Though he’s best known today as the director of the Spanish language version of Dracula (1931), George Melford was also an actor of stage and screen whose career encompassed both the Silent and Sound Era of film. He was at height as a director in the 1920’s, where he was among the ranks of Cecil B. DeMille in Paramount’s roster of film directors; he also made his best silent movie with the studio, The Sheik. Previously released on Blu-ray by Kino, Paramount went into the vaults for this Blu-ray release, coinciding with the film’s 100th anniversary.
The Production: 3/5
Lady Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayres) is a headstrong young British woman rebelling against the societal norms when she leaves the North African town of Biskra on a month long journey into the Sahara Desert. Before leaving, she catches the attention of Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Rudolph Valentino) – the leader of a local tribe – at the casino he had occupied for a night; Ahmed hatches a plan to take Lady Diana for himself. When he does succeed, he then finds himself truly falling in love while dealing with a rival tribe leader who also becomes enamored with the captive Lady Diana.
One of the earliest desert romances to grace the silver screen, The Sheik helped to cement a young Rudolph Valentino – who was just coming off of a breakthrough role in Rex Ingram’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) – as a star and one of Hollywood’s first true sex symbols. Based off of the best selling novel by Edith Maude Hull, the film had to tone down one of the most controversial aspects of the book: the rape of Lady Diana by Sheik Ahmed; even with that scene removed in the book’s translation to film, the movie still handled the more thorny aspects – miscegenation during its initial release, forced seduction in today’s climate – with relatively delicate gloss by George Melford and screenwriter Monte M. Katterjohn. Also, Valentino has some able support behind him, most notably coming from Adolphe Menjou (as the writer/doctor friend of Ahmed), Agnes Ayres as Lady Diana, Walter Long as the bandit Omair and Lucien Littlefield as Ahmed’s valet; the film also contains appearances by three actors who would later go on to greater fame in different professions in Hollywood: future director George Waggner (The Wolf Man) as a tribal chieftain, future screenwriter Frank Butler (Road to Morocco, Wake Island) as Lady Diana’s brother and future Oscar winning actress Loretta Young in an uncredited role as an Arab child. Though a popular entertainment in its day, The Sheik has maintained an audience over the last century due to both the story which contains topics that are still controversial and talked about today and the everlasting appeal of Valentino, whose legacy was set due to this film’s success.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:33:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new HD transfer created from a print and a fine grain intermediate element for this release. Film grain is organic, with fine details, gray scale and color tinted scenes rendered faithfully; there is a definite shift in the quality – as well as the frequency of scratches, tears and vertical lines – in a few scenes as well as the intertitles, largely owing to use of multiple elements used here (there’s no surviving original negative). However, this is still likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and also bests the previous Kino Blu-ray.
The music score composed by Roger Bellon for the movie in 1996 (the film’s 75th anniversary) is presented on a DolbyTrue HD track for this release. The score is represented faithfully with great clarity and without any major instances of crackling, popping, hissing or distortion present.
Special Features: 1.5/5
Desert Heat: 100 Years of The Sheik (12:21) – Film professor Leslie Midkiff DeBauche talks about the film, Rudolph Valentino and a little background on the era in this brief new featurette.
Noticeably missing here from other releases are a commentary track by Gaylyn Studlar, newsreel footage of Valentino’s funeral and a trailer for Blood and Sand (1922) from the 2017 Kino Blu-ray release of the movie and a couple of additional newsreels on the 2002 Image DVD release of the movie with the sequel, Son of the Sheik (1926).
Breaking box office records in its day, The Sheik is both a curiosity as well as a testament to the enduring legacy of Rudolph Valentino, whose star shone brightly before his life and career was tragically cut short. Paramount has likely delivered the best Blu-ray version of the movie with a solid HD transfer and a brief new featurette on the film (you may want to hold on to the previous DVD or Blu-ray edition if you want more special features). Highly recommended and worth getting if you missed out on the previous Blu-ray release of the movie.
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