BluRay/DVD Reviews

SOLOMON AND SHEBA

By • Apr 18th, 2008 •

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Freddie Young’s gorgeous 70mm cinematography is magnificently served by this gloriously detailed mastering. To prove my point, just check out one of the other Yul Brynner’s action flicks released by MGM along with this one – KINGS OF THE SUN – the transfer of which plain stinks by comparison. Of course it wasn’t shot in 70mm, nor was it shot by Freddie (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DR. ZHIVAGO, RYAN’S DAUGHTER) Young, but still, out in the sunshine with those pyramids you’d expect a little more sharpness. Admittedly Brynner’s features are sharp in the film, but I think that may have been because he radiated such a star aura that it affected the lens.

The highlights of SOLOMON AND SHEBA are still great fun – a few of them ‘camp’ fun, a few of them straight epic fun. That still leaves about two hours unaccounted for. King Vidor directed, and I’m sure he, and his cast and crew, were tired of the project by the time Brynner replaced Tyrone Power, who died on location while rehearsing for a sword fight. That helps explain some of the uninspired direction and lackluster performances. But it doesn’t explain away there having been no creative advances over De Mille’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS in three years, neither in terms of stodgy dialogue, obvious sets, lame orgies, nor flat staging. The same year gave us BEN-HUR, after all. What a difference.

George Sanders, as we all know, was ‘tired’ and ‘bored’ when he ended his life on a low (suicide) note. Well, there’s much evidence of that ennui settling over him in his phoned-in performance here. Awkward and uncomfortable throughout almost the entirety of the film, in the climactic sword fight he sticks his stomach out and walks the blade into his body. It is one of the worst death-blows ever inflicted on celluloid.

Yul Brynner (who had recently portrayed Ramses in De Mille’s film – only without the hair he sports here) feels like a much better fit for Solomon than Power might have been. Gina Lollobrigida, though dark and sexy in ’59, seems nothing more than a sexual caricature today. But her mating dance to Maria Nascimbene’s exciting, orgy-inducing music remains a high camp treat.

No extras? There must be footage of Tyrone Power somewhere in the vaults. He had done quite a bit of filming before the coronary. Not to have embarked on a little archeological dig is reprehensible on the part of the supplementarists. All the moreso because MGM once led the pack in that sort of treasure diving.

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