Last night I went to the very last Silent Movie Monday at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. It was a double feature of the Rudolph Valentino (said to have been quite the lady’s man) series “The Sheik” and “Son of the Sheik.” I had absolutely no idea what a Sheik was, but I was still convinced it was going to be good.

“The Sheik”:
The film took place in an Arabian desert. A rather curious Englishwoman named Diana is determined to go on a trip through the desert (for the adventure?). The night before her trip, (because she is curious) she sneaks into an Arab Casino where the sons of Allah are gambling for wives. Diana is chosen from the group of women as the next prize, but she refuses to go and dance for the men. Ahmed Ben Hassan, the Arab Prince, personally escorts her out of the casino, but not before admiring her beauty.

That night Ahmed climbs up the balcony to Diana’s room in Biskra and watches her as she sleeps. As he leaves, he begins to sing the “Beautiful Dreamer” song. Diana wakes in time to hear the singing and wonders who the secret admirer is.

Ahmed and his men follow Diana through the desert and kidnap her. He claims he has been bewitched by her beauty, and is determined to keep her for himself and make her love him. (Diana refuses his kisses, and he is distressed saying things like, “Do you really hate my kisses so?”) She tries to escape, but when out in the desert alone, the only options she has are to die in the sandstorms or be taken by the bandits roaming the desert.

Diana stays with Ahmed in the desert for many weeks, and soon is accustomed to life as his prisoner. Ahmed allows her more freedom as the days pass; letting her ride horses with he and his servant, Gaston. (Diana hears Ahmed singing again and realizes it was he who had come to her in the night.)

One day, a man comes to Ahmed’s tent in search of a doctor. He tells news that a gun went off in a man’s hand and is badly hurt. Diana hears this and says, “Ahmed?” worried that he is the hurt one. Ahmed over hears this and is thrilled she cares for him.

Ahmed cannot accompany Diana on her next ride through the desert, so he gives her a loaded pistol for protection against the bandits and tells her he trusts her. After she leaves Ahmed has a talk with an old friend, Raoul. Ahmed doesn’t understand why he takes no pleasure in keeping her captive anymore. Raoul convinces Ahmed that he should let Diana go. Ahmed agrees to this because he loves her.

The pistol proves useless against the bandits. Gaston is wounded, and Diana is taken away, for she has become a most desirable prize. Ahmed and his men find Gaston and he tells them where Diana has been taken. Ahmed finds Diana in the hands of the bandit leader (I can’t remember his name) and fights him, but does not win. He suffers a bad blow to the head. It is pronounced that his future lies in the hands of Allah.

In the last scene, Diana is sitting by Ahmed’s bed and holding his hand as he sleeps. She wishes with all her heart that he could live; that Allah would take her life instead of his because she loves him. Ahmed awakens and smiles, and Diana is relieved to find that Ahmed is alright.

Seeing “The Sheik” in theatre (with a live organ playing on stage) was an amazing experience. It was important for me that I not only saw the movie, but experienced the history and the art of silent movies from the 1920s and ’30s. I wanted to know what it felt like to see a movie back then, when there was no such thing as technicolor, “talkies,” or special effects.

I don’t believe many others in the audience really tried to see and admire the movie as it would have been received back then. People were laughing through most of the movie, (at all the exaggerated facial expressions and body movements) when it really wasn’t supposed to have been funny at all. I, myself, only laughed once (I couldn’t help it) when in the last scene Diana made a remark about how large Ahmed’s hands were for an Arab. Ha. She was told he really wasn’t an Arab, that he was orphaned and taken in by the late Ahmed Ben Hassan to be brought up as royal blood. (and I’m glad he really wasn’t supposed to be an Arab because Rudolph is actually Italian)

Sadly, I could not stay for the sequel, “The Son of the Sheik.” Do you think it is possible to rent it?

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