King Vidor’s last movie Solomon and Sheba personifies the putdown “sex and sandal epic.” Even if Tyrone Power hadn’t died during filming, the outcome wouldn’t have been any less problematic, not with the cheesy script, the cheesier sets, the cheesiest everything for Gina Lollobrigida. And not with Vidor this disinterested, matching Frank Borzage’s lackluster The Big Fisherman. It’s great to see Power’s replacement Yul Brynner with hair, though, and putting some restraint in his prancing panache. He seems to be working valiantly to get passed the super tramp regalia Hollywood dragmeister Ralph Jester swathed Gina in. With the guilty pleasure of Brynner’s theatrically bent accent in combat with her haughty harlot pronunciations, there’s plenty of opportunity to mock them. Historians have nothing concrete on whether Solomon, a purported polygamist with hundreds of wives, ever frolicked with and impregnated the supposed Queen of Sheba; by most accounts described as very dark skinned and with hairy legs, 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 and suffer glamorously while being stoned to death—miraculously recovering from the healing power of thunderbolts and apparently still preggers. Similar to Jean Simmons in The Robe, Gina exits with her face looking toward the heavens and likely thinking “Thank Allah I’m finished with this turkey!” (Insufficient pain and embarrassment to please MGM, who’ll make her suffer some 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 roaring Egyptian army. Ridley Scott was impressed enough to give 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. (Disney’s Sleeping Beauty the first animation in 70mm using TECHNIRAMA, released the same year.) Critical and initial box office response deemed poor, S & S went nation-wide at “popular prices” on Xmas and judged a financial success. 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. (Opened 12/25/1959 at the Woods, running 11 weeks.)
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER (Revised 10/2015) All Rights Reserved.