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Solomon and Sheba

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2013 by Mystery Man

Solomon and Sheba

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Under the rule of King David, Israel is united and prosperous, although surrounded by enemies, including Egypt and its allies. The ageing King favours Solomon to succeed him, but his elder brother Adonijah (George Sanders), a warrior, declares himself King. When David learns of this, he publicly announces Solomon to be his successor. Adonijah and Joab, his general, withdraw in rage, but Solomon later offers his brother the command of the army, knowing that it may be used against him.

Israel continues to prosper under Solomon’s rule. The Queen of Sheba (Gina Lollobrigida) conspires with the Egyptian Pharaoh to undermine Solomon’s rule by seducing him and introducing Sheban pagan worship into Jerusalem. Solomon is indeed bewitched by her, and the two begin living together under the pretense of forming an alliance between their two kingdoms. The king’s reputation is damaged, but at the same time Sheba begins to truly fall in love with him and regret her plotting. Things come to a head when Solomon recklessly allows a Sheban ‘love festival’ (in fact an orgy in celebration of a pagan goddess) to be held within Israel. In an act of divine retribution, lightning from heaven destroys the Sheban altar and damages the newly-built Temple in Jerusalem, and the land is beset with a famine. Solomon is publicly rebuked by the people; the High Priest and Nathan the Prophet disown him.

Meanwhile Adonijah, banished by his brother after an assassination attempt, goes and strikes a bargain with Pharaoh; given an army, he will conquer Israel for Egypt, in exchange for being placed on the throne as a kind of viceroy. The tiny army mustered by Solomon (who has been abandoned by his allied states) is quickly routed, and Adonijah presses on to Jerusalem and makes himself king. Meanwhile Sheba, now a believer in the power of the god of Israel, prays for Solomon to be redeemed and restored to power.

Pursued by the Egyptians, who were sent to finish him off, Solomon thereafter devises a plan. He lines up the remnants of his army on a hill, prompting the enemy to charge. The Israelites, who have arranged themselves to face east, then use their highly polished shields to reflect the light of the rising sun into the Egyptians’ eyes. Blinded, the Egyptians are prevented from seeing the chasm in front of which the Israelites have positioned themselves, and the entire army rushes headlong over the edge and falls to its death.

Meanwhile Adonijah, met with a tepid reaction to his coup, tries to stir up Jerusalem’s population by ordering the stoning of Sheba. Midway through this hideous display, Solomon makes a triumphant return to the city. Adonijah attacks his brother, refusing to be deprived again of his throne, but is himself struck down. At Solomon’s prayer Sheba is miraculously healed of her wounds; as he resumes his power, she returns to her homeland, now pregnant by Solomon.

REVIEW:

A certain person in this house has a bit of a crush on Yul Brynner, one that may even rival my love Jayne Mansfield! In an effort to appease the need for more Yul (even though we could just as easily popped in The Magnificent Seven), Netflix had Solomon and Sheba to offer tonight.

What is this about?

This stunning biblical epic stars Yul Brynner as the wise King Solomon and Gina Lollobrigida as the beautiful queen of Sheba. After he inherits the kingdom of Israel from his father David, Solomon is targeted by the Egyptian pharaoh, who conspires with Sheba in an effort to bring down the benevolent king.

What did I like?

Love story. Ok, people, don’t jump down my throat on this. I’m no biblical scholar, nor have I ever claimed to be. That being said, I did enjoy the love story between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. For me, it was reminiscent, or I suppose the better word would be foreshadowing, of another Egyptian queen who develops a relationship with someone from a country they are at war with, Cleopatra. Brynner and Lollobridgida make the relationship seem as if it were the real deal, and not just a couple of people getting paid to make googly eyes at each other.

Leads. The film’s three leads, do a masterful job with what they are given. Admittedly, this is the best material to work with, but they prove that actors should be consummate professionals (take note actors of today), and aren’t just phoning it in. I can’t say I was mostly impressed by any of them, which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. I was taken by a new leading lady in Lollobridgida and wondering why it is I haven’t seen or heard more of her, other than a line from a song in Hairspray.

Scandalous. At the time this was made, scenes like the pagan love festival weren’t exactly looked upon with favorable eyes. Today, a scene like this would be sweater and more graphic, but as it is filmed here is quite tame. While I felt it went a bit long, it did make sense being included. Sheba was having a festival/ritual worshiping her god, and also attempting to seduce Solomon, which leads to his downfall. Truly, this is a pivotal and poignant scene in the film that I would wager almost didn’t make it into the final cut.

What didn’t I like?

Battle. When I was a kid, my friends and I would use sticks, branches, plastic lightsabers, etc. to have sword fights. Watching the battle scenes took me back to those days, and not in a good way. If I had to describe these scenes in one word, it would be uninspired. It felt more like they were in some acting class where they learn how to fight, rather than actually doing it. Even for the era in which this was made, it looked fake.

Wooden. Someone called the acting wooden and that the stars were too talented to be here. I’ll admit that I’ve seen better from Brynner and Sanders, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say wooden. I will possibly give them the too talented pass, at least Brynner. At this time, I believe Sanders was nearing the decline of his career and Brynner was a last-minute replacement for Tyrone Power, who was playing Solomon, but died of a heart attack on set.

Music. This is supposed to be an epic, but the music doesn’t portray it. There are no orchestral swells during the romantic scenes, the opening score doesn’t blow you away, and the soundtrack as a whole is just a bit of a letdown. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled with the epic scored of films like Lawrence of Arabia, Dances with Wolves, Gladiator, How the West was Won, etc, but this just left me feeling underwhelmed.

Solomon and Sheba was called by many critics one of the worse films of all time, a distinction it does not deserve. There isn’t anything inherently bad about this film, other than the fact it is quite forgettable. Seriously, the most memorable thing about it is that Yul Brynner has hair. I wish I could say that there is something worthwhile to see here, but there isn’t. Even the costumes, which may have been overshadowed by the fact that I saw that opulent indulgence that is Cleopatra last year, aren’t that great. Other than getting a glimpse of what curvaceous Italian beauty Gina Lollodgida could do on-screen, this is best not watching, unless you’re just into mediocre biblical flicks.

3 out of 5 stars

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