Orientalism: The Exotic Allure of Rudolph Valentino

When I was in university, I read Edward Said’s book Orientalism, which is a staple text for any studies involving a post-colonialist perspective. The concept of the “exotic Other”, although often cited with reference to the hyperbolically exotic “Eastern” female figures in 19th-century art, literature, etc., could equally well be applied to Rudolph Valentino, whose brooding image dominated the silent screens of the ’20s.

Valentino’s real name was (*drum roll*)…

Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla

“!!!!” That’s what I have to say about that. Makes one’s little three-piece name look ever so slightly… thruppence-y.

But the point is, Valentino’s mystique extended far beyond his octo-barrelled moniker (and that’s saying something). Whether arrayed in Arabian-style robes, gaucho pants, or a Cossack uniform, Valentino in any sort of “foreign” garb embodied the mysterious, otherworldly allure of, well, pretty much anywhere non-WASP.

And having said all that, I still love Valentino films. Yup, I genuinely do! You just have to take them for what they are, sift away the outdated stuff, and then they’re actually quite enjoyable – including the costumes!

So, here’s some classic Valentino apparel….




with some tango dancing:

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)



 and some more dancing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFXmQnKQ55U

Blood and Sand (1922)



 A Sainted Devil (1924)



 The Eagle (1925)





 the famous “Are you not woman enough to know?” scene from The Sheik (1921):

and a rather more notorious scene from the sequel:

Son of the Sheik (1926)

 And underneath all those layers of exotic costuming?


10 thoughts on “Orientalism: The Exotic Allure of Rudolph Valentino

  1. Great costumes, and they look good on Rudy. I really enjoy your commentary on the various pieces of clothing you picture on your fabulous blog. Keep it coming!

  2. Gorgeous post. I’m still quivering after seeing the photo of him in toreador gear with the cigarette! I once saw “Son of the Sheik” on a big screen, and it was fabulous.

    • So glad you liked it!! I had fun finding the images, and I sure can see why the flappers used to faint in the aisles when he walked onscreen.
      Son of the Sheik on the big screen? Ooooh, moment of envy for that rare opportunity…. It’s my fave Valentino film!

  3. What film is that last GIF from? And is he breaking the fourth wall or drawing the shutters to a character in the film? I’m a huge (but relatively new) Valentino fan so am still watching his films and there are barely any avaliable in the UK.

    • You know, it’s been so long since I posted this (& I no longer keep this blog updated – just happened to check today!), that I embarrassingly can’t remember where I found that GIF!! I’ll do some looking around, & let you know if I can figure it out….
      In the meantime, have fun with Valentino! He’s definitely a bit of a lost gem these days.

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