Son of the Sheik

There’s a fair amount of fighting, swinging off chandeliers, and galloping across the desert on horseback in this film.  Even a sword fight on horseback in a sandstorm!  But all those action scenes were just filler.  Valentino’s kissing is the main reason to watch “The Son of the Sheik.”  Ask anybody.

the-son-of-the-sheik-de-george-fitzmaurice-avec-vilma-banky-rudolph-valentino-1926Those soulful eyes of his.  Five minutes in his company and the dancing girl played by Vilma Bánky is setting up a tryst in the deserted ruins near her father’s camp.  She can’t stop thinking about her dashing admirer, doesn’t even care whether she knows his name, and when we see the tender way he takes her face between his hands and kisses her cheeks, her forehead, her palm, we don’t blame her one bit.

In the original film, “The Sheik,” Valentino’s character seduced an English woman, played by Agnes Ayres.  Ayres returns to play his mother in the sequel, and Valentino(made up to look older, with a darling little beard) reprises his role as the sheik in addition to playing the sheik’s son.  The father has settled down and would like his son to marry a nice, stable English girl, but Ayres’s character reminds him that he was no less impetuous as a young man.

“What you wanted, you took,” she says with such frankness that you see through her matronly disguise to the passionate girl she was.  These two haven’t lost that spark, and the father can still win a fight with his bare hands when called upon.

But this picture belongs to the son.  Say what you will about the controversial sequence where he carries Bánky’s character off to his tent on horseback and ravishes her.  Okay, so it wasn’t a consensual encounter.  When the dancing girl tells Valentino how she tried to hate him but couldn’t, who’s going to tell her she’d be better off without him?

(9 May 2011)