Sometimes it proves impossible to improve on an original. Many have tried, but none have filled the shoes of the original Latin Lover, the immortal Rudolph Valentino.
Generally, it's been those who've actually impersonated him who've fallen furthest short...
Being a genuine heartthrob in his own right didn't help Nureyev, whose specific brand of smolder simply didn't apply, somehow. Ken Russell's fevered direction did all it could, but this Rudolf just didn't live up to the real Rudolfo.
Trying to camp it up, as model Matt Collins had to in The World's Greatest Lover, doesn't help (neither did Gene Wilder, at least this time out). He had the cheekbones, but not the chops.
Tony Curtis brought his own very special verve (not to mention Natalie Wood) to a photo-shoot impersonation. His was an allure distinctly less ethereal than Real Rudy's, but you have to hand it to him on the eye makeup.
Third-string hunk Anthony Dexter may have the upper hand in terms of resemblance to The Sheikh (not to mention the divine Eleanor Parker to play opposite), but sometimes just the profile isn't enough. Despite being hailed as a great discovery (at least by Columbia standards), within five years he was headlining Fire Maidens from Outer Space.
Still, he did bring a certain...heft...to the screen, as evidenced by this still.
The idea of a distaff Valentino has a certain Sapphic charm; here, silent sisters Shirley Mason and Viola Dana disport themselves as Rudolph and partner in his Four Horsemen tango.
But really: when confronted with the actual Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla, all else falls away. The Gigolo Superstar, still Hollywood's greatest Sudden Death (his funeral made Michael Jackson's look like nothing at all), and at heart a nice boy from Puglia.
I doubt screenland is done with trying to figure out what made it all work. I can't immediately think, though, of anyone who could take on the mantle (or rather, I suppose, the burnoose) were another biopic in the offing - Johnny Depp's Captain Jack has a touch of the old allure; Clooney has the dashing part down; Banderas is more or less the reigning ethnic. None, however, has the full package, as it were, to take on the legend. Perhaps it's just as well.