blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Sheik (1921, George Melford)

Agnes Ayres and Rudolph Valentino star in THE SHEIK, directed by George Melford for Paramount Pictures.

The uncredited editor of The Sheik had a thankless task–during the first act, director Melford is packing in so much expository information all the cuts to introduce new information. The Sheik’s silent, the editing of the first act is always important in a silent film. There needs to be a certain pace, there needs to be a certain amount of information conveyed. Especially in a film like The Sheik, which opens with a lot of characters and then winnows them down. And the uncredited editor doesn’t do well with this expository first act. But, the editor does do well in the second and third acts of the film, when there’s finally visual action.

The Sheik isn’t any great shakes of a film. Lead Rudolph Valentino has more charm in this one than he does acting proficiency. And some of that charm is just from Valentino pulling off the outlandish costumes. He’s an Arabian sheik, educated in Paris, who comes across an English lady (a far less charming Agnes Ayres) and decides to kidnap her. It’s not all in harmless fun, of course, but the danger question gets answered pretty quick.

Why do I feel like I’m writing a synopsis of a romance novel and trying to make it sound just a little smarter than a romance novel. The Sheik isn’t very smart, it’s not very stupid, it’s not very anything. Maybe it’s the scope of the picture; it does start with some grandiose scale–Brits on vacation in the Middle East–but then it shrinks down to Valentino and Ayres hanging out in Valentino’s enormous tent palace. These sequences get boring, though they do give Ayres her best scenes in the film. Melford doesn’t know how to direct her in the first act and she’s a helpless damsel in the third act, which is really dumb because she’s already shown herself not to be helpless. But you cut it some slack because, why not?

The Sheik is likable without being amiable, which is something of an accomplishment. Good supporting turns from Adolphe Menjou and Walter Long.

Gorgeous title cards (also uncredited).



Directed by George Melford; screenplay by Monte M. Katterjohn, based on the novel by Edith Maude Hull; director of photography, William Marshall; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Rudolph Valentino (Ahmed Ben Hassan), Agnes Ayres (Lady Diana Mayo), Adolphe Menjou (Dr. Raoul de St. Hubert), Frank Butler (Sir Aubrey Mayo), Charles Brinley (Mustapha Ali), Lucien Littlefield (Gaston) and Walter Long (Omair).


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