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Tintin in America: Did actor Bull Montana influence character Billy Bolivar?

#1 · Posted: 21 Sep 2021 15:09
I have just watched the 1926 silent film The Son of the Sheik.In the film there is a character who appears breifly called Ali the Mountebank played by Bull Montana.

The Character tries to demonstrate weightlifting; however the weights are trick dumbells. This brief moment in the film reminded me of the character Billy Bolivar "The Great Bolivar", "The Strongest Man in the World", Billy Hercules (colored) towards the end of Tintin in America.

Bull Montana, real name Lewis Montagna (born Luigi Montagna, May 16, 1887 – January 24, 1950) was an Italian-American Boxer,Wrestler & Actor.He starred in many films of the silent and early sound era alongside Douglas Fairbanks,Rudolph Valentino,also appearing in the 1925 film version of Arthur Conan Doyles "The Lost World".

I would say this character portrayed in the film influenced Hergé and I'm certain he would of seen The Son of the Sheik upon release.
#2 · Posted: 22 Sep 2021 11:42
That's an interesting notion - Bull Montana was a great heavy of early cinema, and Hergé appears to have been a fan of the silent movies he grew up with.

As you say, given its popularity, it's quite possible, in fact more than likely, that he saw Son of the Sheik, a blockbuster of the time, made especially famous - notorious, even - by the fact that its star Rudolph Valentino was making a comeback in it after a string of failures, but died suddenly after surgery on an ulcer led to peretonitis which proved fatal.

I can see that the gag might have been an influence, but the presentation of Bolivar is very much in the Western tradition of restling tights and the waxed moustache, rather than Montana's more Arabian Nights fez and goatee (he's brilliant, by the way, isn't he, especially in tandem with the wonderfull droll Bynunsky Hyman, the small man playing the rather unexpected trombone!).

However, there are stills of Montana in his more usual "tough guy" garb from other films, which put him in very much the look and stance of Mike MacAdam, hotel detective, so perhaps Hergé was a Montana fan after all.

Trick dumbells were obviously a stock thing at the time, as the Harry Langdon film, The Strong Man (directed by Frank Capra, making his feature film debut) also came out in 1926. The dumbells aren't wooden in that one, but are rigged with wires so that an off-stage operator can haul them up to make the feeble Langdon look strong.

I dare say that Hergé may have seen that too, especially as the character Langdon plays is a Belgian soldier who goes to America after WW1 to find a girl he met during the war (and, against all reasonable odds, successfully finds her, and saves her and her town - Captain Haddock would have had a thing to say about that, I'm sure!).

Son of the Sheik, the earlier The Sheik, and the numerous copies and parodies they both inspired (such as Burning Sands (1922), A Son of the Sahara (1924), and even Felix the Cat Shatters the Sheik (1926) and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in The Shriek (1933)) shows that these exotic desert pictures were a thriving genre for many years, and definitely the reason that Hergé was inspired to have Rastapopoulos direct such a film in Cigars of the Pharaoh.

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