The Sheik / The Son of the Sheik: Special Edition
To the American woman who had gained the power to vote only a year before The Sheik hit the screens in 1921, screen idol Rudolf Valentino represented mysterious, forbidden eroticism, a vicarious fulfillment of illicit love and willing sexuality. It's not a stretch to assume that a great deal of the movie's popularity stemmed from its subtext of women as independence-craving, freely sexual people who would openly enjoy a good roll in the sand. Thus it's no surprise that The Sheik came under fire as "morally objectionable," and some critical reviewers called for its censorship. In the role that he's still remembered for, Valentino plays Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who spies free-willed Lady Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayers) in his desert camp and determines that she will be his. Lady Diana finds the refined, Paris-educated Sheik alluring, yet she resists his amorous advances. But when she's kidnapped by the villainous Omair (Walter Long), who promises her a fate worse than death, the heroic Sheik and his army mount a rescue. In 1926, in one of the rare cases of a sequel improving on the original, The Son of the Sheik became Valentino's last, and arguably his best, film. He takes a dual role here as both the now-older Sheik and his hot-blooded son, Ahmed. Ever-faithful Diana (Agnes Ayers again) is still a desert flower as well. This time it's young Ahmed who falls in love. The object of his desire is a local dancing girl, Yasmin (Vilma Banky), the daughter of a bandit in the company of vile Ghabah (Montagu Love).
Image Entertainment's sparkling DVD edition of this double feature is another welcome piece of work from film preservationist David Shepard. The Sheik comes from a 35mm nitrate master in splendid condition with all the original ornate title cards. Color tinting of the black-and-white image is provided according to the original Paramount cutting continuity. The Son of the Sheik is from a 1937 reissue print taken from the original negative, with a few shots replaced from later material, and remains untinted. For the audio, The Sheik sports an outstanding new Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo score compiled from period music by Eric Beheim and his electronic "Cafe Maure Orchestra." The Son of the Sheik offers a choice between a fine Beheim score or a 1937 recording of a vintage compilation score, complete with vocals. Vintage short films and newsreels also here include "Rudolph Valentino Dead!" (4 min.), a recorded slice of mass hysteria as thousands of women came close to rioting at Valentino's funeral. Keep-case.