The White Sheik (1952)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Satire, Showbiz Comedy  |   Run Time - 86 min.  |   Countries - Italy  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Wheeler Winston Dixon

With a script principally written by Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, The White Sheik is a rather light and somewhat inconsequential comedy, chronicling the romantic misadventures of Ivan Cavalli (Leopoldo Trieste) and his bride, Wanda (Brunella Bovo), who have come to Rome for their honeymoon. Ivan has drawn up a minute-by-minute schedule for their stay in the Eternal City, including an audience with the Pope. Wanda is more distracted, however, and dreams of meeting Fernando Rivoli (the great comic actor Alberto Sordi), the leading man in the well-known fumetti "The White Sheik" (fumetti being the popular Italian comic strips that substitute photos of real-life actors for drawings). This leads to a series of clashes between the couple, as Wanda has been carrying on a secret correspondence with Rivoli, and is soon whisked away to the set of his latest comic-strip adventure, where the "star" makes romantic advances on her. In the meantime, Ivan is left to make clumsy explanations to his relatives, and drowns his sorrows with a visit to a prostitute. All of this leads to an eventual reconciliation of the couple, their illusions now vanished, as they start their lives together. This early Fellini film is a modest and gentle satire, though some count it among the director's finest works. Fellini's comedies always seem to have tragic threads waiting to be teased out, which the films then shy away from at a crucial juncture; Fellini is best as a social essayist when he plays his material straight rather than attempting to send it up. All in all, The White Sheik is minor Fellini, but completists will certainly want to see it, if only to get a better idea of how the director's genius eventually developed.