Oh what a shocking disappointment this film was.
Now let me preface this review with the following – I was exhausted when I watched this film. I had just gotten off of work and my energy started to get zapped as the night went on. So maybe that dampened my viewing experience, though even if I’m tired I can usually tell if a movie is good or not so I can say with relative confidence that re-watching this film would leave me feeling much the same way.
As you may or may not know, based on the past films that I have reviewed there is nothing quite so rewarding as finally having the opportunity to view some long-forgotten Oscar nominated film and share my review of it in the hopes that a few more people can rediscover it. Because of this, some of my favorite reviews that I have posted to this blog have included films like The Emigrants, The Mission, and Sayonara.
King Solomon’s Mines, in fact, was a film that I’ve really wanted to see for quite some time. How can a film geek who is interested in older films not be curious about an adventure film that got nominated for Best Picture in 1950, but has since been all-but forgotten by most people.
I even went out of my way to read the novel by Henry Rider Haggard. Now, it was because of this that I felt irked that they would seemingly shoehorn in a woman character, that was not in the novel, to act as the obvious love interest. Even so, I was willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt.
Just because a film is not a perfect adaptation of a previous work (film, book, or otherwise) should never be the sole reason to invalidate it from being considered great, or even good. I understand that the How to Train Your Dragon films deviate significantly from the original books, but that doesn’t stop either from being great films.
What pains me even more is that the first hour of this film is pretty entertaining. Maybe not phenomenal, but still engaging in its own right. It effectively introduces you to a foreign continent and give you a taste of the many various aspects of beauty and terror that exist. It is this that helps elevate the terribly cliched story of the prim and ‘civilized’ woman going on a journey with a rough-and-tumble man with whom she has great tension, only for both to fall in love in the end.
Eventually, however, the entire structure of the film collapsed into a rushed heap of un-engaging pulp that felt flat, repetitive, and just completely one-dimensional.
King Solomon’s Mines, directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton (though it seemed to be directed by a studio), tells the story of one group’s journey into the unknown. Allan Quartermain (Stewart Granger) is a big game hunter in Africa who knows he is living on “borrowed time.” He is approached by a woman named Elizabeth (Deborah Kerr), who asks her to lead both her and her brother (Richard Carlson) through uncharted territory in order to find Elizabeth’s husband, who was seeking the legendary mines of King Solomon. The film follows their trek, as well as the many enemies and perils they face (whether from hostile nature or natives), in their quest to hopefully find Beth’s husband. There are spiders, snakes, stampedes, crocodiles, and war-hungry tribes – and they must contend with all of this in order to successfully complete their journey.
The film is only an hour and forty-five minutes long, which really hurts its ability to give us a solid adaptation of the novel, and by the time that the film entered its home-stretch it felt more akin to a cliff-notes adaptation.
Even without taking the novel into account everything felt choppy and superficial, as if I were getting a Cliff Notes version of the ending. There is nothing that irks me more than a film which has a lot of potential, only to let it crash and burn by rushing the whole thing.
At least when some films do it there’s a logic, like it is aimed at a younger audience and kids have short attention spans so the studio does not want to risk too long of a film.
King Solomon’s Mines has no excuse as it was released at a time when some of the most popular films were extremely long; back in the days before the ADD generation arose. Back when films like Gone With the Wind and Doctor Zhivago could be critical successes. So why couldn’t this film be at least two hours long?
The direction is nothing to write home about at all, and even the cinematography did not impress me much. I knew that Robert Surtees had won the Oscar going into the film, so I was waiting to be impressed. While there were some nice shots, it all felt like most of the scenes were on a mechanical level – where the only thing Surtees had to do as DP was point and shoot. Perhaps it would have been a brilliant spectacle on the big screen, but it always felt like there was something missing.
I really wanted this to be like I Want to Live! and Sayonara, a film that has been lost to the annals of time and that I can hopefully help shine some light on, but it wasn’t. It starts out decently entertaining before growing painfully repetitive and rushed. Overall a highly mediocre film.
2 out of 5
Additional Sources Consulted:
‘King Solomon’s Mines’ wiki page (for picture too)