, excited by his new plaything, falls into the Maid’s embrace and she plunges a large needle into the back of his neck. It’s a creepy moment that scared the bejesus out of me all those years ago, and still gave me a little shiver last night. Come on, she’s got six arms and she kills you while she’s giving you a hug. That’s scary, right? Ah, what do you know?
Now I want to revisit those other celluloid memories from my formative years. I want to see the giant Talos from Jason and the Argonauts, the marching suits of armour from Jack the Giant Killer and the historical lunacy of cavemen fighting dinosaurs in One Million Years B.C. I want to revisit the scenes that gave me chills before video came along and kind of spoiled it all by exposing me to really scary cinema.