The White Sheikh (1952) – Fellini’s first feature

White Sheik Film Poster
White Sheik Film Poster

The White Sheik is a story about Wanda, a newly married woman who is
on honeymoon in Rome. Her husband has high family connections in Rome
and has already organised an audience with the Pope and two hundred
other newly married couples.

Upon arrival in their hotel he produces his pocket diary and announces
their busy daily schedule. His young wife, clearly overwhelmed by the
prospects of meeting her new family, has other things on her mind. She
asks the hotel porter about the location of the publisher of her
favourite fotoromanzi (a photographed cartoon strip romance
magazine popular at the time). Pretending to be taking a bath, she
slips away while her husband is taking a rest.

Wanda reaches the newspaper office hoping to meet her idol, the man who portrays “The White Sheikh” in the photo stories she reads religiously. Wanda lives in the fantasy world of her hero and had drawn a portrait of her hero which she presents to the Sheikh as a gift.

More actors arrive and travel by truck to a beachside location for a photo shoot. Wanda is swept up in the rush and travels with them to observe the photography. There she meets the White Sheikh, dressed in white pants and jacket, turban and swashbuckling sword. He is on a swing suspended from a high tree, and jumps to the ground in the style of Errol Flynn to meet his new admirer.  Wanda becomes part of the
photo-shoot, wearing  costume and make-up. The actors are an unmanageable group of people and the Sheikh takes Wanda out on a boat where he attempts to seduce her with tall tales of his forced
marriage.

Meanwhile, Wanda’s husband is forced to entertain a group of family members while maintaining the pretence his wife is in bed with a headache. Eventually Wanda returns to Rome and attempts to commit
suicide by throwing herself in the river. She is found and eventually reunited with her husband. Finally they approach the Vatican to meet “Papa” and Wanda tells her husband, “You are my White Sheikh”.

The hallmarks of Fellini’s style are evident in the comically exaggerated characters, ranging from the hotel manager through to the variety of costumed actors at the beach scene. Fellini’s love of the circus and clowns is seen in the vaudeville style of costume and acting, accompanied by Nino Rota’s high-paced score.

Overall I enjoyed this light, fast-paced film. The White Sheikh is the first film directed by Fellini. The next film I will watch in my personal Fellini Film Festival is “I Vitelloni”.

Read more about the film at Wikipedia or IMDB.

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