The White Sheik


1h 26m 1952
The White Sheik

Brief Synopsis

Newlyweds are driven apart by the wife's infatuation with a comic strip hero.

Film Details

Also Known As
Lo Sceicco Bianco, Sceicco Bianco, White Sheik
Genre
Comedy
Romance
Drama
Foreign
Release Date
1952

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

The first two days of a marriage. Ivan, a punctilious clerk brings his virginal bride to Rome for a honeymoon, an audience with the Pope, and to present her to his uncle. They arrive early in the morning, and he has time for a nap. She sneaks off to find the offices of a romance magazine she reads religiously: she wants to meet "The White Sheik," the hero of a soap-opera photo strip. Star-struck, she ends up 20 miles from Rome, alone on a boat with the sheik. A distraught Ivan covers for her, claiming she's ill. That night, each wanders the streets, she tempted by suicide, he by prostitutes. The next day, at 11, is their papal audience. Can things still right themselves?

Film Details

Also Known As
Lo Sceicco Bianco, Sceicco Bianco, White Sheik
Genre
Comedy
Romance
Drama
Foreign
Release Date
1952

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

The White Sheik


In The White Sheik (1952), Federico Fellini's first directorial effort (he co-directed Variety Lights with Alberto Lattuada the previous year) he drew upon his experiences as a journalist and script writer to tell a bittersweet story about a provincial newlywed couple vacationing in Rome for their honeymoon. Wanda, the young bride, is a naive romantic, prone to impulsive behavior and passionate fantasies. She is also an avid fan of fotoromanzi (a comic book with photo captions instead of cartoon drawings) and is secretly infatuated with "The White Sheik," the hero of her favorite series. Her husband Ivan is her complete opposite: conservative, unspontaneous and overly concerned about social respectability. Shortly after their arrival in Rome, the couple is soon parted, with the bride heading off to the publishing office of Blue Romance to meet her idol while her husband frantically scours the city for her.

Like many of his subsequent films, The White Sheik explores a subject which would become a recurring motif in Fellini's movies - the clash between illusion and reality. In the course of their misadventures in Rome, both the husband and his new bride see their hopes and dreams dashed: Ivan is forced to face his own unrealistic expectations of marriage while Wanda finally sees her "White Sheik" exposed for what he really is - a petty and unglamorous third-rate actor. By the film's end, the couple is reconciled with a more realistic view of their martial responsibilities yet Fellini's final scene is ironic, suggesting that both characters are still clinging to their foolish illusions.

Producer Carlo Ponti initially proposed The White Sheik as a project for Michelangelo Antonioni who had previously made an acclaimed documentary about the fotoromanzi entitled L'amorosa menzogna (The Loving Lie, 1949). Fellini and Tullio Pinelli were hired to write the screenplay but their initial script didn't please Antonioni and eventually the project was passed on to another producer, Luigi Rovere, who encouraged Fellini to direct it himself.

The first obstacles Fellini had to overcome were his casting choices. Alberto Sordi was not popular with Italian moviegoers at the time yet the director insisted that he was perfect for "The White Sheik." Although Peppino De Filippo, his original choice for the part of Ivan, was rejected, Fellini's second choice, Leopoldo Trieste, was approved. Trieste was a well-known writer, not a professional actor, but the director decided to cast him after they met at a screening room at Cinecitta Studios. Brunella Bovo, who was a young and relatively unknown actress, won the role of Wanda and Fellini cast his wife, Giulietta Masina, in a small part, playing a prostitute called Cabiria. The director would later build an entire film around this character - Nights of Cabiria - which won his wife international acclaim and garnered the film an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1957.

Even though Fellini had co-directed a feature the previous year, he was extremely nervous on his first day of shooting The White Sheik. According to Peter Bondanella in The Films of Federico Fellini: "A flat tire delayed his arrival on the set but gave the young man the opportunity to pray for guidance at a roadside church. Unfortunately, in the church Fellini saw a catafalque he understandably interpreted as a bad omen. He spent the entire first day on his set walking around on the beach in the sun, pretending to his crew and producer that he was deep in thought, while actually trying to imagine how the directors for whom he had written scripts would have resolved the scene's technical complexities: "Rossellini, the inimitable, the unpredictable, came to mind almost exclusively. How would Roberto have done it."

Luckily, Fellini took control of the situation on the second day, improvising a scene in which Wanda is taken out to sea by "The White Sheik" on his "pirate boat." From that point on, his judgment never faltered and he began to develop some of the techniques which would become the hallmarks of his style: the use of music (by Nino Rota) to establish the emotional state of his characters, ironic juxtapositions of images, and satiric humor (when Wanda attempts to drown herself by jumping into the Tiber River, she only succeeds in getting stuck in the ankle-deep mud).

When The White Sheik finally premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the audience responded favorably but the Italian critics dismissed it as a failure since it didn't cater to their political agendas (for one thing, the movie didn't comply with previous neorealism standards set by Rossellini's films). In Fellini: A Life by Hollis Alpert, the director was quoted as saying, "Perhaps it was ahead of its time. It's an ironic story, and Italians don't like irony - sarcasm and buffoonery, but not irony." Even more unfortunate, The White Sheik was poorly distributed by a small company that went bankrupt, preventing American audiences from seeing the film for many years. Now it is seen by some critics like John Simon as "an early masterpiece" from the director but more importantly this film marked the beginning of Fellini's creative collaborations with a core group of talented people - the cinematographer Otello Martelli, composer Nino Rota, the writers Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano, and his actress wife, Giulietta Masina. In 1977, actor Gene Wilder directed and starred in a loose remake of The White Sheik entitled The World's Greatest Lover but it was only a pale imitation of the original.

Producer: Luigi Rovere
Director: Federico Fellini
Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli
Art Direction: Raffaello Tolfo
Cinematography: Arturo Gallea
Film Editing: Rolando Bebedetti
Original Music: Nino Rota
Principal Cast: Brunella Bovo (Wanda Cavalli), Leopoldo Trieste (Ivan Cavalli), Alberto Sordi (Fernando Rivoli), Giulietta Masina (Cabiria), Lilia Landi (Felga), Ernesto Almirante (Director), Fanny Marchio (Marilena Vellardi).
BW-84m.

by Jeff Stafford
The White Sheik

The White Sheik

In The White Sheik (1952), Federico Fellini's first directorial effort (he co-directed Variety Lights with Alberto Lattuada the previous year) he drew upon his experiences as a journalist and script writer to tell a bittersweet story about a provincial newlywed couple vacationing in Rome for their honeymoon. Wanda, the young bride, is a naive romantic, prone to impulsive behavior and passionate fantasies. She is also an avid fan of fotoromanzi (a comic book with photo captions instead of cartoon drawings) and is secretly infatuated with "The White Sheik," the hero of her favorite series. Her husband Ivan is her complete opposite: conservative, unspontaneous and overly concerned about social respectability. Shortly after their arrival in Rome, the couple is soon parted, with the bride heading off to the publishing office of Blue Romance to meet her idol while her husband frantically scours the city for her. Like many of his subsequent films, The White Sheik explores a subject which would become a recurring motif in Fellini's movies - the clash between illusion and reality. In the course of their misadventures in Rome, both the husband and his new bride see their hopes and dreams dashed: Ivan is forced to face his own unrealistic expectations of marriage while Wanda finally sees her "White Sheik" exposed for what he really is - a petty and unglamorous third-rate actor. By the film's end, the couple is reconciled with a more realistic view of their martial responsibilities yet Fellini's final scene is ironic, suggesting that both characters are still clinging to their foolish illusions. Producer Carlo Ponti initially proposed The White Sheik as a project for Michelangelo Antonioni who had previously made an acclaimed documentary about the fotoromanzi entitled L'amorosa menzogna (The Loving Lie, 1949). Fellini and Tullio Pinelli were hired to write the screenplay but their initial script didn't please Antonioni and eventually the project was passed on to another producer, Luigi Rovere, who encouraged Fellini to direct it himself. The first obstacles Fellini had to overcome were his casting choices. Alberto Sordi was not popular with Italian moviegoers at the time yet the director insisted that he was perfect for "The White Sheik." Although Peppino De Filippo, his original choice for the part of Ivan, was rejected, Fellini's second choice, Leopoldo Trieste, was approved. Trieste was a well-known writer, not a professional actor, but the director decided to cast him after they met at a screening room at Cinecitta Studios. Brunella Bovo, who was a young and relatively unknown actress, won the role of Wanda and Fellini cast his wife, Giulietta Masina, in a small part, playing a prostitute called Cabiria. The director would later build an entire film around this character - Nights of Cabiria - which won his wife international acclaim and garnered the film an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1957. Even though Fellini had co-directed a feature the previous year, he was extremely nervous on his first day of shooting The White Sheik. According to Peter Bondanella in The Films of Federico Fellini: "A flat tire delayed his arrival on the set but gave the young man the opportunity to pray for guidance at a roadside church. Unfortunately, in the church Fellini saw a catafalque he understandably interpreted as a bad omen. He spent the entire first day on his set walking around on the beach in the sun, pretending to his crew and producer that he was deep in thought, while actually trying to imagine how the directors for whom he had written scripts would have resolved the scene's technical complexities: "Rossellini, the inimitable, the unpredictable, came to mind almost exclusively. How would Roberto have done it." Luckily, Fellini took control of the situation on the second day, improvising a scene in which Wanda is taken out to sea by "The White Sheik" on his "pirate boat." From that point on, his judgment never faltered and he began to develop some of the techniques which would become the hallmarks of his style: the use of music (by Nino Rota) to establish the emotional state of his characters, ironic juxtapositions of images, and satiric humor (when Wanda attempts to drown herself by jumping into the Tiber River, she only succeeds in getting stuck in the ankle-deep mud). When The White Sheik finally premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the audience responded favorably but the Italian critics dismissed it as a failure since it didn't cater to their political agendas (for one thing, the movie didn't comply with previous neorealism standards set by Rossellini's films). In Fellini: A Life by Hollis Alpert, the director was quoted as saying, "Perhaps it was ahead of its time. It's an ironic story, and Italians don't like irony - sarcasm and buffoonery, but not irony." Even more unfortunate, The White Sheik was poorly distributed by a small company that went bankrupt, preventing American audiences from seeing the film for many years. Now it is seen by some critics like John Simon as "an early masterpiece" from the director but more importantly this film marked the beginning of Fellini's creative collaborations with a core group of talented people - the cinematographer Otello Martelli, composer Nino Rota, the writers Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano, and his actress wife, Giulietta Masina. In 1977, actor Gene Wilder directed and starred in a loose remake of The White Sheik entitled The World's Greatest Lover but it was only a pale imitation of the original. Producer: Luigi Rovere Director: Federico Fellini Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli Art Direction: Raffaello Tolfo Cinematography: Arturo Gallea Film Editing: Rolando Bebedetti Original Music: Nino Rota Principal Cast: Brunella Bovo (Wanda Cavalli), Leopoldo Trieste (Ivan Cavalli), Alberto Sordi (Fernando Rivoli), Giulietta Masina (Cabiria), Lilia Landi (Felga), Ernesto Almirante (Director), Fanny Marchio (Marilena Vellardi). BW-84m. by Jeff Stafford

The White Sheik


Slowly but surely, the Criterion Collection has released on DVD some of Federico Fellini's most important early work (Nights of Cabiria, 8 1/2) as well as later career high points such as Juliet of the Spirits and Amarcord. Now we can further explore the beginnings of Fellini's career with Criterion's new DVD release of The White Sheik (1952) which includes a wealth of extras which are covered at the end of this article.

In The White Sheik (1952), Federico Fellini's first directorial effort (he co-directed Variety Lights with Alberto Lattuada the previous year) he drew upon his experiences as a journalist and script writer to tell a bittersweet story about a provincial newlywed couple vacationing in Rome for their honeymoon. Wanda, the young bride, is a naive romantic, prone to impulsive behavior and passionate fantasies. She is also an avid fan of fotoromanzi (a comic book with photo captions instead of cartoon drawings) and is secretly infatuated with "The White Sheik," the hero of her favorite series. Her husband Ivan is her complete opposite: conservative, unspontaneous and overly concerned about social respectability. Shortly after their arrival in Rome, the couple is soon parted, with the bride heading off to the publishing office of Blue Romance to meet her idol while her husband frantically scours the city for her.

Like many of his subsequent films, The White Sheik explores a subject which would become a recurring motif in Fellini's movies - the clash between illusion and reality. In the course of their misadventures in Rome, both the husband and his new bride see their hopes and dreams dashed: Ivan is forced to face his own unrealistic expectations of marriage while Wanda finally sees her "White Sheik" exposed for what he really is - a petty and unglamorous third-rate actor. By the film's end, the couple is reconciled with a more realistic view of their martial responsibilities yet Fellini's final scene is ironic, suggesting that both characters are still clinging to their foolish illusions.

Producer Carlo Ponti initially proposed The White Sheik as a project for Michelangelo Antonioni who had previously made an acclaimed documentary about the fotoromanzi entitled L'amorosa menzogna (The Loving Lie, 1949). Fellini and Tullio Pinelli were hired to write the screenplay but their initial script didn't please Antonioni and eventually the project was passed on to another producer, Luigi Rovere, who encouraged Fellini to direct it himself.

The first obstacles Fellini had to overcome were his casting choices. Alberto Sordi was not popular with Italian moviegoers at the time yet the director insisted that he was perfect for "The White Sheik." Although Peppino De Filippo, his original choice for the part of Ivan, was rejected, Fellini's second choice, Leopoldo Trieste, was approved. Trieste was a well-known writer, not a professional actor, but the director decided to cast him after they met at a screening room at Cinecitta Studios. Brunella Bovo, who was a young and relatively unknown actress, won the role of Wanda and Fellini cast his wife, Giulietta Masina, in a small part, playing a prostitute called Cabiria. The director would later build an entire film around this character - Nights of Cabiria - which won his wife international acclaim and garnered the film an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1957.

When The White Sheik finally premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the audience responded favorably but the Italian critics dismissed it as a failure since it didn't cater to their political agendas (for one thing, the movie didn't comply with previous neorealism standards set by Rossellini's films). In Fellini: A Life by Hollis Alpert, the director was quoted as saying, "Perhaps it was ahead of its time. It's an ironic story, and Italians don't like irony - sarcasm and buffoonery, but not irony." Even more unfortunate, The White Sheik was poorly distributed by a small company that went bankrupt, preventing American audiences from seeing the film for many years. Now it is seen by some critics like John Simon as "an early masterpiece" from the director but more importantly this film marked the beginning of Fellini's creative collaborations with a core group of talented people - the cinematographer Otello Martelli, composer Nino Rota, the writers Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano, and his actress wife, Giulietta Masina. In 1977, actor Gene Wilder directed and starred in a loose remake of The White Sheik entitled The World's Greatest Lover but it was only a pale imitation of the original.

The Criterion DVD of The White Sheik is a new digital transfer, with restored picture and sound. It includes new video interviews with actors Brunella Bovo and Leopoldo Triste, and Fellini biographer Moraldo Rossi. Other extras include a new essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, new and improved English subtitles and an excerpt from Charlotte Chandler's excellent biography, I, Fellini.

For more information about the DVD special edition of The White Sheik, visit The Criterion Collection web site. To order The White Sheik, visit TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford

The White Sheik

Slowly but surely, the Criterion Collection has released on DVD some of Federico Fellini's most important early work (Nights of Cabiria, 8 1/2) as well as later career high points such as Juliet of the Spirits and Amarcord. Now we can further explore the beginnings of Fellini's career with Criterion's new DVD release of The White Sheik (1952) which includes a wealth of extras which are covered at the end of this article. In The White Sheik (1952), Federico Fellini's first directorial effort (he co-directed Variety Lights with Alberto Lattuada the previous year) he drew upon his experiences as a journalist and script writer to tell a bittersweet story about a provincial newlywed couple vacationing in Rome for their honeymoon. Wanda, the young bride, is a naive romantic, prone to impulsive behavior and passionate fantasies. She is also an avid fan of fotoromanzi (a comic book with photo captions instead of cartoon drawings) and is secretly infatuated with "The White Sheik," the hero of her favorite series. Her husband Ivan is her complete opposite: conservative, unspontaneous and overly concerned about social respectability. Shortly after their arrival in Rome, the couple is soon parted, with the bride heading off to the publishing office of Blue Romance to meet her idol while her husband frantically scours the city for her. Like many of his subsequent films, The White Sheik explores a subject which would become a recurring motif in Fellini's movies - the clash between illusion and reality. In the course of their misadventures in Rome, both the husband and his new bride see their hopes and dreams dashed: Ivan is forced to face his own unrealistic expectations of marriage while Wanda finally sees her "White Sheik" exposed for what he really is - a petty and unglamorous third-rate actor. By the film's end, the couple is reconciled with a more realistic view of their martial responsibilities yet Fellini's final scene is ironic, suggesting that both characters are still clinging to their foolish illusions. Producer Carlo Ponti initially proposed The White Sheik as a project for Michelangelo Antonioni who had previously made an acclaimed documentary about the fotoromanzi entitled L'amorosa menzogna (The Loving Lie, 1949). Fellini and Tullio Pinelli were hired to write the screenplay but their initial script didn't please Antonioni and eventually the project was passed on to another producer, Luigi Rovere, who encouraged Fellini to direct it himself. The first obstacles Fellini had to overcome were his casting choices. Alberto Sordi was not popular with Italian moviegoers at the time yet the director insisted that he was perfect for "The White Sheik." Although Peppino De Filippo, his original choice for the part of Ivan, was rejected, Fellini's second choice, Leopoldo Trieste, was approved. Trieste was a well-known writer, not a professional actor, but the director decided to cast him after they met at a screening room at Cinecitta Studios. Brunella Bovo, who was a young and relatively unknown actress, won the role of Wanda and Fellini cast his wife, Giulietta Masina, in a small part, playing a prostitute called Cabiria. The director would later build an entire film around this character - Nights of Cabiria - which won his wife international acclaim and garnered the film an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1957. When The White Sheik finally premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the audience responded favorably but the Italian critics dismissed it as a failure since it didn't cater to their political agendas (for one thing, the movie didn't comply with previous neorealism standards set by Rossellini's films). In Fellini: A Life by Hollis Alpert, the director was quoted as saying, "Perhaps it was ahead of its time. It's an ironic story, and Italians don't like irony - sarcasm and buffoonery, but not irony." Even more unfortunate, The White Sheik was poorly distributed by a small company that went bankrupt, preventing American audiences from seeing the film for many years. Now it is seen by some critics like John Simon as "an early masterpiece" from the director but more importantly this film marked the beginning of Fellini's creative collaborations with a core group of talented people - the cinematographer Otello Martelli, composer Nino Rota, the writers Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano, and his actress wife, Giulietta Masina. In 1977, actor Gene Wilder directed and starred in a loose remake of The White Sheik entitled The World's Greatest Lover but it was only a pale imitation of the original. The Criterion DVD of The White Sheik is a new digital transfer, with restored picture and sound. It includes new video interviews with actors Brunella Bovo and Leopoldo Triste, and Fellini biographer Moraldo Rossi. Other extras include a new essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, new and improved English subtitles and an excerpt from Charlotte Chandler's excellent biography, I, Fellini. For more information about the DVD special edition of The White Sheik, visit The Criterion Collection web site. To order The White Sheik, visit TCM Shopping. by Jeff Stafford

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