White Sheik, The (1952)

Fellini’s first solo feature as director would lay some of the artistic groundwork for his career in this sporadically entertaining comedy about a newlywed’s rendezvous with a ‘romantic ideal’ on her honeymoon in Rome.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,498

Dir. Federico Fellini
1952 | Italy | Comedy/Drama | 86 min | 1.37:1 | Italian
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Alberto Sordi, Brunella Bovo, Leopoldo Trieste
Ivan brings his new wife, Wanda, to Rome on the least romantic honeymoon in history: a rigid schedule of family meetings and audiences with the Pope. But Wanda, dreaming of the dashing hero of a photo-strip cartoon, drifts off in search of the White Sheik.
Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Romantic Desires; Newlyweds
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

A newlywed couple arrives in Rome for their honeymoon with an itinerary that includes visiting the Pope and lunch with the husband’s relatives.  However, this is derailed when the wife, Wanda, decides to pay her idol, the White Sheik, a visit at a publishing house. 

As a fan obsessed with a long-running photographed comic strip featuring her favourite celebrity, whom she considers a ‘romantic ideal’, Wanda finds herself in a solo adventure as her rendezvous with the White Sheik materialises into something both thrilling and regretful. 

The husband, Ivan (played by Leopoldo Trieste, whose bulging eyes are a sight to behold), is desperate to find his missing wife before the humiliation ruins his reputation as a respectable civil servant. 

With this plotting, Federico Fellini, in his first solo feature as director, gives us a sporadically entertaining comedy that is largely charming in its execution. 

“Yes, life is a dream, but sometimes that dream is a bottomless pit.”

He plays with themes of lust and desire, and through Wanda, he shows us that infidelity may be easily succumbed to if one exhibits weakness in the face of temptation. 

In a way, one might see The White Sheik as a cautionary tale—that the bliss of a new marriage may hide the fact that it requires effort to maintain that bliss. 

There is an endearing cameo by Giulietta Masina, playing the prostitute Cabiria who would have her own film just five years later with Fellini’s own Nights of Cabiria. While folks like Orson Welles had lavished immense praise on The White Sheik, I don’t think it is a very good film.

It is spotty at times but for Fellini completists, this was probably the first instance that the Italian auteur laid some of the artistic groundwork that would mark some of the highs of his career, including very significantly the first of numerous collaborations with composer Nino Rota. 

Grade: B



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