Land Of The Pharaohs

1955, Movie, NR, 103 mins

Review

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LAND OF THE PHARAOHS is a "big" movie, the spectacle of which has seldom been equalled. Hawks, a man who made so many smaller films, was at the helm of this epic that was destined to lose most of its $6 million investment. Hawks used more than 10,000 extras and handled the DeMille-type hordes well enough. The problems arose in the shooting of the small moments, the times when actors had to speak to each other. Hawkins is an Egyptian Pharaoh who returns to his palace after many heroic feats as a desert warrior. In the past six years, he's been involved in five wars and has amassed the spoils of victory, which include a ton or so of gold. He tells his pal, Minotis, that he is finally contented, except for two matters--he wants his Queen, Kerima, to present him with a son, and he would like a suitable resting place once he's gone off to Egyptian heaven. He assigns his top architect, Justice, to the task of creating a fit and lasting monument where he can rest his head and surround himself with his treasures. Justice is a slave and tells Hawkins that he will only design the tomb if Hawkins agrees to allow his fellow slaves to be released upon the project's completion. Construction commences and thousands of slaves are put to the task of building the pyramid. Kerima bears Hawkins a son, Giagnoni, and he and Justice's son, Martin, grow to manhood as best friends. While the pyramid is being built, Hawkins asks his neighboring countries to send tokens of their esteem (gold, mostly) in his honor. Cyprus doesn't have much gold so they send him Joan Collins instead (age 22 and ravishing), who refuses to do Hawkins' bidding, namely, sleep with him. Hawkins is at once angered and intrigued by Collins so he makes her his second wife. But Collins, already playing a mean and vicious character in preparation for her later TV success on "Dynasty," has plans of her own. She conspires with Chaplin (son of Charlie), a palace guard, to kill Hawkins and Giagnoni so she can rule the civilized world. Both murder attempts are flubbed, but Kerima dies in the process and Hawkins is only injured. Collins thinks fast and says that the whole cabal was planned by Chaplin. Hawkins gets in a battle with Chaplin, kills him, and is himself mortally wounded in the fight. Collins can help him but she prefers to watch him die. A few moments before his last breath, Hawkins finally understands that it was Collins all along who planned the assassination. At the suggestion of Minotis, Collins enters the pyramid to nab the gold as the funeral procession enters along with her. Minotis now informs her that the pyramid is about to be sealed, and along with the funeral party and himself, they will all be entombed alive in there forever. Collins screams in agony while, outside, Justice and Martin lead their people to freedom as Collins goes through her histrionics.

William Faulkner wrote the script with veterans Kurnitz and Bloom, and it was more stentorian than dramatic. Much of the picture concerned itself with the building of the pyramid, not an exceptionally exciting event to watch. Hawks would have been wise to cast a few big names as cameos to help, the way David Lean did with Anthony Quinn and Alec Guinness for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, to bolster the unknown Peter O'Toole. Chaplin was allegedly Collins' boy friend at one time. LAND OF THE PHARAOHS grew out of Hawks' efforts to explore the new cinematic form of CinemaScope. Originally he had intended to film a story about the building of a US airbase in China during WW II, which was completed in three weeks by using thousands of Chinese men and women to carry the necessary stones for the construction, but the political situation made cooperation with the Chinese impossible. It then occurred to him that the building of the pyramids was a story of that magnitude, and so he set to work on a script. Faulkner always liked to promote the story that he suffered the tortures of the damned when he worked as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, and did it only because he was a poor scrivener trying to survive. Hawks tells a different story, maintaining that the pyramid story excited Faulkner's imagination and that any time he needed Faulkner's help he called for him. leave a comment

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