Scen.: Rex Ingram. F.: John F. Seitz. Int.: Ramón Novarro (Jamil Abdullah Azam), Alice Terry (Mary Hilbert), Maxudian (il governatore), Jean de Limur (Hossein, il suo assistente), Paul Vermoyal (Iphraim), Adelqui Millar (Abdullah), Alexandresco (Oulad Nile), Justa Uribe (Myrza), Gerald Robertshaw (Dr. Hilbert), Paul Francesci (Marmount), Giuseppe De Compo (Selim). Prod.: Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp. · 35mm. L.: 1182 m (l. orig.: 2045 m). D.: 50’ a 21 f/s. Bn.
The photographic evidence was there, in the book of Guillemette Mansour: a film still featuring Ramón Novarro, in his sheikh costume and beside him Hay- dée Chikly, costumed as a desert girl. So she had a role in The Arab, a film by Rex Ingram? Her name doesn’t appear in the credits, it could have been a small role as an extra, or more likely, as an extra guest. Of course – her father must have been involved in what was a major foreign film production on location in Tunisia, and it is easy to imagine how things went: Rex invited to dinner by his new best friend Albert… beautiful daughter with acting experience… “Oh, but you must be in my picture!”… and Albert insisting that Rex study at length all the photographs documenting the making of Zohra….
To our good fortune a print of The Arab was known to exist, preserved by Gosfilmofond. With Russian intertitles. Very incomplete. We have yet to discover during the festival screening if Haydée Chikly actually appears in the remaining 1200 meters or if she appeared, that is, disappeared, in the missing 800. Whether with her or without her, there are many reasons why The Arab, hailed by “Variety” as “the finest sheik film of them all”, fits perfectly into this year’s Cinema Ritrovato.
Rex Ingram was one of greatest visual talents of his generation, and three of his films, The Arab (1924, partly shot in Tunisia), The Garden of Allah (1927, partly shot in Algeria) and Baroud (1933, shot in Morocco) testify to his deep fascination for North African landscapes and towns, resulting in location footage of outstanding beauty. Ingram spent much time in the Maghreb and converted to Islam in 1933.
In The Arab, conversions to or from Islam briefly seem real options for the American girl and the Arab boy. The plot revolves around an orphanage in Syria run by American missionaries, with the children in danger to be handed over, deported and killed by the attacking Turks (see section Armenia. Genocide and After). The actor playing Hossein is Jean de Limur, who would in 1930 direct Mon gosse de père, scripted by Mary Murillo (see section The Velle Connection). Ingram himself spent his formative first years as a young film director working for Bluebird Photoplays in 1916-1917 (see section Beloved Bluebirds). It all connects, inexplicably.