Having just viewed Valentino’s final film again, this time at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, I was struck, not only by the perfection of the script in terms of visual story-telling, but by what this role obviously meant to him on a soul level. He somehow knew that this was to be his last cinematographic effort and he wanted to leave us begging for more, to go out at the top of his game.
What is most interesting to me is that by playing both roles Valentino chose to reveal his inner self, seemingly in conflict, in the personas of the Sheik, paterfamilias, still vital and stubborn despite his age, and Ahmed, his prideful and passionate son. The script uses their perceived differences to advance the plot but my contention is that this role was particularly integrative for Valentino. Since he would never reach the age of fifty, he got to experience what being older might feel like, wearing the skin of the Sheik, père. Indeed, it must have been fun for him to play at that through the use of make-up and camera effects.
Valentino, as perhaps no other actor ever could, was able to project the father/son bond, on both sides of the coin, when they appeared together in split screen. How else could two characters be so solid and warm in each other’s presence while at the same time fully maintaining their respective individualities as defined by the script? The big fight scene near the end says it all, especially when the camera reveals father and son briefly linking hands as a sign of their mutual trust and support.
In my opinion, this dual role was therapeutic in some sense as, according to biographers, he did not have a strong bond with his own father. Here he was able to experience that, of his own volition. Having completed this film and already aware that it was going to be successful at the box office before he died, Valentino was able to leave this world knowing that he had given it his all. That is why, I believe, his star became fixed in the firmament and has never dimmed: because he truly showed us his heart!