King Vidor’s last movie Solomon and Sheba personifies the putdown “sex and sandal epic.” Even if Tyrone Power had lived long enough to finish it, there wouldn’t have been any more or less than what it became with Yul Brynner taking over the lead. Not with the cheesy script, the cheesier sets, the cheesiest costumes for Gina Lollobrigida. And not with Vidor this disinterested, matching Frank Borzage’s lackluster The Big Fisherman. It’s great to see Brynner with hair, though, and he certainly has panache, which he uses this time with restraint. He seems to be working valiantly to get passed the super tramp regalia Hollywood dragmeister Ralph Jester swathed Gina in; regrettably, with Brynner’s theatrically bent accent in combat with her haughty harlot pronunciations, there’s too little likeability between them. Historians have nothing on whether the Hebrew Solomon ever frolicked with the real Queen of Sheba; by all accounts, she was far more interested in commerce. But no one wants to “hear” Gina talking business deals. Therefore she gets to whip while riding a fur-covered chariot, gyrate ludicrously, suffer glamorously while being stoned to death—miraculously recovering like Ben-Hur’s mother and sister did from leprosy—and, similar to Jean Simmons in The Robe, exits with her face looking toward the heavens and likely thinking “Thank God I’m finished with this turkey!” (Insufficient pain and embarrassment to please MGM, who’ll make her suffer more in Go Naked in the World a few years later.) Running at 139 minutes, only one sequence is worth the tedium—the Flashing Shields, used to destroy a thundering Egyptian army—and Ridley Scott gave it an updated nod in Exodus: Gods and Kings. In October, 1959, Solomon and Sheba opened as a roadshow as the first live-action movie filmed in SUPER-TECHNIRAMA 70. But by Xmas Day of that year, S & S went nation-wide at “popular prices.” Souvenir book(s) published. With George Sanders, Marisa Pavan, Harry Andrews, Finlay Currie and Alejandro Rey. Freddie Young the cinematographer. Anthony Veiller, who co-wrote John Huston’s Moulin Rouge and The List of Adrian Messenger, and co-adapted Huston’s version of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana, gets a writer’s credit and to this day no one can pinpoint his contributions.
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER (Revised 10/2015) All Rights Reserved.