Saturday, October 11, 2014

Great White Hunter

Film: King Solomon’s Mines
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m going to do my best not to sound like a complete idiot by the end of this paragraph, but you might need to cut me a little slack. See, in the movie King Solomon’s Mines, things happen constantly, but nothing happens in this movie. Oh, there’s guys getting trampled by elephants, and people attacked by snakes, natives speaking Swahili, a missing guy, and even a quest for a lost diamond mine, but nothing freaking happens. I have never been this bored watching an action movie in my life.

The film starts by introducing us to the legendary Allan Quartermain (Stewart Granger), safari guide extraordinaire, great white hunter, able to shoot…whatever the hell Sean Connery said he could shoot in that crappy League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. Anyway, while on safari, one of Quartermain’s guides gets gored by an elephant. Tired of the racket, Allan decides to hang ‘em up and quit the safari business. After all, he’s got a wife who died and a seven-year-old son back in England. Why stay in Africa?

And then he’s approached by a couple who want to go deep into the uncharted areas of the continent. John Goode (Richard Carlson) attempts to interest Quartermain to no avail. So send in Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) to make the deal sweeter. Her husband went a-wandering a few years ago and has disappeared into this uncharted territory of Africa. She wants to go find him and wants Quartermain to lead the expedition. He’s reluctant but agrees to the tune of five thousand pounds in advance, figuring that even if he dies, his son will be well-cared for. And off we go.

And go. And go. And go. The bulk of the film is simply a series of episodes, some humorous (I almost used scare quotes there) and some dangerous (and that also needs some scare quotes). The native porters don’t want to go where they’re going, there are crocodiles and a brush fire complete with a stampede. There are attacks from big cats and a lot of walking. There’s also a not-so-friendly atmosphere between Allan Quartermain and Elizabeth Curtis, which, of course, masks an attraction between the two. He does walk around with his shirt off a lot, and eventually she cuts off her long red hair and suddenly has a perfectly coiffed bob.

There’s also a guy named Umbopa (Siriaque) who tags along at one point. He proves to be a Watussi prince on his way into the unexplored region on a quest to reclaim his throne. He doesn’t talk much and no one knows if they can trust him until the suddenly can and are good buddies with Umbopa.

Anyway, we don’t even get to the damn mine until there are about 20 minutes left in the film, and at this point, I had pretty solidly checked out mentally from everything that was going on. I was beyond caring whether or not the great white hunter and his delicate red-haired squeeze-to-be would get back to what passes for Hollywood’s version of African civilization. But, of course, there are a few things mildly like double crosses and something like an action sequence between Umbopa and the guy who usurped his throne, and then the whole thing thankfully comes to an end.

The thing that’s missing here is anything like rising action because there really isn’t any. The characters walk. They talk for a little bit. Something happens that is solved within 30 seconds. They camp. This process repeats pretty much until the film ends. No problem lasts for more than a couple of minutes beyond the overall problem of trying to find Elizabeth Curtis’s wayward husband, who we learn relatively near the end, she (gasp) never really loved, which is what caused him to run to Africa in the first place. Since we’re supposed to like her and Quartermain and since they are our only possible love interest, I leave it to you to intuit the ultimate fate of her husband.

In no small way, King Solomon’s Mines was remade a couple of years later as Mogambo. Mogambo isn’t anywhere close to my favorite movie, but it’s a hell of a lot better than this one, in part because it has an actual plot that’s at least sort of interesting. King Solomon’s Mines doesn’t so much have a plot as it has events, and the two are not close to synonymous.

This was a massive disappointment. I almost fell asleep watching, and I watched in the middle of the day. I find it extremely difficult to believe that this was put in the same category as films like All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard. It almost makes me suspect there was a bribe or two involved in getting this a Best Picture nomination.

King Solomon’s Mines did win an Oscar—for cinematography. It is certainly pretty, and Deborah Kerr is always nice to look at in Technicolor. But the film is a dud, and I never really like these old safari films where excitement equates to someone shooting an elephant for sport. King Solomon’s Mines are played out; there’s nothing in those mines worth searching for these days.

Why to watch King Solomon’s Mines: Deborah Kerr in color.
Why not to watch: Despite something happening constantly, nothing happens.


  1. "The characters walk. They talk for a little bit. Something happens that is solved within 30 seconds. They camp. This process repeats pretty much until the film ends."

    Sounds like the "Clerks 2" description of "Lord of the Rings."

    1. Only with less happening, even when stuff is happening. I was surprised at how boring it was.

    2. How does this "King Solomon" compare with the Richard Chamberlain version?

    3. No idea. My only contact with any King Solomon before this is a song on Bob Mould's eponymous CD.

  2. I honestly didn't remember anything from your description of this movie, other than Kerr cutting her hair. I doublechecked Letterboxd and I have seen it. I even rated it three stars, so I liked it well enough, but since I can't remember anything about it it obviously didn't make much of a lasting impression on me.

    1. Wow. You were nicer to this than I was. I think in fact that your Letterboxd rating is double mine for this exotic snoozer.

  3. I've been curious about this movie ever since I saw Eleanor Parker in Caged and I got very interested in the Best Picture category in a year that had Parker, Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Gloria Swanson and Judy Holliday all nominated for amazing performances.

    The odd nominations for Best Picture for 1950 are Father of the Bride and King Solomon's Mines. I saw Father of the Bride a few months ago and it has its moments, I guess. Best Picture material? Uh, no.

    Equally inexplicable is the nom for King Solomon's Mines. I watched it today and I seem to have enjoyed it a lot more than you did, but it's still a by-the-numbers literary adaption of a 19th-century adventure novel (and not a particularly faithful one).

    But then I think about how it must have looked it in 1950. Shot on location in Africa in color with Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. It must have been very exciting and new for 1950 audiences. I can't think of any color films shot in Africa and wrapped up so prettily with an adventure tale.

    The 1950s will soon be bursting with color literary adaptations of adventure novels - like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Ivanhoe - but I think King Solomon's Mines was one of the first.

    P.S. I jut checked Wikipedia to see how financially successful King Solomon's Mines was. I figured it would have done well. But actually it was the highest grossing film of 1950! (All About Eve was second.)

    1. By the numbers is right--I found this to be a crashing bore all the way through.