Saturday, July 18, 2009

Snakes on the Plains in King Solomon's Mines

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...in the end you begin to accept it all... you watch things hunting and being hunted, reproducing, killing and dying, it's all endless and pointless, except in the end one small pattern emerges from it all, the only certainty: one is born, one lives for a time then one dies. That is all... 

King Solomon's Mines (1950)
Directed by Compton Bennett & Andrew Marton
MGM

Made in "the good old days" before it was mandated that no animals be harmed in the making of this or any film, King Solomon's Mines quite literally opens with a bang as an elephant is shot and killed by an Englishman on safari. The viewer stares in horror as the elephant staggers and falls, twitching in its last moments of agony. The other elephants scream and cry like a mother who has just lost a child, and thus begins King Solomon's Mines.


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Err...

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Yes, sorry. I was confused there for a moment. They look so similar.

This is a film that must have fascinated audiences in 1950 as a colorful spectacle filled with adventure, romance, and mystery primarily filmed on location in the foreign lands of Africa. From lush forests to harsh deserts and fields that strangely resemble English Countryside, this isn't Burbank folks. In the opening credits, a viable history lesson in itself, MGM thanks the Government Officials of Tanganyika, Uganda Protectorate, Kenya Colony and Protectorate Belgian Congo. We aren't in Kansas anymore.

One of the early influences of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, King Solomon's Mines is the story of the original Indiana Jones, Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger) who leads an expedition through uncharted African territory (or at least it was potentially uncharted in 1897) in an effort to locate Henry, a man who dissappeared searching for the legendary King Solomon's Mines. He is secured by Henry's wife, Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John Goode (Richard Carlson). Quatermain does not expect that they will return. As the trio make their way along Henry's hand drawn map, love blossoms between Elizabeth and Quatermain as they fight the elements and several unfriendly tribes for their lives. 

This film is definitely told from a Western perspective, but I still found it forward thinking for its time as 1) the filmmakers used actual African peoples as opposed to Mickey Rooney in blackface and had the hutzpah to shoot on location 2) aside from the fact that the whites have the power of guns it is clear that they are trespassing on the tribesman's territory and not the other way around 3) there is pretty extensive footage of several tribal dances and ceremonies, and 3) the only score in the film is several African chants. It is practically a documentary, a filmic preservation of part of Africa's past.

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Reportedly Errol Flynn refused the part of Quatermain because he didn't want to rough it in a tent on location. Though the stunt doubles clearly saw more action than the stars did, all three are definitely in the elements, and these elements are king. The plot is essentially secondary to the majesty of the animal kingdom, fighting and living in every invisible nook and cranny and constantly threatening their lives. There are anteaters and giraffes, predators and prey. One false step and Deborah Kerr almost gets taken out by a mamba snake, centipedes feed off their flesh, and tigers paw at their tents. The kings of the kingdom are the elephants, and people are merely meat. There are no souls in the wilderness. There is no morality, no order. Survival of the fittest, baby. This focus also makes the love story far more interesting as it never becomes sappy or overdone. The need to survive is always superior to personal feeling.

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I recommend viewing this film if you can't afford a trip to Africa, Disneyworld, or a time machine. It offers all three for the low low price of a subscription to netflix.

My Rating: B- 

6 comments:

  1. I'm sure we can all agree that the film world started its downward spiral once animals got rights with the groundbreaking trial Eddy the Horse v. Whip.

    ;)

    Good analysis! I'm assuming "Gone with the Wind" gets an "A" rating from you?

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  2. you know i hear they're trying to reverse that decision. it's almost as controversial as roe v. wade!

    (a wink for your wink)

    double yes. you know me too well. :D

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  5. Curse to those who shot the elephants while their families wept. Glad the one charge at the actor; hope he was actually killed. Will never watch Debra in anything again. This is no Academy Award winning film. It's a big contributor to extinction. Shame on tcm for showing it ever.

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