Solomon And Sheba

SOLOMON AND SHEBA, Biblical silliness from The Year 1959 ACBD (*), delivered unto flocks of sin & salvation fans a raft of hoary utterances that could out-salt the Dead Sea. In the year when Ben-Hur showed that spectacles could be intelligent as well as exciting, this flashy exercise gave epics the kind of black eye critics always libeled them with. Still, despite ghastly acting and a script flatulent enough to make the source material seem logical, it made enough money to come in 14th, just ahead of Journey To The Center Of The Earth, which aside from being more entertaining, was closer to something akin to reality. **

How interesting your encampment is. Are your people always so carefree and gay?”

The Old Testament (that too many are Revelations-bent to not let us escape) posits, in a chapter each from First Kings and Second Chronicles, that Israel’s upright King Solomon met with the scheming Queen of Sheba. Taking license as gospel, three hands (well, six) wrote the screenplay: Anthony Veiller, who bore strong credits, and hacks Paul Dudley and George Bruce. Why any of them would claim this bow-wowser is a mystery of Good Book proportions. King Vidor directed the 141-minute, $6,000,000, 70mm romp, the old pro’s last time at the helm in a career that began in 1913. The handling shows some of his acknowledged flair for staging visuals, but the script he was charged to steer—Oy!—and most of the performances are woe-unto-ye bad.

You and your Sheban slut have defiled the fair name of Israel !

Shot in Spain, filming was 2/3 done when Tyrone Power, playing Solomon, collapsed and died  from a heart attack. After some understandable panic, production resumed with Yul Brynner taking on the role. While Power’s loss (he was just 44) was a tragedy—and ironic; the hero of numerous adventures was in the midst of a swordfight scene—in a way it was well his last credit was the smart Witness For The Prosecution rather than this ten-ton turkey. Yul, behaired, is in familiar glowering mode, while Gina Lollobrigida (FYI the Italian word for “stacked” is accatastada) for sure looks like a man-devouring she-Sheban from your more fervent prayers, but her syllable-challenged emoting is less than desirable. At least she was vigorous when it came to writhing and undulating for the big fertility dance sequence, bronze-age bikinied from the Jerusalem branch of Salome’s Secret. The daft choreography of this hilarious orgy was designed by one Jaroslav Berger, ballet chief for Switzerland’s Berne State Theatre. Giggle-time, with plaster boulders, wildly jumping extras and rumpus-twitching music from Mario Nascimbene: it’s the sort of caper-madly scene that requires several viewings to fully appreciate.

The other showstopper is when Solomon’s army uses the Sun to reflect light off their shields, blinding attacking Egyptians (another damned eternal neighborhood issue) who dutifully tumble by the hundreds into a gorge (a slaughter-chute surprise later emulated by Yul’s hearty Cossacks in Taras Bulba). Had I seen this neato wipeout as a kid, it certainly would have been deemed cool enough to restage with my toy soldiers. Alas gypped again…

Hear us, O Rha-gon, god of love, giver of life. Let thy spirits enter into our bodies. Endow our men with strength and vitality and our women with endless fruitfulness.”

George Sanders—Solomon’s greedy brother— manfully spouts dialogue that must’ve aged him a decade, and the supporting cast is littered with hardies who likewise tackle wince-inducing mouthfuls while keeping straight faces.

Surely the way of a woman is beyond understanding.”

Grosses tallied $14,900,000. With Marisa Pavan, David Farrar, Harry Andrews, John Crawford, Laurence Naismith, Finlay Currie, Jack Gwillim, Jose Nieto.

* ABCD: After Cecil B. DeMille. The godfather of cheesy epics, C.B. went unto Jehovahland on Jan. 21 of ’59, tasting not this milk of malarkey, which unlike the smartly crafted Ben-Hur, was kith & kin to the venerable showman’s entertaining howlers of yore. In 1995 Solomon and Sheba was retold for a TV movie with Halle Berry (good call) and Jimmy Smits.

** Yea, verily, I’ll burn like a pagan baby-eater, but from my babble-basted chariot it seems the burn more likely to come via nuclear fireball rather than slow roasting in a Hell cell. But thanks for your stern admonitions just the same: luv ya right back.

*** To be fair to Gina Holybrigida: while not in the same dramatic or comedic league as competing bombshell Sophia Loren, when Lollo had a halfway decent part, she was just fine; witness Trapeze, Go Naked In The World or Woman Of Straw. For those who must pick nits, ‘Sheba’, modern scholars argue, was located around present day Yemen. Or maybe Ethiopia. Or…


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