Intertitle of the Week: The White Sheik

Watching George Melford’s THE SHEIK, which doesn’t seem to really get much love these days. Valentino in a ghutra is an iconic image, but the film itself is not watched. THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE gets a lot more respect, being the work of a recognised auteur, the Irish maverick Rex Ingram, and being a film of genuine seriousness.

THE SHEIK is a frivolous erotic fantasy, if such things can truly be called frivolous, and while the movie-makers are quite aware that the vision of the Middle East they promulgate is a piece of fairy-tale orientalism, the prejudices they espouse are still, I suspect, 100% sincere ~


Apologies for messed-up image — although my disc plays perfectly, it was weirdly resistant to frame-grabbing.

Still, beautiful titles! You just have time to read the text and then scan the illustration before it’s gone. And the pretty pictures would give illiterate audience members something to enjoy, I guess.

Valentino himself is much more lightweight than I’d expected. He isn’t always blowing smoke out through his nose like in HORSEMEN. (That always makes me think of a scene from Mork and Mindy where Robin Williams reads from a romance novel: “His nostrils flared. Her nostrils flared. Everything flared.”) He’s less iconically camp, more straightforwardly gay-seeming. And he rather lacks the air of danger I expected.


Indeed, when he smiles, am I alone in thinking… Ray Walston?

9 Responses to “Intertitle of the Week: The White Sheik”

  1. It’s Son of the Sheik from which the Valentino of legend is derived. The original Shiek is staid by comparasion.

    Melford is worthy of further study, his other credits include East of Borneo (from which Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart is derived) and the very good Spanish language version of Dracula — shot simultaneously with the Browning-Lugosi on the same sets.

  2. Arthur S. Says:

    What about Beyond the Rocks that film that’s been making the revival rounds recently. It has Valentino and Swanson, I haven’t got to see it yet unfortunately.

  3. Beyond the Rocks is generally considered minor, although we’re very pleased to see it rediscovered. I’d love to get Son Of. The Spanish Dracula is very stylish, with many cool shots not present in the Browning version (sorry for the unwarranted Rattigan allusion!) although it’s a shame the lead is no Lugosi.

    East of Borneo has some HILARIOUS stuff in it, with Georges Renavent freaking out at some man-eating crocs. Amazing something as moody and interesting as Rose Hobart could derive from such a gulumphing source.

  4. Christopher Says:

    :o)))..I can’t think of The Sheik without picturing old Clara Edwards on the Andy Griffith Show going on about the Valentino worship of her youth and warbeling the hit song…”The Sheik of Arabyyy,your love belongs to meee…Well at night when you’re asleep into your tent I’ll creep….”even the Beatles did that song at one time..heh heh
    funny thing about Melfords 1931 spanish Drac,english being my first language,alot more things are made clear in this version ,More details about Dracula and events are discussed in more colorful dialog…As much as I love Dwight Frye’s creepy laugh in the Lugosi version,Pablo Alvarez Rubio turns in an outstanding more detailed study of the old fly eater,that really steals the film from the others i think..

  5. My all-time favourite Renfield is Jack Shepherd in the BBC version from the ’70s, a genuinely uncanny portrait of mental anguish. But Renfield is ALWAYS good! One role an actor can’t fail to triumph in, be he Tom Waits or be he Klaus Kinski, bereft of actual dialogue. You just can’t go wrong!

  6. Shahn (of the blog Sixmartinis) has just done a post on THE GAUCHO with Fairbanks and Lupe Valez, it’s just been shown on the big screen at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Looks great, y’all should check it out…


    Ace! I’ve seen fewer Fairbanks films than Shahn, but as I’m currently reading about him (in Glen David Gold’s Sunnyside) I should take a look at The Black Pirate sometimes this week.

  8. David (Cairns),

    I have added your book choices (so far) to my master list of “Reading the Movies” respondees, to be found here:

    Keep going – so far, so good.

    As for intertitles, nothing beats the crocodile-teary “Ku Klux sympathizers victims of the black mob.” from Birth of a Nation.

  9. Thanks for linking!

    That moment in BOAN is probably the point where most of us realised with awe that Griffith not only had horribly skewed sympathies, but a truly bizarrely skewed sense of historical fact. I guess the two do go hand in hand.

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