AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Sheik
Director: George Melford (Dir)
Release Date:   20 Nov 1921
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 6 Nov 1921
Production Date:   ended late Aug 1951
Duration (in feet):   6,579
Duration (in reels):   7
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Available Formats
Facets DVD VHS LaserDisk
Movies Unlimited DVD VHS LaserDisk
Nostalgia Family Video DVD VHS LaserDisk

Cast:   Rudolph Valentino (The Sheik, Ahmed Ben Hassan)  
    Agnes Ayres (Lady Diana Mayo)  
  [Cast in order of appearance] Ruth Miller (Zilah)  
    George Waggner (Yousaef)  
    Frank Butler (Sir Aubrey)  
    Charles Brindley (Mustapha Ali)  
    Lucien Littlefield (Gaston)  
    Adolphe Menjou (Dr. Raoul de St. Hubert)  
    Walter Long (Omair)  

Summary: At an oasis in the Sahara Desert, Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan presides over a marriage market, at which weathly tribesmen purchase brides, and ensures that his friend Yousaef is reunited with his sweetheart Zilah. Ahmed and his men then take some of the women to be sold in Biskra. Biskra, a large town where old traditions co-exist with the ways of foreign tourists, is the current home of the high-spirited Lady Diana Mayo. Despite the protests of her brother, Sir Aubrey, Diana is leaving the following morning on a tour of the Sahara, accompanied only by an Arab guide, Mustapha Ali, and his men. Diana is fascinated by the arrival of Ahmed and questions a gendarme, who tells her that the sheik will be hosting an entertainment at the casino, during which men will be able to gamble for the brides. Diana also learns that only Arabs are allowed entrance, and that the Paris-educated sheik is a rich tribal prince whose word is law in Biskra. Intrigued, Diana buys a dancing girl’s costume, then sits with the other women in the casino. When it is Diana’s turn to be displayed, she balks, and Ahmed deduces that she is not an Arab. After a bemused Ahmed escorts her out, Mustapha reveals that he is taking Diana into the desert, and Ahmed smiles. Soon after Diana begins her journey, Ahmed and his men ambush her. Upon being taken to Ahmed’s tent, Diana asks him why he has kidnapped her, and he replies, “Are you not woman enough to know?” After Diana rejects the sheik’s attempts to seduce her, he instructs his French valet, Gaston, and Zilah to attend her. Seeing Diana’s distress at her captivity, Ahmed keeps his distance, but insists that she wear traditional Arab garb instead of her western clothing. After a week of “sullen obedience,” Diana learns that Ahmed is to be visited by his friend, famed French novelist Dr. Raoul de St. Hubert. Diana is horrified that someone from “her” world will see her as a captive and assume that she has become Ahmed’s concubine. Seeing her concern, Ahmed orders Gaston to return Diana’s clothes to her, but when he kisses her, she still reacts coldly. Upset that his attentions repulse her, Ahmed leaves to meet Raoul. Later, while riding with Gaston, Diana broods on the upcoming encounter with Raoul, and runs away. In Biskra, Raoul reprimands Ahmed for abducting Diana, but the sheik protests that when an Arab wants a woman, he takes her. In the desert, Omair the bandit spots Diana alone and is about to seize her when Ahmed suddenly appears and saves her. Diana confesses that she ran away because of her shame over facing Raoul, and that night, Raoul discerns how uncomfortable Diana is. As the days pass, Raoul and Diana become friends, much to the dismay of Ahmed, who mistakenly assumes that Raoul is falling in love with her. One afternoon, as Raoul talks with Diana, news arrives that he is needed to tend to an injured man. Raoul notes Diana’s fear that Ahmed has been hurt, and her relief that is it someone else instead. Ahmed also sees her concern and is gratified. Meanwhile, in Omair’s stronghold, the bandit orders his spies to bring him news of Ahmed’s “white woman.” At the oasis, Ahmed returns Diana’s pistol to her when she promises not to run away, and she goes riding with Gaston. After Diana leaves, Raoul rebukes his friend for his treatment of her and begs him to return her to Biskra. Ahmed protests, then realizes that he has been in the wrong. Overcome with remorse, Ahmed tells Raoul to escort Diana to Biskra, then rides off alone. Meanwhile, Diana has been captured by Omair’s men, and Gaston has been wounded. When Ahmed rides through the desert, he finds the words, “Ahmed, I love you,” which Diana had scribbled into the sand before her capture. Ahmed is thrilled until he finds Gaston and learns what has occurred. Ahmed takes Gaston to Raoul, then assembles his men and rides for Omair’s fortress. As Omair is attempting to assault Diana, Ahmed and his men gain entry into the fort and battle their way to Omair’s inner sanctum, where Ahmed strangles his foe. Ahmed is wounded during the battle, and Diana anxiously accompanies him to the oasis. As Diana and Raoul watch over the unconscious Ahmed, Raoul reveals that Ahmed is the orphaned son of an English father and a Spanish mother. As a child, Ahmed was adopted by the former sheik, and was reared as an Arab. Diana then prays to God to take her instead of her beloved, and her tender words wake Ahmed. Overjoyed, the lovers embrace. 

Production Company: Famous Players-Lasky Corp.  
Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures Corp.  
Director: George Melford (Dir)
Producer: Jesse L. Lasky (Pres)
  George Melford (Prod)
Writer: Monte M. Katterjohn (Adpt)
Photography: William Marshall (Photog)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Based on the novel The Sheik by Edith M. Hull (London, 1919).
Authors: Edith M. Hull

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Famous Players-Lasky Corp. 25/10/1921 dd/mm/yyyy LP17131 Yes

Physical Properties: b&w:
  Si:

 
Genre: Romance
Sub-Genre: Arabian
 
Subjects (Major): Abduction
  Arabs
  Miscegenation
  Novelists
  Romance
  Sahara Desert
  Sheiks
 
Subjects (Minor): Attempted rape
  Bandits
  "Beautiful Dreamer" (Song)
  Biskra (Algeria)
  Brothers and sisters
  Clothes
  Disguise
  English in foreign countries
  Fights
  French
  Friendship
  Oases
  Proposals (Marital)
  Rescues
  Slavery
  Snobs and snobbishness
  Valets
  Wounds and injuries

Note: The opening credits of this film end with the following quotation from an unidentified poem by a writer listed only as "Holmes": “Mohammed’s land—Where saint and sinner chant as one/Their praise to Allah—bowing low Beneath a desert sun.” Actor George Waggner’s surname is misspelled “Waggener” in the film’s intertitles. Although the film was copyrighted at 8 reels, contemporary reviews list it as running 7 reels.
       According to modern sources, James Kirkwood was originally considered for the role of “Ahmed Ben Hassan.” Modern sources add Loretta Young and her sisters, Polly Ann and Elizabeth Jane, as well as her brother Jackie, who were children at the time, as extras in the film. As noted by modern sources, Edith M. Hull’s novel, upon which the film was based, was considered daring for its time, due to its sexually provocative nature. In a 21 Aug 1921 NY Morning Telegraph article, director George Melford addressed concerns about potential censorship problems surrounding the film adaptation by stating: “We have handled the frank scenes in The Sheik so delicately that I think the censors will be the only disappointed viewers." In its review, Wid's commented that the story had been "rearranged and 'tamed' to spare the scissors of the censor board."
       A 10 Nov 1921 Wid's news item reported that the picture had “smashed all attendance records at the Rivoli and Rialto theatres” in New York during the first three days of its exhibition. The article reported that it was “estimated that by Saturday night the total attendance at the two theatres will be 120,000 persons—a new record in Broadway entertainment history.” The film, which was very successful, influenced popular culture in numerous ways, including propagating Arab-inspired fashions, dances and songs, introducing the word “sheik” into American slang and cementing Rudolph Valentino’s image as a forceful, sexually aware yet gentlemanly hero.
       In 1926, United Artists released a sequel to The Sheik , entitled The Son of the Sheik . That film, in which Valentino played a dual role of father and son, was his last picture. After Valentino’s death on 23 Aug 1926, at the age of 31, thousands of fans crowded the streets during his funeral. In subsequent years, a legend arose about “the lady in black” who mourned by his grave every year on the anniversary of his death. Valentino’s acting style was frequently copied and often spoofed in the years since his death. Two film biographies, both entitled Valentino , were produced about the actor. The first, directed by Lewis Allen and starring Anthony Dexter, was released in 1951, and the second, directed Ken Russell and starring dancer Rudolf Nureyev, was released in 1977.
       In Nov 1958, DV reported that Paramount was considering adapting The Sheik for television by adding sound effects, music and narration. An original music score by Roger Bellon was added to a video and television re-release of the picture. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   13 Nov 1958.   
Hollywood Reporter   15 Jul 1981.   
Moving Picture World   19 Nov 1921   p. 336.
New York Times   7 Nov 1921   p. 20.
Variety   11 Nov 1921   p. 37.
Wid's   22 Aug 1921   p. 3.
Wid's   26 Oct 1921   p. 1.
Wid's   28 Oct 1921   p. 6.
Wid's   8 Nov 1921   p. 1.
Wid's   9 Nov 1921   p. 2.
Wid's   10 Nov 1921   p. 1.
Wid's   13 Nov 1921   p. 5.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
Advanced Search
AFI Membership
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film

© 2014 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.