Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Banky, George Fawcett, Montagu Love, Karl Dane, Bull Montana, Bynunsky Hyman, Agnes Ayres
Written by: Frances Marion, Fred De Gresac, George Marion Jr., based on a novel by Edith Maude Hull
Directed by: George Fitzmaurice
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 80
Date: 07/09/1926

The Son of the Sheik (1926)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Acquainted Desert

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though definitely recommended, Rudolph Valentino's most famous pair of movies, The Sheik (1921) and The Son of the Sheik (1926), probably don't hold up today as well as other classic silent-era films do. In addition to their slightly yucky storylines, Valentino's legendary star quality hasn't aged as beautifully as one might have thought. His acting style is pretty big by today's standards (he bugs out his eyes and flares his nostrils a lot), but he really did have that extraordinary charisma, that huge sex appeal, that everyone talks about. His olive skin and heavy-lidded eyes as well as a certain unnamable something make him easy to watch.

In The Sheik, he plays Ahmed Ben Hassan, a man raised in the desert, who kidnaps the headstrong Lady Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayres) and forces her to be "his woman." The movie includes plenty of secondary scenes that establish the sheik as a reasonable guy, and it's possibly to be swept away by all the florid, exotic romance, especially when the hero swoops in to save the lady from some evil desert ravagers. The cast includes Adolphe Menjou and George Waggner; the latter of whom went on to direct The Wolf Man.

Kino Lorber's 2017 Blu-ray release comes with a commentary track by Gaylyn Studlar, archival footage of Valentino's funeral (!), and a trailer for Blood and Sand. Picture quality is better on this one than on the sequel, but the extras are fewer.

The Son of the Sheik is also interesting in many ways, and is notable for being Valentino's final film; he died that same year at age 31. He plays the original sheik in age makeup as well as the son, who falls victim to a scam involving a beautiful dancer, Yasmin (as Vilma Banky). This time he kidnaps her out of sheer hatred and revenge, which does make a bit more sense, and allows Valentino even more nostril-flaring. The rest of it goes about the same, with the same kind of lusty romance and rousing desert adventure. Kino Lorber's 2017 Blu-ray edition is definitely the more interesting of the two, with a fantastic score by the Alloy Orchestra, an introduction by Orson Welles, and vintage film clips of Valentino, although it has no commentary track.

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