The White Sheik

This 1952 film, The White Sheik, was co-written by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Michelangelo Antonioni.


The film, Fellini's first solo job as director, is a gentle lampoon of the idolatry heaped upon movie stars.


Fellini set out to make a film based on the Italian fumetti,which were popular adult comic strips that used photographs instead of cartoons.


But The White Sheik initially flopped at the box office and with the critics. One reviewer declared that Fellini had “not the slightest aptitude for cinema direction”.


Born in 1920, Fellini once worked as a circus clown, but decided he wanted to be a cartoonist and gag writer. At 18, he travelled to Florence, where he published his first cartoon. One of his first writing jobs was writing the Italian version of the Flash Gordon comic strip.


In 1939, he unsuccessfully joined forces with a Spanish painter to draw sketches of restaurant and café patrons. He finally caught the attention of several editors with his caricatures and cartoons and then started submitting articles as a reporter and also started writing radio scripts.


He loved vaudeville and was befriended in 1940 by a leading Italian stage comedian. Through that friendship he met and caught the eye of director Roberto Rossellini. They hit it off and Rossellini became his mentor.


While working for Rossellini, he fell in love with Italian movies and realized he had found what he really wanted to do. Today Fellini is considered one of the most influential and widely revered filmmakers of the 20th century.


Although 4 of his films won Oscars in different categories and he was nominated for 12 himself, he never won an Oscar for directing. He did win over 50 international film awards and he was awarded an honorary Oscar for his cinematic accomplishments in 1993.


He died later that same year, on the same day as actor River Phoenix, and the day after his 50th wedding anniversary.


In his honor, his hometown of Rimini re-named its airport the Federico Fellini International Airport.


The term "paparazzi" comes from a character named Paparazzo in his film, La Dolce Vita (1960), who is a journalist photographing celebrities.


Fellini's wife of 50 years, Giulietta Masina, was among the most acclaimed international actresses of the postwar era. In this movie, she practically steals the film with her portrayal of the prostitute Cabiria.


Her warm and engaging personality is so striking that Fellini later gives this character fuller development in The Nights of Cabiria, considered one of his best films.


Her international breakthrough came in the 1954 Fellini classic, La Strada; where she was cast as the brutalized lover of a violent circus strongman, played by Anthony Quinn.


The husband in The White Sheik is played by Leopoldo Trieste. Early in his career, Trieste thought of himself as a writer and was a regular at a Rome café that Fellini also went to. Fellini met him and challenged him to consider the part for this film.  His informal audition had Fellini rolling on the floor, and the fledgling actor would go on to star in more than 100 more films.


Alberto Sordi, who plays the sheik, was one of Italy's most captivating and talented comedy stars. Sordi starred, directed and co-wrote more than 150 films.


At one time in his early career, he earned a living dubbing Oliver Hardy's role into Italian in the Laurel and Hardy films.


In a career that spanned seven decades, Sordi establishedhimself as an icon of Italian cinema with his skills at both comedy and light drama. On his 80th birthday, he was made Mayor of Rome for the day.


When he died, a crowd of more than a million people gathered to pay their last respects, the largest funeral ever attended in Rome, second only to that of Pope John Paul II, who died the following year.


Less than a week after his death, Rome's mayor renamed one of the city’s main streets after him.


Featuring excellent scene composition, superb performances,and a wonderful score by Nino Rota (who also did The Godfather), The White Sheik offers an affectionate and satirical look at romantic illusions.