The White Sheik (1952)

white sheik poster 1952 movie fellini
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Fun, light romantic comedy


Movie Info

Movie Name: The White Sheik

Studio: OFI

Genre(s): Comedy/Romance

Release Date(s):  September 6, 1952 (Venice Film Festival)/September 27, 1952 (Italy)/April 25, 1956 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

white sheik brunella bova leopold trieste

Welcome to the big city…you’ll love it!

Wanda and Ivan Cavalli (Brunella Bova and Leopold Trieste) are a young couple who have just been married.  Travelling to Rome to meet Ivan’s family, a special meeting with the Pope has been set to commemorate the marriage.  Unfortunately for Ivan, Wanda has ulterior motives for wanting to go to Rome.  Rome is the home of her favorite actor Fernando Rivoli (Alberto Sordi) who plays her favorite character the White Sheik in magazines.  Running off to see the White Sheik, Ivan finds himself trying to keep his family occupied while searching for Wanda…and Wanda is about to learn her White Sheik isn’t everything she dreamed of.

Directed by Federico Fellini, The White Sheik (Lo sceicco bianco) is an Italian black-and-white romantic comedy.  Following Fellini’s premiere film Variety Lights in 1950, movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival to positive reviews.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #189) and the film was also included in the box set Essential Fellini.

Some consider Fellini a bit pretentious and uppity…and he can be.  With really styles art-house films, Fellini is one of those directors associated with the hoity-toity art critic.  This early entry in Fellini’s catalogue, isn’t one of those films.  It is a rather straightforward story that is more attainable than some of his higher ranked works.

white sheik brunella bova alberto sordi boat

Hey, baby…I’ll be your white sheik

The movie is primarily a comedy with romance worked in.  You have the young and naive misguided Wanda who seeks out who she perceives as her perfect man in “the White Sheik” who is part of a picture “film” strip in magazines.  When she meets the sheik, he is everything she expected…but the reality of the sheik begins to crumble as she sees he is just a normal (and pretty skivvy) guy.  Meanwhile, the anal new husband Ivan is going mad in his search for Wanda who is upending his plans with his family and threatening to “ruin the family name”.  They of course end up finding each other, and Wanda decides that her white sheik isn’t in magazines.

The cast is fun.  Brunella Bova plays the young and innocent girl who is wooed by fame and fortune but is forced to realize the illusion.  She has a nice starry, doe-eyed look that works for the film and her character.  Leopold Trieste feels like an almost vaudevillian performer who is at his wits end.  He has a high anxiety Mel Brooks feel to him and is quickly strung out due to the pressures of the situation.  The third player in the story is Alberto Sordi who is great as the smarmy celebrity who is making the most of his fame to benefit himself but is exposed as a fraud instead of being sleek and suave.

white sheik giulietta masina leopoldo trieste

My honeymoon isn’t going well…

The movie is basic, but it has nice locations and Fellini demonstrates an already strong touch with the visuals.  The film shoot on the beach provides a nice insight to the type of magazine that Sheik inhabits which is essentially a picture comic book.  The final sequence at the Vatican also shows a nice use of location especially considering where Wanda and Ivan are in their relationship.

The White Sheik is simple and understandable.  If you are afraid of art-house movies, you need not be afraid of The White Sheik which feels like a pretty standard rom-com in many ways.  It is a good gateway Fellini in that it holds some of his themes, and it isn’t intimidating.  Fellini followed The White Sheik with I Vitelloni in 1953.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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