Review of The Sheik (1921)

Moving picture, 86 minutes

Seen in 2016.

I am reminded of the H. P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop short story “Medusa’s Coil” (1930) where, in the words of Ruthanna Emrys, “the revelation that one’s wife was a true priestess of R’lyeh, and the source of the gorgon legend, can be trumped only by the revelation that she was a ‘negress.’” In The Sheik, we get the similarly racist opposite reveal: The bad-boy love interest, thought to be Arab, turns out to be equal parts English and Spanish. Therefore the love affair is moral? At least he doesn’t clearly rape the woman regularly for months, as he does in the novel, while she comes to love him.

The film is strangely uneventful for a popular, exoticist action adventure spectacle. Diana gets very little done and does not come across as an important predecessor of the “action girl” in later cinema. I did, however, greatly enjoy the beautifully painted, brown-tinted intertitles.

moving picture fiction