The 7,984,521 odd people who are scheduled to pay admissions to the theatres where “The Sheik” is playing will have the disappointment of their lives if they think that this movie will afford them any of the adolescent thrills that were provided in such abundance by the book. For “The Sheik” in film form is as clean as the virgin sands of the Sahara. Although it follows the plot of the novel fairly closely, the sting has been removed with great care and precision. The affair between Lady Diana and the handsome Arab has been placed upon the same plane of purity as Ivory Soap. In other respects, however, “The Sheik” is worth-while entertainment. The desert scenes are well staged and beautifully photographed, and there is some good action when the forces of the Sheik do battle with the henchmen of the bandit, Omair. Rudolph Valentino, in the lead role, strengthens the conviction that he is one of the few fine actors of the screen. He lacks variety of expression, but he possesses a sense of restraint, and he is graceful and well poised to a remarkable degree. His only real fault is that he uses too much shoe polish on his hair. As a moving picture, “The Sheik” is no world-beater. But even the most confirmed deprecator of the dumb drama can not say that it is as bad from an artistic or literary standpoint –as the book.
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“The Sheik” a 1925 Rudolph Valentino romance, was revived yesterday at the Brooklyn Strand Theater as the first attraction on a double bill. This reviewer wasn’t movie-conscious in 1925. We can’t say how the average audience in those days received Mr. Valentino – whether they wept hot tears over the fate of the hard-put heroine at the hands of the threatening sheik, or whether they chuckled quietly at the ridiculous antics taking place on the screen. They didn’t have the opportunity to know now valuable good direction could be in bringing realism to the portrayals of the actors. But anyone who had previously watched a legitimate stage production, or who had looked about him in his everyday life, should have realized the gross exaggerations of Valentino’s passion and Agnes Ayres overwhelming self-pity. Whatever their reactions might have been, today you will either accept “The Sheik” with a smile and the appropriate hoots and boos and thereby have an enjoyable time or you will be thoroughly bored to tears. Adolphe Menjou, considerably thinner plays a featured role and even he expresses his emotions with quick, stiff actions and alarming shiftiness of eye, although he indicates through it all that he is actually a better lover than Valentino himself. To the somewhat fuzzy photography and soundless mouthing’s of the actors, a piano sound track has been synchronized. It replaces the pit pianist and carries through the atmosphere of the old-time flickers that will be an amusing revelation to the uninitiated and a nostalgic occasion for those who have mastered with the screen.
Mills & Boon was founded in 1908 by Gerald Mills and Charles Boon. Although they initially did not focus on romance novels, over the years the Mills & Boon imprint has become synonymous with romantic fiction: the Oxford English Dictionary defines Mills & Boon as a ‘trademark used to denote an idealized romantic situation of the kind associated with the fiction published by Mills & Boon Limited: the Mills and Boon tall, dark stranger’. After a merger with Harlequin in 1971, the company has enjoyed unbounded success: according to the company, a Mills and Boon book is sold in the UK every 3 seconds and it is estimated that romantic fiction accounts for 20 per cent of the fiction books retailed in the UK – that is one in every 5 fiction books sold. The company claims a huge global readership, selling 200 million books worldwide each year, distributing in 109 different countries. To put this in context, all seven of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter titles, including three companion books are estimated to have sold 450 million copies. If Mills & Boon continue to publish at the same rate (and evidence suggests that their sales remain buoyant even in a global recession) Mills & Boon could sell this many novels in just over two years.
Although not published by Mills & Boon, E. M. Hull’s The Sheik (1919) has been widely accepted as the first formula ‘sheikh’ romance. I define sheikh romance as a love story set in the deserts of the Middle East or North Africa, with a sheikh or sultan hero and almost always a western (which is usually British, North American or Australian) heroine. A typical sheikh romance might begin with the forced marriage of hero and heroine following her abduction to his desert kingdom: an experience interspersed with midnight horse-riding in the desert, camping in a Bedouin tent, getting rescued from a sandstorm, bathing and being luxuriantly massaged in the sheikh’s jewelled palace, and enjoying a host of other Orientalised luxuries. The success of Hull’s The Sheik spawned many more sheikh novels, including the first Mills & Boon sheikh romance, Louise Gerard’s A Sultan’s Slave (1921). Mills & Boon followed this up with Desert Quest by Elizabeth Milton in 1930, Maureen Heeley’s The Desert of Lies and Flame of the Desert in 1932 and 1934 respectively and Circles in the Sand (1935) by Majorie Moore. Sheikh romances seem to decline in popularity during the 1940s, at least in terms of Mills & Boon publication, but return in the 1950s and 1960s. At least three original sheikh titles were published by Mills & Boon in the fifties, six in the sixties, growing to 12 in the seventies, 17 in the eighties and 24 in the nineties. However in the 2000s the growth in popularity was exponential, with over 100 original titles published by Mills & Boon from 2000-2009. Even taking into account the increase in the number of novels published, this is a substantial increase, suggesting a significant contemporary market for these sheikh romances. Although sheikh titles appear in many different series, the majority of recently published sheikh titles in the UK have been part of Mills & Boon’s flagship ‘Modern Romance’ series which began in July 2000. From the beginning of the ‘Modern Romance’ series until December 2009, Mills & Boon published 57 original sheikh titles in the ‘Modern Romance’ series  and these are the texts I focus on in this paper.
One of the enduring mysteries of Long Island’s brief run as a capital of silent movie production is where exactly the 1921 blockbuster “The Sheik” was filmed. Was it, as local lore suggests, among the wind-swept Walking Dunes of Montauk, or along a five-mile stretch of beach near Amagansett, where a town historian, then 8, remembers playing with palm fronds left behind by the production company? Or, as some of you are already asking, do we really care? We do, if only because one of us spent a holiday weekend trying to find the answer. So head with me to Queens, where today’s Kaufman Astoria Studios serves film crews working on everything from “Sesame Street” to “Nurse Jackie.” Built in 1920, the building originally headquartered a conglomerate called Famous Players-Lasky, a merger of companies owned by film pioneers Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky and the flotsam of six other firms, including the George M. Cohan Film Corp. At the time, New York was still America’s film capital, having transformed Edison’s 1890s invention of the moving picture camera into the industry that today is known simply as “Hollywood.” But while studios in the boroughs and ’burbs were still cranking out hundreds of silent shorts, the shift was already on to Southern California, where filmmakers, Lasky among them, could count on 300 days of sunshine a year. Hollywood was also where a young Italian immigrant named Rodolfo Guglielmi had settled after middling success as a New York City taxi dancer and tango instructor. Rudolph Valentino, as he called himself, landed bit parts in several films, almost always as a swarthy gangster or other villain. His breakthrough role came in 1920, when Metro Pictures cast him as the lead in the epic war drama “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The film became one of the first silents to gross seven figures – even topping Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” – and popularized both Valentino and the gaucho pants in which he appeared. A sudden star, Valentino demanded better pay and more control over the parts he played, but Metro refused the raise and cast him in a B-grade flick titled “Uncharted Seas,” then a pair of flops, “Camille” and “The Conquering Power.” In a fit of pique, Valentino quit Metro and signed on with Famous Players, lured by Lasky’s offer of a $50 raise and promises of bigger money to come. Valentino’s first film for the new studio was an adaptation of “The Sheik,” a popular bodice-ripper by British novelist Edith Maude Hull. Released in October 1921, “The Sheik” was panned by critics as pure camp – “Valentino depicts lust by widening his eyes and baring his teeth,” one said – but it was a runaway hit with American women fresh from the suffrage victory of the previous year. Film historians say it appealed perfectly “both to women’s fantasies of autonomy and their desire to be swept up in love’s protective embrace.” Largely avoided by male moviegoers, “The Sheik” still smashed attendance records at the Rivoli and Rialto chains in New York, drawing 125,000 in less than four weeks and quickly grossing more than $1 million. It also spawned a craze for all things Arab, including fashion, architecture and home décor. And at least one spoof, a Mack Sennett short called “The Shriek of Araby,” in which a cross-eyed Ben Turpin whisks away a baffled damsel on the back of a white dray horse. Valentino, of course, ended up as the James Dean of his time, dying of peritonitis in 1926 at the age of 31, after just four more films. Final words, to his brother: “I’m afraid we won’t go fishing together.” What, then, of the sands of eastern Long Island? Simple suburban legend, apparently.