Five years after The Sheik made him an international star, Rudolph Valentino found himself at a crossroad. In 1923, he married designer Natacha Rambova. Though they would divorce just two years later in 1925, Valentino allowed her to take control of his career during their marriage, resulting in a series of effete, rather bizarre roles. So, although Valentino had stated he had no interest in reprising his role as the Sheik only a few months earlier, he hoped that The Son of the Sheik (and his decision to play dual roles), would return him to superstar status. Sadly, it turned out to be Valentino’s last role, but most critics agree that he delivered the best performance of his career.
Screenwriter Frances Marion based her script on Edith M. Hull’s Sons of the Sheik. Marion combined the two sons into one character, Ahmed. Valentino came up with the idea to play both Ahmed and his father. Picking up roughly twenty-five years after The Sheik, we learn that Lady Diana (Agnes Ayers) and the Sheik have a son, also named Ahmed. The impetuous sort, Ahmed falls for Yasmin (Vilma Banksy) a beautiful dancing girl without the advantages of his privileged upbringing.
Yasmin is part of a traveling troupe of acrobats, singers, and dancers. Unbeknownst to young Ahmed, they’re bandits, led by Andre (George Fawcett), Yasmin’s father. The group’s meanest bandit is the thuggish Gahbah the Moor (Montague Love). Gahbah has designs on Yasmin, and has even been promised her hand, though not by her. Naturally, his patience is running low.
Meanwhile, Yasmin isn’t thinking about her traveling companions. Having only meant young Ahmed in the town square the day before, she is smitten. Young Ahmed asks Yasmin to join him in the old ruins at nightfall. What happens there represents Valentino at his best, and help him gain the nickname, “The Great Lover.” Close-ups abound, and dialogue is minimal. The couple embraces as Valentino’s profile stares down at Yasmin, who seems to be under some exquisite spell. Soft focus camera work helps to make the scene feel very romantic.
Naturally, this moment of passion can’t last. Yasmin has been followed; although Ahmed puts up an impressive fight, Gahbah’s men capture him. Gahbah tells him that Yasmin lured him intentionally. This is a lie, but Ahmed, currently strung up by his wrists, believes it completely. It’s not long before Ahmed is rescued by his friends, and vows to take revenge on the gang, Yasmin, in particular,
With the help of a friend, Ahmed steals Yasmin away to his camp. she doesn’t understand why Ahmed us being so cold, but quickly finds out. He’s not interested in her protests of innocence. Ahmed will have his revenge. At this moment, Ahmed clearly considers Yasmin a whore. She fights him vigorously as he grabs her for a kiss, “For once your kisses are free,” Ahmed tells Yasmin as the scene fades.
As you might have guessed, the misconceptions on both sides–Yasmin and Ahmed’s–are eventually solved and the young couple is deeply in love. Modern audiences may certainly question the ethics of smiling at the actions of a would-be rapist. It’s at times like this it’s important to remember that the 1920’s was the pre-code era, and studios largely policed themselves.
Valentino impresses here. Since The Sheik he is more relaxed an natural in front of the camera; his smiles no longer look maniacal. In playing both the older and younger Ahmed, he gives each character distinguishing characteristics without being too outlandish. Some effective camera optics allow Valentino to share the screen with himself, resulting in some of the film’s most memorable moments. Unfortunately, Vilma Banksy is just, there. She has no real personality or memorable quirks. This makes the brief return of Agnes Ayres as Ahmed’s mother feel more special.
The Son of the Sheik has not been given an extensive restoration prior to this Blu-ray release. Presented in the 1:17:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer has issues with general wear and tear throughout. Scratches, chemical damage, jumpy and skipped frames are all in evidence. Softness is the norm, but a minimal level of detail remains, as evidenced in expressive faces, and the bigger set pieces. Tinting remains appropriate, communicating the narratives intent. The packaging notes that some side cropping was necessary to maintain a consistent image.
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix provides a rather lively score by the Alloy Orchestra, which comes through with impressive rumble when called upon, and crisp strings of percussion. The music appropriately supports the moods onscreen, be it happiness, sadness, confusion, etc.
No subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Intro by Orson Welles (HD, 17:35) A clip from the “Silent Years” TV show, with Welles taking his time to discuss Rudolph Valentino’s appeal and career, giving some insight to the “Latinest of the Latin Lovers.” Clips from Valentino’s career help pad out the show.
- Newspaper Headlines (1:29) New York City coverage of Valentino’s illness and eventual death.
- Valentino: His Life and Times (HD, 8:37) A biographical short covering the actor’s early years, and growing career in front of the camera. This segment contains some very interesting footage of Valentino interacting with other stars of the day.
- Valentino at the Beach (HD, 2:30) A short clip of the actor lounging on the beach.
- Trailer for Young Rajah.
Movie title: The Son of the Sheik (1926)
Director(s): George Fitzmaurice
Actor(s): Rudolph Valentino Vilma Bánky , George Fawcett Montagu Love , Karl Dane , Bull Montana
Genre: Drama, Adventure, Action