Solomon And Sheba

For his last feature film, King Vidor unfortunately helmed this overblown and rather silly biblical epic. It also carries an unhappy legacy as being the film that killed Tyrone Power. Adapting freely from the Old Testament story of Solomon and Sheba, it opens with Solomon (Brynner) and his brother Adonijah (Sanders) preparing for an attack by the Egyptian...read more

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For his last feature film, King Vidor unfortunately helmed this overblown and rather silly biblical epic. It also carries an unhappy legacy as being the film that killed Tyrone Power. Adapting freely from the Old Testament story of Solomon and Sheba, it opens with Solomon (Brynner) and his

brother Adonijah (Sanders) preparing for an attack by the Egyptian army. After the Israelites handily defeat their enemy in an enormous battle sequence, Magda, the queen of Sheba (Lollobrigida) enters the scene. She insults Adonijah, then rides off to join her people. Back in Jerusalem, King David

(Currie) is on his deathbed. He tells of a dream wherein the Lord revealed Solomon would be the next king, a vision that naturally upsets the power-hungry Adonijah. In homage to David, Solomon builds the Great Temple. The Egyptian Pharaoh (Farrar) fears Solomon will send the Israelites to attack

his land. He enlists Magda's help to stop Solomon, using her sex appeal to stop the Jewish king. Bearing a plethora of expensive gifts, Magda manages to get Solomon to fall for her, which upsets the prophet Nathan (Devlin) and his cronies known as the "Elders." They demand Magda be cast out of

Israel, but Solomon does not comply. Adonijah is angered by this and arranges for some men to kill Solomon. Solomon outwits the would-be assassins, however, then forces Adonijah to leave the country. Magda holds an enormous feast, then goes to a palace orgy. She seduces Solomon, which incurs the

wrath of the Lord. Lightning bolts destroy the temple, but this is only the beginning of Solomon's new troubles. The Egyptians attack, nearly wiping out Solomon's troops. Magda learns she is pregnant but makes a pact with the Lord. At the ruins of the Temple, she promises to renounce her own faith

and return to Sheba if Solomon's turmoils will end. The Israelites return from battle, then polish their shields on Solomon's command. The high-gloss shields catch sunlight, temporarily blinding the Egyptians, which causes the enemy troops to fall over a ledge. Back in Jerusalem, the people are

convinced Solomon has lost the war. Adonijah takes over as king and commands Magda be stoned to death. These plans are thwarted when Solomon returns victorious, then kills Adonijah in a sword fight. He takes Magda's body to the temple, where amid a background chorus and fancy lighting, her life is

restored. Magda returns to Sheba, while Solomon begins reconstruction of the temple.

Packed into this slam-bang history lesson are most of the famous stories associated with Solomon, including the famed debate between two mothers over the parentage of a baby. Following the two acclaimed biblical epics of the 1950s, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and BEN HUR, SOLOMON AND SHEBA sticks to the

unwritten Hollywood code that big spending equals great filmmaking. The film is packed with colorful (if historically inaccurate) costumes and sets and mammoth battle sequences, but these elements don't cover up the stiff dialog, with lines like "Abjure this woman and her idolatries. Tear down the

obscene abomination she has erected!" Considering this takes place in the Holy Land, such unusual contrasts as Lollobrigida's thick Italian accent working in tandem with Sanders' crisp British pronunciations gives the film a slightly absurd feel. The battle sequences are adequately staged, though

hardly outstanding. Despite the historical inaccuracies in the set design (the Stars of David that adorn nearly everything weren't commonly used until the 17th Century A.D.), the producers knew one thing for certain: sex sells. To this end, they employed the services of Granville Heathway, an

Englishman who claimed to have extensive knowledge of orgies throughout history. Heathway helped re-create the poorly staged sex fest in the film, for which he received the unusual production credit "Orgy-Sequence Adviser."

The production was shot in Spain, where the government happily cooperated with the filmmakers. The Spanish army was incorporated to serve as extras for battle sequences, but problems arose when the English speaking cast and crew had difficulty communicating with the soldiers. To solve this

problem, American and British tourists were rounded up from vacation hot spots and used in addition to the soldiers. The military extras were paid what amounted to one dollar a day, working under often life-threatening conditions. Many ended up in the hospital but were shown little sympathy by

their superior officers. In a letter to his friend Brian Aherne, Sanders wrote of one soldier who was trampled by some horses, then run over by a chariot: "A Spanish officer yelled to him to get up and keep running so as not to spoil the shot. He staggered to his feet, ran a few paces, and then

dropped in his tracks and passed out. The ambulance took him away." The film was shot in a new wide-screen technique called Super Technirama 70, a 70-millimeter film stock that ads claimed would turn the film-going experience into real life. Six million dollars was poured into the production

budget and, surprisingly, the film made a respectable profit. The American box office came in at $5.5 million, while the European take was an even better $10 million.

Power was originally cast in the lead, starring against his oft-time screen opponent Sanders. Filming commenced in the fall of 1958, and nearly 75 percent of the shooting (including crowd sequences) was completed when, on November 15, Power collapsed from a heart attack while shooting a sword

fight with Sanders. Production was temporarily halted while the filmmakers sorted out their options. It was finally decided to reshoot all of Power's sequences with a new actor, while collecting the $1,229,172 insurance policy on Power's death. In the interim, Sanders left Spain to shoot another

film, then returned to SOLOMON AND SHEBA, where he received $65,000 over his original salary. Brynner, an experienced biblical-epic thespian (THE TEN COMMANDMENTS), was hired to play Solomon. This is one of the few performances for which Brynner wore hair. His performance is adequate, but Vidor

was convinced Brynner misunderstood the part. The director saw King Solomon as a man fighting dual emotions, but claimed Brynner wanted to play the king as wise, stable and clear of purpose. Despite the necessary replacement of Powers, many long shots and rear views of Power were used in the final

cut.

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