United Artists


Rudolph Valentino (The Sheik, Ahmed), Vilma Banky (Yasmin), George Fawcett (Andre), Montagu Love (Gahbah), Karl Dane (Ramadan), Bull Montana (Ali), Binunsky Hyman (Pincher), Agnes Ayres (Diana), Charles Requa (Pierre), William Donovan (S'rir), Erwin Connelly (The Zouve)


Ahmed, the young son of the Sheik, sees Yasmin dancing in the streets of Touggourt. Soon they are meeting among the ruins at night when she can slip away from the camp where her father and his traveling vagabond troupe are.

One night, one of the the troupe, Gahbah, "whose crimes outnumber the sands," sees her sneak away. While she and Ahmed are together in the ruins, he and the others in the troupe capture Ahmed to get ransom money from his father. He is falsely told by Gahbah that Yasmin was their "bait" to lure him on.

The next morning, Yasmin sneaks from the camp with the intention of freeing her beloved Ahmed, but she finds him already gone. He had been rescued in the night by two of his companions.

Ahmed vows revenge on the girl who he thinks tricked him and soon finds she and her troupe will be at the Cafe Maure in Touggourt. He, with the help of his companions, Ramadan, kidnaps Yasmin and takes her to his camp. There he forces himself on her, and she declares that she hates him.

The next morning, the Sheik finds Ahmed and learns of the girl's presence in the camp. He tells Ahmed to let her go. Ahmed instructs Ramadan to take her back to her troupe, but it is obvious she is still in love with Ahmed.

While on his way through the desert with Yasmin, Ramadan is captured by Yasmin's father and his men, tied up and left to die in the desert. However, he overhears Gahbah tell Yasmin that it was he who "poisoned" Ahmed's mind against her. Ramadan then knows that Yasmin didn't betray Ahmed. She slips Ramadan a knife to free himself and asks him to tell Ahmed the truth about her.

When Ahmed learns what has happened, he plans to kidnap her once again from the Cafe Maure. With Ramadan's help, he sneaks into the Cafe to abduct her, but is discovered, and a grand sword and knife fight begins with virtually everyone in the cafe after Ahmed. When all seems lost, the Sheik arrives to help his son hold off the attackers a while longer. Soon, Ahmed's men arrive, and the fight is won.

However, during the melee, Gahbah has run off with Yasmin. Ahmed quickly pursues the fleeing Gahbah, overtakes him and Yasmin in the desert and kills Gahbah. The story fades to a close with Ahmed and Yasmin embraced on horseback and riding into the sunset.


"Son of the Sheik" is not a great story. It basically follows the old tried and true formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. So why is it so good? One reason and one reason only - the cast.

Everyone who had a role in this film plays it to the hilt and seems to enjoy every minute of it. All of them seem just right for the parts they were given. The casting couldn't have been more perfect.

Who could imagine anyone playing the Sheik or his son, Ahmed, other than Rudolph Valentino? And who could have made a more attractive, sensual or memorable Yasmin that Vilma Banky? Two minutes into the opening scene where they first meet in the streets of Touggourt and it's easy to see that they "click" together on the screen. It's no wonder they were brought back together again after their superb outing in "The Eagle."

Say what you will about the story, it's the on-screen chemistry between Valentino and Banky that puts the film over the top. For example, when we see their moonlight encounter at the ruins, Ahmed starts to embrace Yasmin, but she takes his hands and prevents him from doing so. Undeterred, he lifts her hand and kisses it on the front and back - then her fingers - and from there he places quick kisses all over her face.

She is obviously taken by him, but we sense something is not quite right. Ahmed, not understanding what could be causing the hesitancy, asks if she were afraid he would fail her. She looks away, then into his eyes - saying nothing. "Why fear me, dearest?" he says. "Love such as mine can do no harm." Again she looks away, but he gently takes her chin in his hand and turns her face back to his, close, and she closes her eyes momentarily delighting in his touch. He tenderly kisses her, and she kisses him willingly, then pulls away. As she lays her head on his shoulder, she asks, "But who are you, my Lord? I do not even know your name!"

He again turns her face toward his and replies, "I am he who loves you. Is that not name enough?" He kisses her lightly, twice on the lips. She smiles signifying the apprehension has departed. He lifts her in his arms and carries her to a part of the ruins where they can sit and talk of their love.

The play of emotions between these two stars in this scene is just one example of what makes "Son of the Sheik" so good. Altogether in one scene, the two lovers run through passion, apprehension, tender caring, reassurance, romance and even eroticism. Finally, they are all smiles delighting in each other's company.

No better casting is evident in the film than the selection of Montagu Love as the menacing Gahbah. Early on in the film he is "leering" into Yasmin's tent both lusting after her and spying on her. The close-up of his face is disturbing and frightening. He is a villain par excellence in "Son of the Sheik."

Karl Dane is the highly likable Ramadan, Ahmed's companion. He comes to Ahmed's rescue when he is being tortured at the ruins. He fights with Ahmed when he kidnaps Yasmin from the cafe. He worries over Ahmed like a concerned father. And it is Ramadan who is responsible for Ahmed's and Yasmin's reuniting in the end. Through it all, Dane grins and mugs his way through the film as if he is really enjoying himself, so much so that we can't help but like him.

Binunsky Hyman deserves honorable mention, too, for his portrayal of the comical and diminuative Pincher. His comic antics are just enough to lighten the story without imposing on it.

Although "Son of the Sheik" may not make a list of the 10 best silent films ever made, it is universally liked by everyone who sees it. It has all of the elements that win over an audience. We have two lovers, who, through no fault of their own, are torn apart. We have a villain who is so despicable that we can really enjoy disliking him. We have bits of humor sprinkled throughout the film in the likes of Pincher, a live wire who, due to his size, is constantly mistreated. And, yes, there is sex in the story, too. The scene where Ahmed takes Yasmin back to his camp to "have his way with her" is erotic to say the least, but handled with class.

The characters in "Son of the Sheik" are not one-dimensional, cardboard personalities, and Valentino and Banky have a field day with theirs. Also, both Valentino and Banky prove themselves to be first rate actors. Historians admit Valentino was an actor of merit, and, although most agree it was done "tongue-in-cheek," he gives a passionate performance as the hot-blooded Ahmed. Of course, Yasmin is no less hot-blooded, but Banky also effectively elicits sympathy in the role, too, when she begs Ahmed to believe she did not betray him and falls to her knees grasping his leg only to be thrown aside.

Plenty of lovemaking, here, yes, but also plenty of action. The two times Ahmed kidnaps Yasmin from the cafe and a final, climactic chase through the desert provide an adequate portion of edge-of-your-seat thrills during the film's 68 minutes.

What others have said about "Son of the Sheik":

Joe Franklin in Classics of the Silent Screen Citadel Press, 1959 . . .

"No one ever pretended that this film was 'art' - but it does represent a peak in polished hokum and showmanship backed by all the arts and techniques acquired by motion pictures in the mid-20's, when Hollywood was still a wonderland, and the movies spelled glamor."

". .. apart from being grand entertainment, 'Son of the Sheik' did come closest (of all Valentino's films) to being a masterpiece in its own particular way."


Alexander Walker in Rudolph Valentino, Stein and Day, 1976 . . .

"The film was an immense advance on 'The Sheik' not only in direction - he had at last got George Fitzmaurice who had been replaced by Fred Niblo on 'Blood and Sand' much to Valentino's annoyance - but also in the area of erotic psychology. For this sheik's actions in abducting a dancing girl are motivated not by love, but by hatred and revenge. Most of the film is concerned with a man's desire to even the score with a girl he suspects has played him false. The elements of menace and brutality are exploited vividly in virtually every expression Valentino wears during the forceful seduction of Vilma Banky. Their previous lovemaking has been more erotic, too, with Valentino extending his kissing all along the girl's arm and shoulder - the days of cheeky interest in woman's palm were over."


Robert Oberfirst in Rudolph Valentino - The Man Behind the Myth, Citadel Press, 1962 . . .

"Some of the scenes were intensely romantic, and Valentino lost himself in the emotional sweep of his portrayal. In 'The Son of the Sheik' he attained a smoothness, a perfection of performance that could well serve as an authoritative example of interpretative pantomime. It was his own conception of an art form in which physical movement and emotional expression were employed with just the right degree of restraint. Fitzmaurice, the director, was so impressed he would stand and admire Valentino going through one scene after another, living them, not merely acting."


Richard Koszarski in An Evening's Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928 University of California Press, 1990

"When Valentino died suddenly in 1926, he was about to release his latest film, a sequel to 'The Sheik' that contained more than a little self-mocking humor. 'Son of the Sheik' demonstrated that he was quite able to step outside his manufactured image, analyze the Valentino mystique with tongue firmly in cheek, and still give the public what it desired. The film proved to be his greatest popular success in years, but how much of this can be traced to his own talents and how much to the outlandish notoriety surrounding his death is still an unresolved question.

Notes about the making of "Son of the Sheik" from Motion Picture magazine January, 1927:

"The 'sudden' death of Rudolph Valentino, idol of millions of motion picture fans, shocked America and Europe. yet we in Hollywood who knew him from the 'Four Horsemen' days onward were not so shocked. In five years, he changed from a blithe, happy youth to a weary man, his heavily shadowed eyes showing every indication of some serious illness. It is not difficult for us to believe that he paid for 'Son of the Sheik' with his life, that he had not the physical resistance to throw off the strain of his last location trip which took him into the bitter wastes of the Arizona desert.

"'Irving Sindler, a property man on 'Son of the Sheik,' kept a diary during the filming of the picture. Here are a few entries.

"'Monday Night - In Camp. Oh, boy, what heat. It rose right up and smacked you in the face. Twenty miles of trek by auto and horse across the desert. Nothing but heat, sand and flies. Well, we'll get Mr. Valentino's lovely, beautiful desert scenes. This can't last forever.

"'Tuesday. Miss Vilma Banky put her spoon in a bowl of something that looked like blackberry jam, and when the flies flew away, it was the sugar bowl. Our assistant director intended to take a shower this afternoon but news spread that somebody had killed a sidewinder (snake) in the shower-room. At midnight it is still to hot too sleep. Sheets are like fire.

"'Friday. We got up a four o'clock. Had two hours' sleep. At sunrise Mr. Valentino's white helmet looked solid black. Flies all over it. They get in your eyes and mouth. Evening. A little cooler, but still over 100 degrees.

"'Saturday. We climb the sand dune again, sometimes on hands and knees. Mr. Valentino deserves much applause. He does his work without complaint. His horse fell in the sand twice today. It was galloping. He never complained.'"

Note: The article stated the company spent six weeks filming scenes in the Yuma (Ariz.) Desert.

copyright 1998 by Tim Lussier. All rights reserved.

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