THE WHITE SHEIK (1952) / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: FEDERICO FELLINI / SCREENPLAY: FEDERICO FELLINI, TULLIO PINELLI / STARRING: ALBERTO SORDI, BRUNELLA BOVO, LEOPOLDO TRIESTE / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 6TH
When a stuffy bureaucrat called Ivan brings his wide-eyed - and much younger - wife Wanda to Rome for their honeymoon, his intentions of introducing her to his family and having their union blessed by the Pope don’t go quite according to plan. Wanda is fixated on a romantic photo-comic montage hero called the White Sheik and sneaks out to meet him while Ivan thinks she’s taking a bath. Thanks to an unlikely series of events, Wanda quickly finds herself heading to the beach with the cast and photographer of the comic montage, where she’s suddenly given the role of a kidnapped beauty. As Ivan desperately scours Rome looking for her and comes up with some desperate excuses to explain why his new bride isn’t available to meet his family, the White Sheik lures Wanda onto a boat and turns up his dodgy sub-basement Rudolf Valentino charm. Fortunately for Wanda, she’s already realised that her dreams about the White Sheik are a lot more enchanting than his greasy, overweight reality, but will the White Sheik’s wife believe that once they’ve made it back to the shore? More importantly, how can Wanda ever reconcile with Ivan, who has just been befriended by two charming prostitutes and appears to have taken one of them up on the offer of her services? Will the shame Wanda feels for abandoning her husband lead her to commit suicide in the murky depths of the Tiber, or will they finally reunite in an unlikely happy ending and see their union blessed by the Holy Father? Spin The White Sheik in your Blu-ray player and watch mayhem and slapstick unfold…
The White Sheik was Federico Fellini’s first solo film. It also comes from a story partially written by Blow-Up director Michelangelo Antonioni. For both those reasons, it’s a movie that devotees of both those directors should track down, and it does show occasional hints of the genius Fellini would soon become. A third reason for enduring The White Sheik is to enjoy Giulietta Masina’s too-brief cameo as the happy-go-lucky prostitute Cabiria, a role she would reprise in one of Felini’s very best offerings, Nights of Cabiria. She’s a joy to watch and gives The White Sheik a much-needed boost of fun and energy.
Beyond that, The White Sheik is unfortunately a bit of a chore to sit through. It looks dated, it makes very little narrative sense, and its comedy of manners and occasional attempts at Charlie Chaplin-esque slapstick is largely lost in translation. Having said that, the special feature about Fellini did make us wonder if we missed something and should give it another watch, but then we decided that life’s too short. The White Sheik might be a masterpiece for Fellini fans, but casual viewers may find themselves getting a little bored.