“KING SOLOMON’S MINES” (1950) Review

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“KING SOLOMON’S MINES” (1950) Review

To my knowledge, there have been at least four film adaptations of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 adventure novel, “King Solomon’s Mines”. One film had been released in 1937, featuring Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Paul Robeson. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released one in 1950, starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger. Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone co-starred in one in 1985. And in 2004, Patrick Swayze and Alison Doody starred in a two-part miniseries, based on the novel. But the film I want to focus upon is the 1950 version. Quite frankly, it is my favorite one.

It took Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer nearly four years to get “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” into production. They had originally planned to have Errol Flynn star as the Victorian hunter and guide living in Africa, Allan Quartermain. But Flynn dreaded the idea of spending time away from any form of luxury, while on location in Africa. He ended up taking the leading role in MGM’s other adventure, “KIM”, in which he spent his off-camera hours at a resort in India. British actor, Stewart Granger, took the role of Quartermain . . . and became a major Hollywood star. The other cast members included Deborah Kerr as Elizabeth Curtis, the woman who hires Quartermain to lead a safari in search of her missing husband; Richard Carlson as John Goode, Elizabeth’s likable older brother; Siriaque as the mysterious Umbopa, who is revealed to be King of the Watusi; and Hugo Haas as Van Brun, a former hunter who is wanted by British authorities for murder. Directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton, ”KING SOLOMON’S MINES” was filmed on location in the Republic of Congo and Kenya, along with California.

Loosely based upon Haggard’s novel, “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” tells the story of Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger), an experienced hunter and guide in 1897 Kenya, who is reluctantly talked into helping Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John Goode (Richard Carlson) search for her husband, who had disappeared in the unexplored interior of Africa on a quest to find the legendary mines. They have a copy of the map that Henry Curtis had used in his journey. A tall, mysterious native, Umbopa (Siriaque), eventually joins the safari. And during the grueling journey, Elizabeth and Quatermain begin falling in love.

As I had stated, this version of “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” is my favorite version. It is not a very close adaptation of the novel. For one, there was no literary version of the Elizabeth Curtis character. And her husband, Henry, was definitely one of the characters. It was he who hired Quartermain to lead a search party – for his missing brother. John Goode was a close friend, instead of a brother-in-law. The novel was basically set in Southern Africa, instead of Kenya and other parts of East Africa. I am quite certain there are other differences between Haggard’s novel and this movie adaptation. But if I must be frank, I really do not care. I love “KING SOLOMON’S MINES”. Its screenplay written by Helen Deutsch, the movie possessed a heady combination of an adventure film, a travelogue and intelligent drama. Cinematographer Robert Surtees deservedly won an Academy Award for his color photography in the movie. East Africa never looked more beautiful and wild. Ralph E. Winters and Conrad A. Nervig won the Academy Award for Best Editing. Thanks to them, there were able to allow the audience to enjoy the African photography, while ensuring that it would not get in the way of the acting and the story.

Speaking of the movie’s acting, MGM was fortunate to get their hands on Stewart Granger in the role of Allan Quartermain. Granted, I am a major fan of Errol Flynn, but Granger was right for the role. He did an excellent job of projecting the heroic qualities of Quartermain, yet at the same time, delving into the character’s cynical, yet slightly melancholy personality. Deborah Kerr was a perfect match as the equally caustic Elizabeth Curtis, who sets the journey in motion to find her husband and alleviate her guilt for driving the latter from England. The on-screen match between Granger and Kerr was so strong that it was simply a joy to watch their verbal sparring and sexual chemistry. Richard Carlson as Elizabeth Curtis’ brother, John Goode, provided cool and intelligent stability amidst the sexual heat and hostility generated by Granger and Kerr. And the East African actor Siriaque’s (I have no idea from which country he came from) character added mystery as the native who joins the Curtis safari.

I am trying to think of something negative to say about “KING SOLOMON’S MINES”. Okay, there were moments when it was in danger of becoming nothing more than a travelogue. And Deborah Kerr’s new hairdo after she had “cut” her hair, resembled a style that a mid 20th century woman would wear and not one in the late 19th century would. No wonder many moviegoers had laughed. Other than the those two quibbles, I have nothing to complain about the movie.

The movie has one more blessing . . . its human portrayal of the African characters allowed it to avoid the tackiness of the 1985 Chamberlain-Stone version or the silly tactic that Paul Robeson was forced to use in order to reveal his character’s true identity in the 1937 version. The movie also provided excellent acting by its cast, great cinematography, and excellent action sequences. Is it any wonder that it ended up receiving a Best Picture Academy Award nomination?

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