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Shortly before his death in ancient Israel King David has a vision from God telling him that his younger son Solomon should succeed him as king. His other son Adonijah is unhappy and vows to attain the throne. Meanwhile the Egyptian Pharoah agrees to cede a Red Sea port to the Queen of Sheba is she can find a way to destroy Solomon, whose wisdom and benevolent rule is seen as a threat to more tyrannical monarchs in the region. Sheba, Pharoah, Adonijah, the leaders of the Twelve Tribes and his own God make life difficult for Solomon who is tempted by Sheba to stray. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Solomon and Sheba has come down in Hollywood lore not for the quality of the film, but for the fact that Tyrone Power died while making it. I was in the 5th grade and well remember the huge news for days when that tragedy happened. I didn't know who Tyrone Power was then, but I learned and learned to appreciate the body of his work.
I often wonder if Ty had a sense about this film and what a dud it proved. He was the unnamed producer of this as well. Maybe he just didn't want to face the critics. Good thing Power actually went out with Witness for the Prosecution although you can see him in long shots if you look close.
What we have here is a biblical stew that probably would baffle the great Solomon himself. Several incidents described in the Bible that the Bible treats separately are woven together into one plot with a few additions tossed in by Hollywood.
The actual story about the Queen of Sheba is that she went on a trade mission to the Kingdom of Israel, chatted Solomon up a bit, came back with a lot of trade goods and that was that. The story of a romance between her and Solomon is of legend. The ancient kingdom of Sheba is about where Yemen is now and her people purportedly moved to the African continent which is how Ethiopia was founded.
The Queen never witnessed Solomon's famous case involving the two women with separate claims for a baby, nor was she involved with the building of the First Temple. Nor was she around for the destruction of same. For that matter neither was Solomon.
And she was not involved in the dispute over the succession when Solomon's brother Adonijah put in a counterclaim. That is the heart of this film. Adonijah upon hearing the news that King David is dying declares himself king. Of course David rallies temporarily and says that God came to him and said Solomon should succeed him. When David hears about what Adonijah did, he says that's what got God all bent out of shape, Adonijah being greedy. After that Adonijah gets to plotting.
Things seem to come full circle in that Ty Power collapsed on the set while dueling with George Sanders as Adonijah. Sanders and Power were rivals in many films, most particularly in Lloyds of London which was Power's breakthrough role. If Sanders is not quite the jaded sophisticate he was in Samson and Delilah, he's still Sanders the biblical cad.
When Power died Yul Brynner was brought in to play Solomon and given a wig so that existing footage of Power in long shot could be salvaged. Brynner invests the dialog with the proper dignity, but I think he probably regretted doing the pinch hitting.
Gina Lollobrigida is the Queen of Sheba and she is alluring as a biblical temptress in the Cecil B. DeMille tradition. She seems not to have any real conviction and my guess is she was shocked at Power's sudden demise and having to do it all over again. Marisa Pavan as Abishag may give the best performance in the film.
The real story with Adonijah is not as elaborate as this film. He disputed with Solomon for the succession and gathered around a group of some of King David's court as supporters. Solomon pardoned them once and then Adonijah asked for Abishag in marriage. Abishag in the Bible and here was an adopted daughter of King David in his old age. When Solomon hears that, he decides Adonijah is getting greedy again and has him killed. The Bible mentions someone named Berniah who was going around basically doing contract hits on Adonijah's supporters.
What we have in the film is a spectacular climax involving a miracle that I searched for and couldn't find. It came from the fertile imagination of director King Vidor who ended a long and distinguished career on a sour note. It was a question of Vidor trying to out do Cecil B. DeMille in biblical spectacle.
He didn't make it.
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