The Sheik/Son of the Sheik (1921 & 1926)

“For once your kisses are free.”

If you’ve heard about the charisma of silent star Rudolf Valentino and wondered what all the fuss is about, then a wonderfully packaged DVD from Image Entertainment is for you. The DVD presents two films The Sheik (1921) and The Son of the Sheik (1926) and naturally, Valentino stars in them both. In The Sheik directed by George Melford, Valentino plays the role of Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, a French-educated desert dweller. The incorrigible, willful heiress Lady Diana (Agnes Ayres) runs amok in an Arab town. The Sheik comes to town to gamble in the Arab-only casino, his eyes lock on Diana, and the die is cast. Diana sneaks into the casino disguised as a dancing girl, but all those veils don’t fool the Sheik, and he unmasks her. When the Sheik learns that Diana is taking a tour in the desert, he decides to kidnap her and take her to his sumptuous tent with the intention of making her his bride. Diana doesn’t take kindly to the kidnapping thing, and this makes for a bumpy romance….

The Son of the Sheik directed by George Fitzmaurice was made just 5 years later, and it’s the better of the two films. Valentino plays two roles–young Ahmed and his father the Sheik (the hero of the first film who’s now middle aged). Ahmed falls in love with Yasmin (Vilma Banky), a dancing girl whose father is a thief and a bandit. Yasmin’s father has promised her to another member of the gang, and this spurned lover sabotages Yasmin’s budding romance by capturing and torturing Ahmed. Ahmed, believing that Yasmin betrayed him seeks revenge–and of course this means carrying her off in the desert and throwing her in yet another sumptuous tent.

Image Entertainment’s juxtaposition of the two films allows the viewer to see the progress of Valentino as an actor. In the first film, his facial expressions are limited to gleeful grins, but in The Son of the Sheik he’s mastered a range of expressions–from cold disdain, to passion and distress. In The Sheik there’s an attempt at colorization. The daytime scenes are gold tinted. The dawn scene has a pink tinge–while the night scenes have a blue-black cast. The Son of the Sheik is much more fluid, much more exciting, and full of stunts–swordplay, fighting, and leaping on beautiful horses that race across the desert sands. The Son of the Sheik also displays Valentino stripped and tortured by the evil bandits, and the filmmaker is confident enough to include elements of comic relief found in the relationships between the thieves. The thieves’ lair–the Cafe–is stuffed full of smoking dancing girls with “hips full of abandon”, and they drive the customers mad with desire. But even with the humour, The Son of the Sheik is a much darker film for it contains a controversial implied rape scene.

Extras include three short clips of film. The first clip Rudolf Valentino and His 88 American Beauties is about 12 minutes long and shows Valentino judging a beauty contest. The second 3-minute clip is The Sheik’s Physique. It’s a teaser of sorts and shows Valentino undressing to change into a bathing suit before he lounges on the beach falling asleep. The third clip (about three minutes long) is newsreel of Valentino’s funeral in August 1926.

There’s an irony in the fact that The Son of the Sheik ‘ages’ Valentino almost beyond recognition by giving him a double role as both the hero and the hero’s father. Sadly, Valentino’s early death negated aging–he died at the age of 31 from complications of appendicitis just days after The Son of the Sheik premiered.

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Filed under Rudolf Valentino, Silent

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