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Legacy Review

The White Sheik (1952)

Fellini’s first solo directing effort is a light and uneven — but still ultimately satisfying — romantic comedy farce with undercurrents of satire.

A new married couple honeymoons in Rome, where the groom Fernando’s prestigious family has a busy social calendar planned for the couple. Meanwhile, the meek bride Wanda is excited to be near the filming spot of her favorite racy soap opera, starring the dreamy White Sheik to whom she’s written numerous letters.

The story splits into two parallel threads: Wanda inadvertently sucked into the filming of the soap opera, falling deeper into literalized escapist fantasy; and Fernando, trying to keep his relatives at bay as he searches for his bride.

It all plays a goofy series of misunderstandings that would be hard to take seriously if not for a few redeeming factors: First is the two-pronged satire of romance as a public, performative act. Fellini is equally hard on both of his protagonists, but also the institutions that surround them. He gets some good Truman Show-esque mass entertainment barbs in too.

Fellini also adds some signature visual texture and depth to the movie, with some excellent visual flourishes and a great sense of enveloping Roman spaces.

By casting Alberto Sordi and Brunella Bovo in the leads, Fellini also gets some outstanding facial acting to carry some of the emotion of the film that isn’t always there in the script and scenario.

The White Sheik probably suffers a bit in my estimation because I watched it right after the brilliant Nights of Cabiria — and, curiously, Cabiria has a small cameo in The White Sheik.

I had a decent time with The White Sheik but I look forward to watching some of Fellini’s more serious material.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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