Tuesday, May 25, 2010

1950 - King Solomon's Mines

Am I wrong to assume that, when I order a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sundae from Dunkin' Donuts, the server will know what ingredients to use without having to ask me? I mean, I didn't come up with it. It's on the menu. Is there not some kind of training that you are given when you are hired? Training that shows you how to make each menu item? ... It might also help if you gave me a spoon.

Rant aside, don't forget to be counted in the vote for Matt vs. the Academy's next year of review. The poll can be found over there on the right hand side of the page.

Today, I took a look at another nominee from 1950's Best Picture race...

King Solomon's Mines
Compton Bennett & Andew Marton
Helen Deutsch
(based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard)
Deborah Kerr, Stewart Granger, Richard Carlson
Academy Awards:
3 nominations
2 wins, including Best Color Cinematography

H. Rider Haggard's literary creation Allan Quatermain (Granger) is an intrepid adventurer who has been working as a safari guide in Africa for the past fifteen years. Ready to throw in the towel, Elizabeth Curtis (Kerr) persuades him to go on one final expedition in order to find her missing husband, who disappeared eighteen months ago in search of a legendary diamond mine. Quatermain leads the expedition, which includes Elizabeth and her brother John Goode (Carlson), into uncharted territory, where they encounter stampedes, heat exhaustion and unfriendly natives.

I find it especially exciting to know very little about a film before I sit down to watch it and that was the case with King Solomon's Mines (which, sadly, betrays my shameful lack of literary knowledge). Being entirely unfamiliar with the story, I was pleasantly surprised. A simple, straightforward adventure, this picture is very easy to watch. There is no dilly-dallying. Within a few minutes, the excitement and adventure have begun.

Part nature documentary, the film is given an enormous advantage by being shot on location in Africa. The crew must have endured hell during some of the scenes but it is all worth it to see the amazing array of animals - elephants, giraffes, rhinos, tigers, lions, zebras, snakes, monkeys, hedgehogs, anteaters, gazelles, crocodiles. The over-sized tarantula crawling onto Deborah Kerr's jacket was the only obvious fake, but as an arachnophobe, even fake spiders send shivers down my spine, so it still had the desired effect on me.

Like any good adventure flick, a decent dose of humour is provided in the clever script. My favourite line comes when Quatermain tells the others not to worry about the pride of lions passing nearby because they're not hungry. When Elizabeth asks him how he knows this, he replies, "Well, if they eat you, they're hungry." Along with humour, the other necessary element of an adventure story is romance, and King Solomon's Mines is not lacking in that, either. It even includes the obligatory sequence of sexual tension when the hero catches the damsel as she stumbles down a steep rocky incline, ending up face to face with each other, tantalisingly close, with their lips in prime kissing vicinity.

Deborah Kerr fights hard to play a woman who is part princess, part tough as nails. Stewart Granger is ideal as the great adventurer, providing the perfect amount of nonchalance and an impressive handle on African dialects. Plus, the large number of African tribesmen that appear lends another air of wonderment to an already breathtaking picture.


  1. You see what happens when you watch Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve then go to Dunkin' Donuts. You act like a Diva. Kathleen, give Matt a hug... and a spoon.

    I'm waiting for King Solomon's Mines to come in the mail. I watched it a few years ago also for the first time - quite cinematic, but I kept wondering when they were going to get to the Mines.

    Stewart Granger was quite the virile leading man back then. It should be mentioned that he wanted to use his given name, but there was someone else already working in Hollywood with that name: James Stewart.

  2. Not one of my favorite films, I think it's reputation is for its braving cinematic uncharted territories in the wilds of Africa. That said, props for the movie in evidently getting the native dialect right (and Stewart Granger speaking it correctly!) and for being bloody well respectful of the tribes. But it does seem to leech some of the exoticism out of the novel--there's a mixed-race romance in it, for crying out loud!--and comes off a bit unclimactic. Granger, though, is a stalwart presence.