At Christmas 2003, New York-based film critic Godfrey Cheshire is visiting his family in North Carolina when his cousin Charlie Silver tells him something startling. Charlie inherited ... See full summary »
A swim teacher and a wealthy businessman are married after a brief courtship. A charming war hero falls in love with this newly-married woman, after her husband abandons her on their honeymoon for the sake of a business meeting.
Men and women, fathers and children. Ahmed, son of Diana and Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, falls in love with Yasmin, a dancing girl who fronts her father's gang of mountebanks. Among the cutthroats is Ghobah, a villainous Moor to whom Yasmin is promised. In ruins near Touggourt, the city where Yasmin dances, she and Ahmed meet secretly until one night when her father and the gang capture the son of the sheik, torture him, and hold him for ransom. Will Ahmed believe that Yasmin set him up for capture? Even if true love finds a way through webs of deceit, what will the vigorous and imposing sheik say about his son consorting with a dancing girl? Written by
It is sadly appropriate that in his final movie Valentino plays a stronger and more nuanced version of his signature character: Sheik Ahmed, the impassioned lover who is initially impetuous, self centred and brutal, but who gradually matures into an admirable man. In this case, the male lead is actually the son of the original sheik, but Valentino also plays, just as engagingly, the father who is now middle aged, wiser (this is essentially the adviser role Adolphe Menjou had in the original movie) but still commanding and able to wield a sword.
As wasn't the case with "The Sheik," the script acknowledges the luridness of its material in a tongue-in-cheek manner (one memorable title card reads "The night was young at the Café Maure. Not a knife had been thrownso far") while not mocking it to the point at the movie would lapse into parody and lose its pulpy charms. For example, in one of the most famous scenes the sheik tries to put his rebellious son in his place by bending an iron bar; the son replies by straightening it out. This is deliberate camp that nonetheless clearly establishes the strength of character and body of both men. The film also departs from the original in the frank comic relief it provides in the form of a nasty but amusing little mountebank who seems to get on the good and bad characters' nerves in equal measure.
For those expecting titillation, the film does not disappoint. Valentino and the leading lady Vilma Banky, were involved in real life and it shows in the spooning scenes. The film also has plenty of the rougher, even perverse sexuality that in one form or another is present in nearly all of Valentino's films (even "The Eagle," the closest to a family picture Valentino ever made, has that brief scene with the hero flourishing a whip before the frightened female lead). Here we have Ahmed's rape of Yasmine which is far racier than the merely hinted at ravishment of Lady Diana in "The Sheik," and a striking (and homoerotic) sequence in which Valentino, tied up, his tailored white shirt torn to shreds, is subject to a prolonged whipping by a gang of thieves, the most sadistic of whom addresses him as "My young lion."
To me, this is the quintessential Valentino film and the one to show people who are curious about this actor's enduring mystique.
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