Fabulously handsome, super-smooth, and perhaps a bit dangerous, Rudolph Valentino was everything the public wanted in its male movie stars of the 1920’s. At a time when silents were the only game in town, all the great stars–John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore–smile a lot. In The Sheik (the film that made him an international star), Valentino smiles so often and so wide, it would be off putting if he weren’t so naturally charismatic. When Valentino kisses a woman, there’s no question he knows what he’s doing.
Based on Edith M. Hull’s novel of the same name, The Sheik doesn’t really offer much in the way of a story. Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Valentino) Kidnaps Lady Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayers) and takes her to his spacious tent palace. Though Lady Diana is attracted to the Sheik, she resists his sexual advances. The Sheik’s old school friend, Raoul de Saint Herbert (Adolphe Menjou) eventually convinces him to let Diana go free. Unfortunately for Diana, she quickly finds herself in the clutches of Omair (Walter Long), a villainous desert bandit, who threatens her with a fate worse than death. Given the circumstances, it’s no surprise that she realizes she’s got deep feelings for the Sheik. Mobilizing his army, the Sheik, and his friends, get to her just in time, before she attempts suicide. The Sheik is injured in the battle, but Diana nurses him back to health, and declares her love for him.
The ending of the movie is a clear sign of the times. With anti-miscegenation laws in effect all over the country, Hollywood wasn’t going to show a white woman with an Arabic man. You’ll notice the Sheik and Diana never so much as kiss, despite his repeated attempts at seduction. It’s only after we learn that the Sheik is really of European descent, that they’re free to do as they wish.
As a narrative and a story, The Sheik should probably be considered strictly mediocre. Valentino and most of his co-stars act in a manner that would be considered over-the-top and hammy by today’s standards. However, it’s one of those films that should be seen by film buffs and film historians. A classic that made Rudolph Valentino an international star, The Sheik also showed a certain kind of independent woman. One who turned away potential suitors in favor of the uncertainty inherent in adventure.
Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, as you might expect, the 1080p transfer of this nearly 100-year old film is a bit rough around the edges. There’s some visible wear and tear–scuff marks, scratches, flicker–Nonetheless, clarity is still pleasing, and detail is fine throughout. Textures are visible on close-ups and costumes. Various camera angles help to make clear the epic feel the filmmakers are going for. The large scenes of conflicts are shot convincingly. Tinting is well done, with yellows and blues used to identify night and day. Delineation is fine. Considering the age of the source material, this is a very well-done transfer.
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA track is highlighted by a music score composed and performed by Ben Model. The active and clear organ supports The Sheik well, supporting changes in action, mood, and atmosphere as appropriate.
Subtitles are not included.
The following extras are available:
- Commentary with Author Gaylyn Studlar
- Valentino’s Funeral Procession (SD, 3:03) Footage of the event where more than 100,000 gathered to pay their respects to Valentino, who was just 31 when he died.
- Trailer (SD, 2:02) For 1922’s Blood and Sand.
Movie title: The Sheik (1921)
Director(s): George Melford
Actor(s): Rudolph Valentino,, Agnes Ayres , Ruth Miller , George Waggner, Frank Butler , Charles Brinley
Genre: Silent, Drama, Romance,