Silence is golden: A closer look at it – The sheikh’s son (1926)
After the cover of the cult film the sheikh A few months ago I thought it would be appropriate to check out the equally iconic sequel. I hope you enjoy it!
A lot has happened to Rudolph Valentino in the five years between his big leading roles the sheikh (1921) and its exciting sequel, The sheikh’s son (1926). After first finding fame as Julio The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), Valentino was quickly ranked as the great “Latin Lover” of the silver screen, with his Italian ancestry considered “exotic” at the time. While many of his films from the ’20s focused on living up to that image, he seized opportunities to expand. He would play a bullfighter blood and sand (1922), an Indian prince in The young rajah (1922) and a French barber who identified himself as an 18th-century nobleman Mr. Beaucaire (1924). One of his most popular roles was that of Russian lieutenant The Eagle (1925), a crowd-pleasing mix of romance, drama, and action.
But despite those years of eclectic roles, Valentino agreed to return to his most iconic role as Sheikh Ahmed Ben Hassan The sheikh’s son (1926) – plays both the original character, who is now his old age, and his male son, Ahmed. While this may seem surprising for the face value, the lavishly photographed sequel gave Valentino a chance to show off his red-blooded fighting skills, taking part in some seriously steamy love scenes, and uses the double role to prove his acting breadth.
The original the sheikh, based on the popular romance novel by EM Hull, was a huge hit but was also criticized for being “tamer” than the book. Director George Melford also played it safe in some old-fashioned ways, lightening Valentino’s naturally tanned complexion to almost match his blonde co-star Agnes Ayres. George Fitzmaurice The Sheikh’s son also based on an EM Hull novel, Valentino’s character would finally become the menacing, exotic He-Man that many viewers dream of. In a way, it also honored his status in cinema – which was iconic even then.
Valentino’s recent films had not been box office extravaganzas and he had recently resigned from a contract with Famous Players-Lasky and signed with United Artists. The idea of making a sequel may have been inspired by Douglas Fairbanks, who had recently published Don Q, son of Zoro (1925), the sequel popularized in 1920 The sign of Zoro. United Artists president Joseph M. Schenck would also capitalize on Valentino’s “sheikh” image, which persisted – fans always hoped to see him in more desert romances.
At this point in the 1920s there was a growing confidence in the film industry and a fresh awareness of pop culture that we can tell The Sheikh’s Sons knowledge winks at the original film. Both Valentino and Ayres seem to enjoy playing their original roles (aged with makeup), and the younger Ahmed is introduced in a dreamy flashback sequence that seems to his fans a nod to Valentino’s romantic symbolism.
Valentino’s lead this time was Vilma Banky as dancer Yasmin, a beautiful blonde whose fair skin contrasted well with his ‘Arabian’ complexion – no skin lightening for him This time around. Having previously worked together in The Eagle, they had a beautiful on-screen relationship. Played out in suitably moonlit desert surroundings and captured with sustained close-ups, their love scenes certainly can be filed under Valentino fanservice.
The sheikh’s son is also daring in other ways, very much in the spirit of the novel. Most notorious is the scene where Ahmed, who has caught Yasmin alone and believes she is responsible for his kidnapping and torture, stalks her while extreme close-ups show her horrified eyes. While the film discreetly interrupts any lurid plot, the aftermath of Yasmin in tears on a bed leaves no doubt as to what happened. Controversial in retrospect, oddly enough, this was the kind of menacing scene that audiences expected in the original the sheikh — and five years later, the threat was finally here.
Featuring action, adventure, love scenes, beautiful cinematography and lavish costumes, The sheikh’s son was determined to be everything the sheikh had tried to be – and more. While the original had its charm, the sequel went above and beyond and featured a truly great performance from Valentino. This performance was to prove particularly poignant.
Originally approved for the first operation of theaters in major US cities in the summer of 1926, The sheikh’s son was promoted by Valentino in a nationwide tour with personal performances. At the time his health was failing and he was complaining of abdominal pain. On August 15, he collapsed at a party at a friend’s New York apartment. At the hospital, doctors diagnosed him with a perforated stomach ulcer, and unfortunately the resulting emergency surgery was unsuccessful. Peritonitis set in, and after several days he died on August 23.
The nation – indeed the world – was shocked by the death of the screen idol, especially when he seemed so much in his prime on screen. Two weeks after Valentino’s death The sheikh’s son went into general release and eventually made over $1 million as saddened fans flocked to see its final performance. His life may have met a heartbreaking untimely end, but it’s a bittersweet comfort to know that he left the world with a feat that will be remembered forever.
–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub
You can read all Lea’s Silents are Golden articles here.
Lea Stans is a born and raised Minnesotan with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely credits to Buster Keaton). In addition to blogging about her passion on her website, Silent-ology, she is a columnist for the Silent Film Quarterly and has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.