Monday, 29 January 2018

Rudolf Valentino in The Sheik

A while ago I came across Blood and Sand and The Eagle, both starring Rudolf Valentino - I have to say I found The Eagle, about a Russian outlaw, much more enjoyable than the bullfighting tale, which I feel has dated badly.
Then I realised I'd never seen the film that made Valentino famous, which is, of course, The Sheik.
Oh, my!
I liked him - he looked good in Arab robes, and seemed to have a cheerful disposition. He spends a lot of time creeping into the heroine's bedroom and not quite having his wicked way with her, though I gather the audience is supposed to assume that they have, in fact, been to bed together. Apparently (according to the Wikipedia entry) the song The Sheik of Araby was written as a response to this film, with the line "At night when you're asleep, into your tent I'll creep".
And then there's the racism. The writers tied themselves in knots trying to make him not actually an Arab, - it's revealed at the end of the film that his parents were actually Spanish and English, and the old sheik brought him up as his own when they died in the desert. With this revelation that he is really white, our heroine is free to fling herself into his arms.
The heroine irritated me. One minute she's planning a trip into the desert and sneaking into the Casino in Arab dress to catch a glimpse of our hero, like a plucky adventuress - but as soon as she's captured she spends most of her time fainting or weeping. She also comes over all terrified when being guarded by a black man while a prisoner of Omair the bandit (who really does want to rape her - she struggles and Sheik Ahmed arrives to save her in the nick of time).
I don't really see why Sheik Ahmed had to kidnap her either - I assume they were following the plot of the novel the film was based on, but Ahmed had already had a word with the Arab who was going to guide her into the desert, so I don't see why he didn't just guide her straight to Ahmed's camp.
They obviously spent quite a bit of money on the film - there are lots of extras with horses, and some camels; it'd be interesting to find out where they filmed it, with all those sand dunes. The film was so successful that they made Son of the Sheik five years later, also starring Valentino as both father and son. I'm not sure I'll be going off in search of that, though. I can see why it was popular in 1921, and it's interesting as a period piece, but that's about it, I think.

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