Rudolph Valentino’s final film, The Son of the Sheik (1926), was never a great movie—few of Valentino’s films were after Rex Ingram’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1920)—but it’s the bee’s knees as concerns a Valentino picture. It’s a wild and woolly camp-fest—held in place against all odds by Valentino’s screen presence and his remarkable tendency to be a fairly subtle actor in an era when that was rare.
The story’s no better—perhaps a little worse—than that of its parent film, The Sheik (1921), and both are alarming in their depiction of rape as the way to a girl’s heart. (Just as dad did in 1921 with Agnes Ayres, so does son in 1926 with Vilma Bánky.) It’s definitely a different sensibility from a different time, but it’s hard to take any of this very seriously since nothing about the film even flirts with realism. Directed with surprising verve and creativity by George Fitzmaurice (who in the sound era could suck the life out of even the most promising material), it’s engaging nonsense full of sex, homoeroticism, a little S&M and much derring-do—but it’s all nonsense that shows why Valentino is a legend.