Retro 'Arab Hollywood': The defining faces of Egypt's cinematic Golden Age

Published November 26th, 2013 - 08:46 GMT

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Faten Hamama
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Image 1 of 16: Always playing the role of a weak down-and-out girl before the 50s, the delicate flower Faten Hamama was neither of singing nor dancing stock as other actresses of the time. With subtle features and a soft-spoken daintiness -- it was her strong and passionate roles that won her renown as a revered actress.

Rushdy Abaza
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Image 1 of 16: Rushdy Abaza - This half Egyptian, half Italian stallion did not reach stardom before putting in 10 solid years of acting. From an aristocratic family that frowned upon the film trade, there was no stopping him -- Abaza has over 150 movies to his name and is one of the biggest stars in Egyptian cinema.

Soad Hosny
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Image 1 of 16: Soad Hosny, the "Cinderella of Egyptian cinema" made her mark as one of the most influential actresses in the ME. Before her murder in London in 2011, hers was a story of the rise to stardom at the end of the 1950s, with over 83 films under her belt. The cryptic minx was rumored to have married Egyptian legend musician Abdelhalim Hafez.

Farid Shawki
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Image 1 of 16: Critics know him as the "Anthony Quinn" of Egyptian cinema. To the film masses, he was the Beast of the Silver Screen, championing the underdog through a mean mix of cunning, physical strength & unbending scruples to outdo the villains. In his 60-year career, Farid Shawki took on 361 films, produced 26 & wrote 22 scripts. Not a bad life's work!

Omar Sharif
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Image 1 of 16: Franco-Arab Omar Sharif is a huge name in showbiz off the back of Lawrence of Arabia. The handsome actor converted to Islam to marry Faten Hamama in '55. Sharif earned a reputation as one of the world's best known contract bridge players. He once said: “Americans don't know anything. The typical Middle Eastern man is far more intelligent.”

Nadia Lutfi
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Image 1 of 16: Nadia Lutfi probably gets her acting talent from the Egyptian side, and her blonde locks from the Polish roots! One of the most popular actresses during the final run of Egyptian cinema's "Golden Age", Lutfi finished the decade starring in 1969's blockbuster "My Father Atop a Tree." Shocking fact: She married three times before the age of 20!

Zubaida Tharwat
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Image 1 of 16: Zubaida Tharwat - Famous for her striking doe-eyed looks, “magical” blue-eyed Zubaida was named the most beautiful woman in the ME by Al Kawakeb Magazine in 1955. In 1961 Zubaida took a break from acting to earn herself a law degree, before returning to the screen in ‘67. Even between lawyering, the film-star managed 5 different marriages.

Hind Rostom
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Image 1 of 16: Hind Rostom - Dubbed the "Marilyn Monroe of Egypt," sex symbol Hind is one of the great icons in the golden era of Egyptian cinema. After a rich career in the Egyptian cinema, the queen of seduction died of a heart attack in 2011.

Shadia
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Image 1 of 16: Shadia - The actress and singer known by her stage-name, Shadia, she was famous for her love affair with Farid El-Atrache. She was also well-known for her roles in light comedy drama in the 1950s and 1960s. This funny lady’s songs and movies are sought after to this day. Ps: Her real name is Fatima Ahmad Kamal so the joke's on us!

Shoukry Sarhan
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Image 1 of 16: Perhaps not the best looking actor on the stage, Shoukry Sarhan was nominated by critics as the best actor of the century in Egypt, more prolific than most stars, featuring in some of the best 100 Egyptian films. Not a bad accolade! Even President Gamal Abdel Nasser honored Sarhan with "Egypt's decoration" - now that’s something to brag about!

Anwar Wagdi
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Image 1 of 16: Anwar Wagdi was kicked out by his dad for daring to become an actor. The ambitious lad became one of the best-known actors in the Arab world. He quickly leaped to stardom, playing leading roles in - and directing - 92 Egyptian films during the country's Golden Era. One for comebacks, he married Egyptian legend Leila Mourad not once, but 3 times!

Adel Adham
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Image 1 of 16: Adel "The Prince" Adham was offered a movie role for his dashing looks in 45. His career didn’t take off as expected & he fell into a bout of depression after turning to his favorite actor Anwar Wagdi as mentor, who squashed his dreams with “Not all handsome boys become actors.” His career finally took off in the 60s, proving Wagdi wrong.

Leila Mourad
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Image 1 of 16: Leila Mourad was born to an Egyptian father & a Jewish, Polish mother. Her distinctive voice quickly carried her to the fever pitch of stardom and saw her selected over legendary Um Kulthum as the official singer of the Egyptian Revolution in '53. After Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power, Leila ended her career abruptly without explanation.

Farid El-Atrache
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Image 1 of 16: Farid El-Atrache enjoyed a successful career spanning over 4 decades. This Syrian-Egyptian composer, singer, virtuoso oud player and actor stole the hearts of many women around the Arab globe. Still, he refused to marry lest it destroy his art! The talented bachelor composed all soundtracks in his movies including the songs sung by other singers.

Asmahan
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Image 1 of 16: Asmahan is Farid's sister, yet, she’s a star in her own right. Hers was the only voice in Arab music to pose serious competition to that of Um Kulthum. Despite her good looks & unbelievable talent, the troubled singer attempted suicide twice. She mysteriously died in a car crash in '44 - many suspected she was a British intelligence agent.

Ahmed Ramzy
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Image 1 of 16: Almost every girl fell in love with Ahmed Ramzy in the '50s. This Egyptian-Scottish heartthrob rose to stardom with his romantic comedies & perhaps his famous open shirts after being discovered in a snooker club! His career began to fade out by the '70s. Ahmed’s close and lifelong friends (before fame) included Omar Sharif & Abdelhalim Hafez.

Whether it’s that nostalgia for a bygone era or the unmatchable glamor of the 50s and 60s with the perfectly lacquered hair, luscious lips and that je ne ce quoi captured best by the quintessential cigarette holder, but nothing stands the test of time as classic movies and their classic actors. Maybe it’s because everything looks better in black and white, but between today’s botox and bare bums on the red carpet, the golden era of cinema seems even more glittering and elusive than ever!

Black and white frames and sepia snaps of chic guys and dolls  - such as cinema darlings Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor - might be staples on Western movies’ memory lane, but classic Arab cinema row is not without its very own celeb-set oozing with uber-sophistication. With timeless faces and romantic storylines, old-school Arab Hollywood has remained a steadfast pleasure for all those in the region who love a dose of nostalgia.

Although there are now incredible cinematic offerings from across the Middle East, Egypt is the powerhouse for the vast majority of the Arab world’s early movies. Between the 1930s and the 1960s, the ‘Hollywood of the Middle East’ Arabic film industry operating out of Cairo was at its height: it was the ‘Golden Age’ of cinema. It produced hundreds of black & white comedies, melodramas and romances, that are still enjoyed and watched over and over again by generations old and new. The Egyptian repertoire was a huge regional success in that time and up to the 1990s. Egyptian cinema began its journey with its first silent films in the 1920s, until Studio Misr was established in 1935 and a whole new wave of films (with sound) came to life.

Who doesn’t get filled with ‘glee’ at the idea of a musical? The 1930s and 40s were the decade of Egyptian musical films, and music provided a lingua franca for pan Arab countries. Between the cheesy hits and the on-screen talent, these musical numbers were box-office hits across the Middle East. The Frank Sinatras and Ella Fitzgeralds of the Arab world -- singing legends Um Kulthum, Farid El Atrash and Abdelhalim Hafez -- were some of the talents to star and make their on-screen splash.  Almost 50% of movies in that time were of this lyrical genre. Asmahan’s 1944 musical movie Passion and Revenge was very influential, and portrayed some of her best singing performances.

Despite some political flip-flopping (In 1964, cinema was nationalized then denationalized in 1970), movies gained popularity with the introduction of the realist and thriller genres, as well as film adaptations of classic novels - literary adaptations in film during the 1960s saw over 38 Naguib Mahfouz novels made into film, such as Cairo 30 in 1966.  

Arab films gained exposure beyond the regional arena  as they began to collect international recognition. Many of the biggest films of the era were nominated for international film awards, such as The Blazing Sky (1954), which was nominated for the Grand Prix at the Cannes International Film Festival, and Chased by the Dogs (1962) -- an Arab ‘Psycho’ as it were --  a psychological masterpiece nominated for the Golden berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

In the western world, film buffs like to hark back to the Carey Grants and the Grace Kellys, while their Arab counterparts get shunned aside to collec dust. It’s time to take a trip down memory lane, to see those film stars who got your grandparents dreamy-eyed (while retaining street cred with the millennial youth!) with their debonair demeanor and dashing good looks.  Move aside Liz Taylor - here’s Al Bawaba’s gallery of the most flawless classic Arab Hollywood stars and what makes each one of them timeless and unique.

 

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