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JACK SMITH

Sounds of Silence: Valentino . . . the Lustiest of Them All

May 28, 1991|JACK SMITH

My wife and I went to the Silent Movie the other night to see "The Sheik," the 1921 classic starring Rudolph Valentino. (The Silent Movie, at 611 N. Fairfax Ave., shows silent movies on Friday and Saturday nights, admission $5.)

"The Sheik" is an unabashed romance. The story: Agnes Ayres (as Diana Mayo, a titled English orphan, impulsive, headstrong and burning with a dormant passion) is traveling in Arabia. Valentino is Ahmed Ben Hassan, a rich and powerful Bedouin sheik. A nomad. In a casino where men are gambling for women, their eyes meet. His face is suffused by pure lust. His eyes widen with undisguised lechery. His lips fold back voluptuously over his perfect teeth. Agnes retreats.

Later he serenades her, singing "Pale hands I love. . . . " Of course we don't hear him singing. We only see the words on the screen.

The foolhardy Agnes (perhaps hoping to be captured) rides out into the desert and is of course captured and taken to Ahmed's tent. His advances are repulsed. Ahmed is uncomprehending but not rapacious. She tries to escape but is recaptured. Days later, she rides out with Ahmed's trusted retainer, Gaston (a friend from Ahmed's school days in Paris) as her guard. In a sentimental moment she writes a message in the sand: "Ahmed--I love you."

They encounter the bandit Youssef and his men. Gaston is shot. Agnes is taken to Youssef's tent to face a fate worse than death. Searching for her, Ahmed finds Agnes' message in the sand. He and his men storm Youssef's castle. Agnes is rescued but Ahmed takes a blow to the head and lies unconscious for days.

Holding his hand, Agnes remarks to Ahmed's old friend Raoul de Saint Hubert (Adolph Menjou) that his hand seems large for an Arab. Hubert tells her that Ahmed is not an Arab. His father was English, his mother Spanish. Intercultural barriers are thus swept away. Ahmed's eyes open. He smiles. All's well.

As a silent movie buff I have imagined the following correspondence between Jesse L. Lasky, producer of "The Sheik," and George Melford, its director:

(To) Jesse L. Lasky:

Trouble with Valentino. He's running amok. Females falling like flies.

(Signed) George Melford

Melford:

Cage him.

Lasky

Lasky:

Ayres says desert sun is giving her freckles.

Melford

Melford:

Tell her she's not in the desert. She's on location.

Lasky

Lasky:

Crew's biologist says palm trees like those outside Ahmed's tent aren't found in Arabian desert.

Melford

Melford:

They are now.

Lasky

Lasky:

Arabian adviser says Arabs don't have smaller hands than Anglos.

Melford

Melford:

They do now.

Lasky

Lasky:

Valentino having a little trouble with the bottle.

Melford

Melford:

Arabs don't drink.

Lasky

Lasky:

Arab adviser wants us to say prayers five times a day.

Melford

Melford:

Pray.

Lasky

Lasky:

Wind machine broken down. Can't make sandstorm.

Melford

Melford:

Pray for sandstorm.

Lasky

Lasky:

Valentino's accent is impossible.

Melford

Melford:

Don't worry. It won't show in the titles.

Lasky

Lasky:

Valentino says Italians don't sleep in tents.

Melford

Melford:

Ahmed isn't an Italian. He's an Arab.

Lasky

Lasky:

You think Valentino should die in the end?

Melford

Melford:

No. We need him for "Son of the Sheik."

Lasky

Lasky:

I'd like to see Carole Lombard play Diana Mayo.

Melford

Melford:

Don't be silly. Lombard's only 13 years old.

Lasky

Lasky:

What are audiences going to think of this film 70 years from now?

Melford

Melford:

It will be regarded as the greatest thing since talkies.

Lasky

To today's fans, I say don't miss it if you can. Ham that he was, Valentino had a lascivious animal magnetism whose like has never since been seen.

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