In the 1880’s the development of motion pictures heralded the rise of a new visual art that would not only shape but ultimately control the collective imagination of our nation. At the same time Italians left their home country in unprecedented numbers so that between 1880 and 1920 over four million Italians entered into the United States. As the film industry developed, the sudden influx of Italians offered a backdrop on which to project the changing views of the nation. Beginning with silent films, such as The Sheik with Rudolph Valentino, we will consider the ways that Hollywood exploited the Italian diaspora to develop a stock of familiar characters including hot-blooded lotharios, ruthless gangsters, wily tricksters, and lovable losers with which we have become familiar. We will review the history of the Italian immigrant experience and simultaneously examine the development of the American film industry, ultimately to consider the ways that Italian images on screen projected the fears, desires, anxieties, and struggles of a growing American psyche.