A Howard Hawks’ silent film, “Fazil,” from 1928, concerns a relationship between an Arab sheik (Fazil) and a free-spirited Parisienne woman named Fabienne (Greta Nissen). Business pursuits bring Fazil to Venice, where he falls in love with Fabienne at first sight. But the premise, about a two opposites attracting each other, is more serious than most, and it leads to a tragic and ill-fated romance.
Opening in the Sahara desert, where Fazil (George Farrell) and his men hunt down a deserter, the film immediately portrays the Arab sheik as a ruthless but passionless character. He orders the execution of the deserter, and then scorns a woman offered as a marriage partner. He proclaims that a horse or a camel would be more useful.
In the next scene, we see Fazil in evening clothes visiting a fashionable French couple in Venice. As he looks across the canal, he spots Fabienne, and suddenly becomes wildly exited. He grabs Fabienne later at a party and takes her on a gondola ride piloted by a leering gondolier. In the next scene, Fabienne lounges in her matrimonial bed, in obvious delight, and in a sheer nightgown as Fazil hovers over her. We wonder how such a mismatched couple could act so impetuously.
As Fazil learns about the role of women in the free-spirited west, he realizes he could never allow his wife to live in such a society. He bolts back to Arabia, leaving Fabienne behind. When Fabienne follows him there, she visits his harem — a spectacular and sexy scene with exotic women in various stages of undress. Fazil agrees to dismiss the harem girls and live with Fabienne, who becomes a virtual prisoner in Araby. But just as Fazil could not adjust to France, Fabienne rebels as she remains confined to Fazil’s mansion.
The lovely Greta Nissen supposedly did not become a phenomenal success in sound pictures because of her heavy accent. But her looks command a great deal of attention in this movie, and she looks gorgeous in both her western and eastern costumes. Farrell does not look like an Arab sheik, but the character actors populating Araby help make the location shots more convincing.