"Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen.
I am merely the canvas upon which the women paint their dreams." - Rudolph Valentino, 1923
Women fainted in the aisles when The Sheik was released in 1921. The titled Lady Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayres) is carried into the desert by an Arab chieftan, Ahmed Ben Hassan (Valentino), who takes one look at her and wants her, right then and there. Filmed on the heels of women's suffrage, Lady Diana was presented as a strong-willed and intelligent character, but as for Ahmed - nobody had seen anything like Valentino's natural sex appeal on the screen before. His charismatic presence electrified audiences; his Sheik symbolized the forbidden allure of the exotic and forever secured Valentino's place in screen legend. From the lavish dressing of this production, Arabian wall tapestries, tunics, cassocks and garish jewelry became a fad in decoration and attire.
Paramount hustled its new sensation from one uninspired vehicle to another, and Valentino, by all accounts an intelligent and considerate person, finally expressed his displeasure by taking leave of the studio. Legally blocked by Paramount from making films for others, he and his wife, Natacha Rambova, embarked on a national dance tour sponsored by a beauty aid called Mineralava. It culminated in a beauty contest judged by Valentino. A newsreel of this event is included at the end this DVD, along with the short film The Sheik's Physique; both gave Valentino-hungry audiences another glimpse of their idol.
The Son of The Sheik, a sequel to The Sheik, was designed to revive Valentino's career. As both parent and son, Rudy has two virile leading parts, showing how a son of the desert inherited the passions of the father. Although the production is on a modest scale compared to the original Sheik, Valentino's performance is far more accomplished, and there's a tongue-in-cheek quality which gives The Son a certain magic even today. Young Ahmed falls in love with Yasmin, a dancing girl (Vilma Banky), but he is captured and tortured by bandits. Believing Yasmin to be responsible, he escapes and plans his own form of revenge, although true love, of course, finally prevails.
In New York for the premiere of The Son of The Sheik, Valentino collapsed and died eight days later at the age of 31. The public hysteria surrounding his funeral is documented in the original Pathé newsreel, which is featured at the end of this extraordinary DVD.
The Sheik Year: 1921
Length: 86 minutes
Director: George Melford
Starring: Rudolph Valentino, Agnes Ayres
The Son of The Sheik
Length: 69 minutes
Director: George Fitzmaurice
Starring: Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Banky
Produced for DVD by David Shepard
From the Blackhawk Films® Collection
Presented by Flicker Alley