SCROLL DOWN TO FIND INFORMATION ABOUT THE NEW BLU-RAY ANNIVERSARY RELEASE OF “THE SHEIK” COMING ON NOVEMBER 2, 2021!
The Wednesday, October 26, 1921 edition of the Los Angeles Evening Express inadvertently presented a snapshot of the “before” of Rudolph Valentino’s career as the motion picture world awaited the premiere of the film version of Edith M. Hull’s wildly popular novel The Sheik. Page 29 had three items–2 short announcements and one advertisement–that summed up the state of Valentino’s status up until the film was shown. The announcement of the arrival of Nazimova’s Camille focused on how Nazimova was adding her modern interpretation of the play to the long history the history other actresses in the role. Another ad for The Affairs of Anatol included a notice that the next coming attraction at the Rialto would be The Sheik. The third item was the full announcement about how a special arrangement was made to present The Sheik a month ahead of general release as producers were anxious to have the reaction in Los Angeles, the film industry company town.
First “Western” Showing October 30, 2021. No mention of Rudolph Valentino in the role of Camille’s lover Armand Duval…it was all about Nazimova.
Agnes Ayres played Annie Elliot, a thieving farmer’s wife who becomes one of Anatol’s “affairs”.
“The Sheik” was the next coming attraction in the ad…
Producers wanted favorable “expert” opinion of the LA public to bolster the later nationwide release. The film premiered on November 6 in New York and released nationwide on November 20, 1921 (not the 25th as initially reported in this article).
Nazimova’s production of Camille had been introduced at a reception and special preview showing at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City on Wednesday, September 7. She traveled to New York to attend the event, along with her set/costume designer Natacha Rambova and her leading man Valentino, who were now a couple. After spending some more time in New York (Nazimova attended nearly every play on the boards at the time), the party left New York on September 18 to return to Los Angeles. Distribution of the film began on September 26, 1921, with a “Western” premiere planned in Los Angeles for Sunday, October 30, 2021.
Meanwhile, The Affairs of Anatol was ending its run at Grauman’s Rialto and a notice for the coming attraction of The Sheik was included in the final ads of the run. Agnes Ayres, who played Annie Elliot in The Affairs of Anatol and a fellow cast mate, Ruth Miller, who had played an uncredited role as a maid named name Marie, would both appear in The Sheik–Ayres in the lead role of Lady Diana Mayo and Miller as Zilah, the serving girl attending Lady Diana in the film. And, although Valentino’s paramour Rambova thought Hull’s novel was trash, she would appear in an uncredited role as an “Arabian Dancer.”
On Sunday, October 30, 1921, both Camille and The Sheik premiered in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Times, Sunday, October 30, 1921, Page 61.
Camille opens at the California Theatre
A large, approx. quarter-page ad for the film (much reduced in size!) Note the small credit given to Valentino at the bottom of the ad.
Ad in the Los Angeles Evening Express, Monday, October 31, 1921, Page 25 after The Sheik premiere on Sunday, October 30, 1921.
The top billing for Ayres in The Sheik may also have been helped along by the fact that she was involved in a long-term affair with her married boss, Jesse Lasky, head of Paramount. She had started at Vitagraph in New York, but had been brought to Hollywood by Jesse Lasky sometime in 1920 to film a Civil War story entitled Held by the Enemy. After receiving glowing reviews, she was placed under contract at Paramount and her long-term relationship with Lasky began. (It would end in late 1923 when she met and married Manuel Reachi.)
Some announcements from venues where Camille had already been shown did give passing attention to Valentino. But, it was Nazimova’s film and the character he played was subordinate to her Camille. In the words of film critic Alexander Walker, Valentino was “a pliant supplicant, not a seducer, forever dropping on to one knee to signify his fidelity.” (Page 37, Rudolph Valentino).
After Camille opened in Los Angeles, a smaller ad for the film appeared in the Los Angeles Express on Tuesday, November 1, this time with no mention of Valentino at all…but the day after the premiere (Monday, October 31) on Page 24, a reviewer named Milton Lathrop did notice Valentino…and in glowing terms.
Milton Lathrop did not mention any specific scenes from the film but Alexander Walker would later note that “the earliest hint of what was to become one of his most seductive features occurs in this film. It is when he breaks the bank in a gambling casino–he’s been playing to kill the pain of losing Camille–and with a sudden, unanticipated flash of cruelty he seizes her arms, forces them behind her and pinions them there while he plants a kiss on her lips. This was the ‘cruel’ Valentino. This was the so called ‘sex menace’. This was the element of ‘threat’ in him that worked its way up the scale of romantic emotions he stirred up in the hearts of women.” (Page 37, Rudolph Valentino.) Of course, this energy is in dramatic contrast to the “dignified portrayal of the naive lover” that Lathrop had mentioned in his review decades earlier.
In the same edition, on the very next page (Page 25) of the Los Angeles Evening Express, a review of The Sheik by a different critic named Charles A. Goss appeared under the title “‘The Sheik’ A Beauty, But Oh, The Story!” He wrote:
To enjoy the production it becomes necessary to ignore the story entirely and to focus the interest upon the beauty of the settings. Vast stretches of sand waste and shifting dunes are relieved only by the cluster of palm trees that form an oasis here and there and by the picturesque caravans of the Arabian dignitaries. Those of the interior are not without charm also, for they exhibit a prodigality of luxury that recalls the tales of the "Arabian Nights."...The story however, might be the dream of a sweet young thing who had eaten too many caramels and chocolate sundaes. The subtitles, probably from Miss Hull's book, are pretty trite.
But, when Goss observed the players, his tone changed. He noted the how Valentino was without peer in the way he displayed the “shifting emotions of this young barbarian the product of the desert and of Paris schooling.” It seems Goss saw the contrast of the “barbarian” versus the “handsome” actor and the character’s underlying “Paris schooling”; without using the term “sex menace,” he sensed the “threat” versus “the allure” that attracted a female audience. He didn’t mention “popping eyes” or any other distractions that later reviews would see…he noticed the force of Valentino’s charisma.
“Valentino’s the whole show…”
…quoting a “young lady who sat nearby”
…Reviewer Charles A. Goss
Los Angeles Evening Express, Monday,
October 31, 1921, Page 25.
Until this point Valentino had made steady progress in his career. On October 30, 1921 the megastar phase of his career would begin…
The 100th Year Anniversary Blu-Ray Restoration of “The Sheik”
After some delay, the 100th Year Anniversary Blu-Ray Release of “The Sheik” will be released and available on Amazon on November 2, 2021. Pre-ordering is available. Each link below offers slightly different information about how the new release was restored and the film. .
https://screen-connections.com/ (SEARCH “The Sheik” at the site) This site has a full description of the package)
1. Nazimova’s contract with Metro would come to an end in mid-1922. Waning popularity and differences about the types of films she would work on led to the split. She had already begun planning her production company while she was in New York at the preview of Camille. According to an essay at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website, once Nazimova left Metro, “… the studio changed the film’s publicity campaign and gave top billing to Valentino.”
2. Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels, and Wanda Hawley all future co-stars with Valentino also appeared in The Affairs of Anatol. And, the role of Mr. Nazzer Singh, a Hindu hypnotist who hypnotized Gloria Swanson’s character Vivian in the film was none other than Theodore Kosloff…yes, the onetime lover of Natacha Rambova.
3. To view a large number of lobby cards created for “The Sheik” visit https://galeriadecarteles.blogspot.com/2019/09/el-caid-sheik-1921-9-carteles-estados_21.html
4. For a humorous take on “The Sheik” lobby cards, visit https://moviessilently.com/2016/11/25/lobby-card-dissection-the-sheik-or-rudolph-valentino-whod-pay-to-see-him/
5. All the films discussed here are available on Youtube.
Alla Nazimova Society–Preserving and Promoting the Memory of Mme. Nazimova: Actor, Writer, Producer, Artist and Star. Alla Nazimova Timeline.
Ankerich, Michael G. Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heel: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media, 2015.
Century Film Project. Review of The Affairs of Anatol (1921) from https://centuryfilmproject.org/2021/06/21/the-affairs-of-anatol-1921/
IMDb, Internet Movie Database.
Vintage Reviews. Review of Camille from Motion Picture Classic, December 21, 1921 at http://www.silentsaregolden.com/reviewsfolder/camillereview.html
Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The Sheik at https://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/500793/the-sheik#overview
Walker, Alexander. Rudolph Valentino. Briarcliff Manor, New York: Stein and Day, 1976.