White Sheik, The (1952)

White Sheik, The (1952)

“I’m always dreaming.”

A starstruck newlywed (Brunella Bovo) obsessed with fotoromanzi leaves her bewildered husband (Leopoldo Trieste) at their hotel in Rome to go meet her crush — a fictional character known as The White Sheik (Albert Soldi) — and soon finds herself much more deeply involved in his creative world than she anticipated.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Federico Fellini Films
  • Italian Films
  • Living Nightmare
  • Newlyweds
  • Obsessive Fans

Federico Fellini’s second directorial feature after Variety Lights (1950) — and his first solo film at the helm — was this bittersweet homage to both the seduction of make-believe, and the inevitable tensions that emerge when a couple is making a new life together. From the moment we first see wide-eyed young Bovo, we can tell that she is either terrified:

… and/or living in some kind of escapist fantasy reality, as evidenced by her decision to deceive her husband and set out for the recording studios where her beloved fictional universe is created.

To that end, we’re never quite sure exactly how “sane” Bovo is (and in a Fellini film, perhaps that’s irrelevant). Meanwhile, Trieste becomes more and more panicked as time progresses and he realizes his best laid plans for a methodical honeymoon in Rome — including introducing his new wife to his “respectable” family, and visiting the Pope — will not go anything like he planned.

Along the way, both protagonists are subjected to numerous humorous travails, with highlights including Bovo and Soldi’s trip on a “pirate ship”:

… Soldi and Bovo’s on-set interactions with Soldi’s furious wife (Gina Mascetti):

… and Trieste’s late-night encounter with two prostitutes (including Giuliana Masina as “Cabiria”):

Thankfully, the ending leaves us with some hope for these young newlyweds despite everything they’ve been through.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the leads

  • The fotoromanzi shooting sequence
  • Otello Martelli’s cinematography
  • Nino Rota’s score

Must See?
Yes, for its historical significance as Fellini’s first solo film. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director


One thought on “White Sheik, The (1952)

  1. First viewing (9/23/20). A once-must, as a delightful, early-entry Fellini film. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “If I were Fatima, alone in the desert at night? I’d say…I’d say… I’d say… ‘My word, but I am distraught!'”

    ‘The White Sheik’ (1952): Fellini’s second feature film fulfills the promise of his debut, ‘Variety Lights’. Leopoldo Trieste and Brunella Bovo are newlyweds arriving in Rome on their honeymoon. Trieste has every minute of their stay planned… but, secretly, Bovo has other ideas – one, specific other idea. She is going to run off to try to meet the actor (Albertto Sordi) of her dreams, the one who appears as the Valentino-esque White Sheik. Not only does she meet him, but Bovo ends up cast in the Sheik’s latest installment… as Trieste ends up stalling his relatives, making excuses as to why his bride is not with him.

    The finished film suggests that it didn’t quite have the budget to realize all that the script entails – but that hardly matters; Fellini’s intent remains appropriately madcap and his stars are delightful. Along for a cameo is Giulietta Masina, introducing her Cabiria character – to which Fellini would give her own film 5 years later.

    Released the same year as ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘TWS’ – with its similar, behind-the-camera theme – would likely fit quite well on a double-bill.

    Fave sequence: the husband-and-wife reunion.

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