Film Review and Rating / Synopsis

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  • The Sheik (1921) - Plot Summary - Silent melodrama, set in the Arabian desert and starring the great Rudolph Valentino. Opening title card "In this world of peace and flame lies a palm garden of the Sahara - A blessed oasis of the sands." In this Oasis a "marriage market" is being held, where we meet the handsome and lavishly costumed Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Valentino) who shows some kindness when he agrees to choose another after presented with a young woman who is loved by another man. Cut to the city of Biskra where a strong-willed and independent young English woman, Lady Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayres), has become the source of gossip because, with her daring and adventurous spirit, she plans to tour alone through the desert the next morning, with only an Arab man to escort her (her adventure described by one busybody as a "young madcap's wild scheme"). That evening the Sheik shows up in town for an Arabs-only night at the Casino. Pretty Diana and him make googly eyes at each other as he heads in. Diana won't be stopped by, as she calls him, a "savage desert bandit", so sneaks in, borrows a dancing girl's veiled costume, and joins the group of slave girls who are participating in a "marriage gamble", where the females dance and men take spins on a roulette wheel to win a bride (Diana can't believe her eyes!). Soon she's spotted as a white woman and is confronted by the Sheik and booted out. But he's been bewitched by her and, in league with her desert escort the next day, she ends up kidnapped on horseback by the Sheik and taken to his tents as captive! Wow. Well, this guy is seriously good-looking so you can just make a guess that despite her protests and efforts to escape, she may fall for him as this is filmland (he's also mentioned to be not the savage she thinks, but actually a "rich tribal prince, educated in Paris"). Earlier in the movie she quotes her views on marriage as "marriage is captivity" to a lovestruck suitor, now in real life captivity there is a conflict of two strong wills between her and the Sheik : he's not accustomed to being disobeyed, she's not accustomed to obeying orders. Just when she realizes she loves him, she gets kidnapped by a desert bandit who "desires" her for himself. Ahmed the Sheik to the rescue, even at the risk of his own life!

    Review - Atmospheric romp in the Arabian desert, full of sweeping vistas of sand where caravans of horsebacked men in desert whites ride, bandits rove, harem girls dance, luxuriously decorated tents with striped walls blow in sandstorms, and a dashing Sheik, costumed to the hilt in robes and splendid burnoose, looks just like a bronzed God. I have often seen clips from this film used in montages that show overacting in films from the silent days. Indeed, Valentino has a tendency in parts of this film for over-the-top eye popping, perhaps in an effort to appear sinister. But I think it actually works okay for this particular film as a sort of Arabian fantasy, it all comes across as a bit campy and Valentino is just such an appealing star. I've got to say, he is an absolutely gorgeous man and just mesmerizes on that silent screen with his sex appeal (oh my goodness, swoon)! The plot of this film sort of worries me in the idea of a woman being kidnapped and then falling in love with her kidnapper - but, gosh darn it, he's just so handsome and charming and revealed to be kind of a good guy (perhaps just misguided in his attempts to be a proper Arab chief - as he says via title card "When an Arab sees a woman that he wants, he takes her!".) And the chemistry between Valentino and actress Agnes Ayres works! Watch for a young Adolphe Menjou who appears in this as a French novelist, the Sheik's pal from his Paris days. This film, as screened on TCM channel featured a brightly tinted, quite decent print and electronic orchestral music compiled and performed by Eric Beheim with tunes (did I hear a tambourine in there?) that were good and fitting for a story in the Arabian desert. This film is oodles of fun, it's really a must see from the era of silent films. Rating - * 10/10 stars *

    Director: George Melford
    Film Genre: Melodrama
    Film Runtime: 86 minutes

Links / Resources

film review The Sheik starring Rudolph Valentino


10 = Absolutely Fabulous/Superb
9 = Really Good/Excellent
8 = Good
7 = Fairly Good/Decent
6 = So-so, some flaws
5 = Mediocre
4 = Not that good, many flaws
3 = Poor
2 = Very Poor/Stinker
1 = One of the worst BOMBS ever filmed

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