Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 27, 2021)
One doesn’t often get the chance to review a 100-year-old movie. However, such an opportunity arises with this Blu-ray release of 1921’s The Sheik.
Lady Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayres) lives an independent lifestyle that shocks many and embarks on a journey to Algeria. There she decides to trek into the desert with only local guide Mustapha Ali (Charles Brindley) as company.
Along the way, Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Rudolph Valentino) becomes smitten with Lady Diana. When she rebuffs him, he kidnaps her and takes her to his compound in the desert where he attempts to convince her to love him.
Hey, nothing like a little playful abduction to woo the ladies! Maybe I should try that, but I doubt my duplex would win over anyone.
Also, while I think I’m a decent-looking guy, I may not live up to the smoldering standards of Valentino. A century later, he remains known as a sex symbol, so I feel forced to entertain the possibility his appeal to women may slightly exceed mine.
I guess I’ll stick with online dating and skip the kidnapping. Shucks.
As a critic, I do my best to view older movies through their era’s eyes. Of course, the farther back we go, the more difficult that becomes. Cripes, my grandmother was only 11 when this film hit screens, so my attempts to connect to it via its period turn difficult.
Try as I might, I can’t quite figure out what made moviegoers in 1921 love The Sheik. The movie turned into a massive box office hit, but its appeal eludes me.
Granted, I get that Valentino was a good-looking guy and he lured the female audience into theaters. However, he doesn’t seem especially charming as the title character.
Indeed, Valentino comes across more as a psychotic weirdo than a romantic hero, and I don’t mean that solely because of the brutish ways Hassan tries to seduce Diana. As portrayed by Valentino, Hassan really seems borderline nuts, with expressions that make him wild-eyed and leering,
Of course, I understand that silent film actors needed to emote fairly heavily to compensate for the lack of dialogue. However, no one else in The Sheik comes across in the same way, so I can’t purely blame the era’s performance styles.
While she offers a superior performance, Ayres still feels like an odd choice as Diana because she’s simply not that attractive. Plenty of the “natives” Hassan rejects appear much sexier, so it becomes tough to understand why he feels so drawn to her.
Does Hassan dig Diana due to her independence? Perhaps, but given that he immediately tries to subjugate her to his own will, that view makes little sense. Why would Hassan fall for a woman’s spirited personality and then try to squash it?
Her eventual/predictable affection for him feels like a stretch as well. Hassan literally threatens to murder Diana if she doesn’t go along with him – did that pass for foreplay 100 years ago?
Like I said, I really did try to view The Sheik with “adjusted eyes” as much as I could, but the content made that really difficult. Roger Bellon’s new score didn’t help.
Bellon created a score that attempts to feel “orchestral” but since it all comes from a synthesizer, it sounds cheap and rinky-dink. If Paramount wouldn’t pony up for real musicians, then the score should’ve just gone with piano or organ in an attempt to replicate the music that would’ve accompanied a 1921 screening of the film.
Not that the greatest score ever recorded would redeem The Sheik. Audiences loved this movie a century ago, but now it seems like nothing more than over-ripe cheese.