#271) The Son of the Sheik (1926)

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#271) The Son of the Sheik (1926)

OR “Rudy’s Last Ride”

Directed by George Fitzmaurice

Written by Frances Marion and Fred de Gresac. Based on the novel by Edith Haul.

Class of 2003

The Plot: Rudolph Valentino is Ahmed, son of the legendary Sheik (also Rudolph Valentino), the hero in another, very popular movie. While travelling across the Algerian Desert, Ahmed becomes entranced with Yasmin (Vilma Bánky), a dancer whose performance is a front for her father Andre (George Fawcett) and his gang of thieves. Ahmed and Yasmin fall for each other: she not knowing his true identity, and he not knowing that she is betrothed to Ghabah the Moor (Montagu Love). There’s action, romance, and some really impressive split-screen work in Valentino’s swan song.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film a “slightly tongue-in-cheek adventure-romance” and brings up the film’s main talking point: this was Rudolph Valentino’s final film, sent into wide release just a few weeks following his death. There’s also a loving essay by Valentino expert Donna Hill.

But Does It Really?: I understand the significance of  “The Son of the Sheik”, I just don’t get why the NFR didn’t induct “The Sheik” first (and as of this writing, still hasn’t). “The Son of the Sheik” is Valentino at the end of his career, attempting a comeback with a sequel to the role that made him famous, so why not include the movie that made him famous (and no, “The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse” doesn’t count; that’s an ensemble)? This whole situation is akin to adding “The Empire Strikes Back” but still not including “Star Wars”. It don’t make no sense. That being said, you should have no problem watching this movie if you haven’t seen “The Sheik”. The NFR’s inclusion of “Son of the Sheik” is justifiable, acceptable, but still quite the head-scratcher nonetheless.

Shout Outs: You’d think this is where I would mention “The Sheik”, but again, still nowhere to be seen on this registry. Of course when it is finally added this whole post will need to be completely retooled.

Everybody Gets One: To appease their new star, United Artists gave Valentino final approval over both his director and leading lady. For the former he chose George Fitzmaurice, whose work he admired and who he had initially wanted for 1922’s “Blood and Sand”. For the latter he picked his previous co-star from “The Eagle”, Vilma Bánky (aka The Hungarian Rhapsody).

Wow, That’s Dated: “The Son of the Sheik” may be the ultimate poster child for whitewashing in film. If this cast were any whiter it would include Scarlett Johansson.

Other notes

  • Why was Rudolph Valentino the “Latin Lover”? His father was Italian, his mother was French, and he was raised in Italy. I guess in the ‘20s we favored good alliterations over cultural accuracy.
  • Screenplay by Frances Marion? The Swamp Fox?
  • I love when movie credits become unintended trivia items. “Agnes Ayres has courteously consented to resume her original role of Diana, wife of the Sheik — as a favor to Mr. Valentino and this picture.” That’s a lot of info the average filmgoer does not need.
  • One of Andre’s henchmen says of his wife, “When I want her, I whistle.” He must be married to Lauren Bacall.
  • Valentino’s screen appeal is on full display in this picture. The key to his success is, unlike most silent film actors, Valentino knows that less is more. He underplays, rather than overacts, making his romantic scenes appear more intimate, especially if you’re watching him on a big screen. Rudolph definitely knows how to “make love to the camera”, whatever that means.
  • Surprise guest star Grandpa Potts!
  • One of the characters is named Ramadan? Is that a common name amongst devout Muslims, or did these writers refuse to do any research?
  • The desert scenes were shot in Yuma, Arizona, with temperatures well into the 100s. According to the diary entries of prop master Irving Sindler, Valentino never complained about the working conditions and seemed to enjoy riding his horse across the desert in his downtime.
  • Our hero: a man who kicks sand into the face of his enemies, and brings a gun to a swordfight.
  • “Nay, my mother was no owl — only a little cuckoo!” Ba-dum cha!
  • Shoutout to cinematographer George Barnes. He’s getting real artsy with some of these shots.
  • The “romantic” relationship between Ahmed and Yasmin is real hard to justify nowadays. Lots of forced kissing going on.
  • Oh the sad irony of Rudolph Valentino in old age makeup. That being said, Rudy is clearly having a blast playing dual roles, especially when he’s his own scene partner. And the split-screen effects are pretty great too. I had a legitimate “How’d they do that” moment.
  • “Remember your own fiery youth, dearest — what you wanted, you took–” Gee, what a great lesson to pass on to your son.
  • Everyone in this movie sucks at throwing daggers. They always miss.
  • Entire production filmed on location at Aladdin’s Oasis in Disneyland.
  • The climactic fight scene involves sword fighting on horseback. That’s pretty badass.

Legacy

  • Rudolph Valentino died of sudden peritonitis when he was 31 years old, two weeks before the wide release of  “The Son of the Sheik”. The film was a box office hit, as were several of his earlier films rereleased shortly thereafter.
  • “The Son of the Sheik” also helped crack open the Pandora’s Box of Hollywood making formulaic sequels to their earlier hits.

Prior Viewing: “The Sheik”. I gotta start pushing for that movie in my annual NFR submission.

3 thoughts on “#271) The Son of the Sheik (1926)”

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