Monday, February 22, 2010

King Solomon's Mines (1950)

A while back I did a couple of posts, Swoon-worthy Actors and Phonebook Actresses. Two stars that I neglected to put on either list out of sheer stupidity were Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. I've always loved Granger ever since I saw Young Bess, years ago. I even did a tribute to his legs a while back. How could I forget him? And Kerr is such a solid actress. I love her in comedy (the two she made with Cary Grant are slight , but entertaining) and drama (From Here to Eternity, Night of the Iguana) which is a rarity. I adore her in Vacation from Marriage and Affair to Remember where she gets to do a bit of both. So to make up for this oversight, I'm posting on yet another fifties movie, King Solomon's Mines, which stars Granger and Kerr.

This is a straight-forward action picture with a bit of romance. The story follows an English woman (Kerr) who hires hunter, Alan Quartermain(Granger) to find her treasure hunting husband who has gone AWOL in Africa. I watched this with my husband and the boy and they both loved it, too. At one point my husband went upstairs to check on the roast and came back ten minutes later. It took me a couple of minutes to summarize all the plot points he'd missed. With such a busy script this could have easily been a confused, over-blown mess. Yet, the basic journey motif keeps it all hanging together. Do characters drop in and out? Why, yes. Character development? Hardly any, unless you count Deborah Kerr cutting her hair. There are countless scenes of Granger rescuing Kerr from danger to be followed by an awkward moment when they seem like they might kiss. It's not so much a romance as a series of awkward moments.

I don't really mind these flaws though. This is a piece of spectacle and it excels at that. It is a big budget, highly proficient film made about an Africa that simply doesn't exist anymore, and probably never did anyway. The movie opens with Quatermain hunting elephants with a bunch of spoiled rich people. If there were any pro-Elephant hunting people left in the world, this movie would change their minds. The access to animals on the scale shown in this movie is pretty much never going to happen again. There is a long sequence of a stampede that had the intended effect of bowling me over. The native people in the film are presented in a way which was fairly unoffensive even today. Native actors Kimursi and Siriaque are especially memorable. Their tribes are shown with at least a minimal attempt at accuracy. I'm not going to go so far as to say they weren't exploited for the film , because I don't know but none of the usual savage stereotypes that plagued 1930s films of this genre are present. The worst you can say is that the film focuses too much on the white people. It plays like a technicolor, live action National Geographic photo essay. It's not exactly anthropology and it's not exactly high art, but it has an edutainment value.

I've often seen this film listed as among the inspirations for Raiders of the Lost Ark. The emphasis is on travelogue, not treasure hunting. When they are in the mines and there is a booby trap with at least one big, round obviously fake bolder. I could also see Quartermaine as a forerunner to Indiana Jones. He has a trademark hat and he wears khaki pants. He hates dragging women along but that is Victorian chauvenism. Indy doesn't like to bring women along because he such a commitment-phobe that it might seem like going steady with a gal if he talks to her more than twice. On second thought, maybe those are both the exact same reason!

One final note, for those playing along at home, Stewart Granger's legs do make an appearance in the film, but just barely. Thanks to all those jungle thorns his pants eventually get completely torn to shreds leaving just strips that occasionally offer a peek at those Granger Gams. Hooray! Sorry I couldn't make screen caps. You'll just have to trust me on this one, people. Speaking of legs, Deborah Kerr gets to wear gauchos in this movie. Kerr's gauchos are not quite in the same class as Susan Hayward's in Garden of Evil, but they'll do.


Gareth said...

I wrote a little about this film last year; I was watching it as part of a research project, and I found that the trailer indulged in far more "darkest Africa" antics than the film itself.

Jennythenipper said...

That was a great post. I left a comment about it on your blog. I never saw the trailer, and now I'm kind of glad I didn't.

Life magazine did a huge article on the film (one of the beautiful pics is reprinted here in my blog). I was thinking about trying to track it down. Did you ever get a hold of it for your research?

Gareth said...

Thanks for the comment. I didn't realize that Life did a feature on the film; I'll have to search it out in the university library since it would be fascinating to see how they treated the material.

Jennythenipper said...

You might also check out Life's excellent online picture archive. They generally have the entire photo shoot, including pictures not published in the magazine, as is the case with this one.

SteveQ said...

This was a "take it or leave it" film for me, but there's a remake that's laugh out loud funny in its awfulness.

Never thought about Granger's legs (thanks for that), and I never can think of him without thinking that his real name was Jimmy Stewart.

Jennythenipper said...

Steve: I have a vague memory of the remake waaaay back in the 80s. I should really look it up.

I love that Granger's name was Jimmy Stewart. And I love reminding people about his legs.

SteveQ said...

Before I forget, the 1937 (1936?) version of King Solomon's Mines with Charles Laughton (again: ?) and Paul Robeson has some brilliant action scenes; well worth a look.

Jennythenipper said...

I'll have to check that older KSM out. I love Laughton, though for the life of me I can't figure out where he'd fit into the script.

Juanita's Journal said...

Character development? Hardly any, unless you count Deborah Kerr cutting her hair.

Really? I saw character development, other than Kerr's hair. Good grief, the attention span of today's audience.