Arts

Cult Movie: Valentino's The Son Of The Sheik was one of cinema's first sequels - and his last ever film

Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky in The Son of The Sheik
Ralph McLean

The Son Of The Sheik

BY THE time The Son Of The Sheik hit cinema screens in 1926, its star Rudolph Valentino was already dead. Killed by peritonitis at the tragically young age of 31 just eleven days before the film opened, the man they called "the silent screen's greatest lover" would know nothing of the public hysteria and outpouring of grief that would follow in the following weeks and months.

That the cinema-going audiences of 1926 would collectively lose their minds as their beloved big screen idol passed on was big news at the time. Never had the death of a figure from the world of entertainment been met with quite such an over whelming wave of grief.

Today, of course, such communal grieving for dead film stars and their final works is common place – but then Valentino broke the mould in many ways. Aside from the cult of personality that surrounded the charismatic main man there's the ground breaking fact that The Son Of The Sheik was one of the very first Hollywood sequels, something we simply take for granted these days.

A belated follow up to the phenomenally successful 1921 film The Sheik, it was an understandable box office sensation upon release in 1926. The great George Fitzmaurice was directing and Valentino – the man most of the world's women swooned before with almost indecent haste – was reprising his most famous role after all. The fact that he didn't live to see its release only adds to its commercial allure. The sheer romance of that alone must have made it essential viewing for millions.

Watching it today, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment's freshly packaged Blu-ray and DVD release, is a strangely underwhelming experience however. A fairly slight silent romance it has a flimsy and almost woozy, dreamlike quality to it and a story that serves little purpose outside of providing as much time as possible for Valentino to get that ticket-selling face on screen.

He plays a cultured but dangerous young man who is lured into a thieves' trap by an attractive dancer (Vilma Banky). When he escapes, he kidnaps her and holds her captive in his exotic desert retreat while threatening to unleash his considerable romantic powers.

Today, the "screen's greatest lover" seems a tad whimsical and fey of features to really pull off the rugged leading man stuff, but imposing 21st century expectations for romantic leads onto silent film superstars is a pointless exercise, really. Valentino was untouchable in that era and the film pays tribute to his status in every way.

Taken from a restoration available for home consumption for the very first time, the film has a dynamic score from the great Carl Davis and the disc boasts a selection of impressive extras including an introduction from Orson Welles and an information-packed booklet featuring a new take on the film by historian and critic Pamela Hutchinson.

Like Valentino himself, The Son Of The Sheik is historically groundbreaking and hopelessly romantic. Spend some quality time alone with it this weekend.

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