In eighteenth-dynasty Egypt, Sinuhe, a poor orphan, becomes a brilliant physician and with his friend Horemheb is appointed to the service of the new Pharoah. Sinuhe's personal triumphs and tragedies are played against the larger canvas of the turbulent events of the 18th dynasty. As Sinuhe is drawn into court intrigues, and bizarre secrets are revealed to him, he learns the answers to the questions he has sought since his birth. Short on historical accuracy but strong on plot and characterization.Written by
Peter Ustinov was originally rejected for the role he auditioned for because the producers felt he was too young. But after doing research on the character, he learned the man was just a few years older than he was. So he told the producers, who then gave him the role. See more »
The real Sinuhe was a courtier of Amenemhat I, not Akhnaton. See more »
[Older Sinuhe voiceover]
I, Sinuhe the Egyptian, write this. In my place of exile on the shores of the Red Sea. There is no more desolate spot on earth. Soon the jackals and the vultures will make a poor meal of what is left of me. No monument will mark my resting place. I will leave only this, the story of my life. I have lived fully and deeply. I have tasted passion, crime and even murder. It is for you to judge me. You must weigh the good against the evil, the passion against the...
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When the power of sword clashed with the power of thought...
Film historians have said much about ancient epics that have been the interest of many directors from the beginning of cinema. The pioneers of such epics, particularly biblical ones, were D.W Griffith with his "mother of all epics" INTOLERANCE (1916), and Cecil B DeMille with his flair for magnificent spectacles, costumes and lavish scenes. Who can forget his TEN COMMANDMENTS (1923, 1956) or THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932)? Nevertheless, here comes another epic, made in the 1950s, directed by Michael Curtiz, and based on the novel by Mika Waltari, "The Egyptian." Michael Curtiz, already famous for his great classic CASABLANCA (1941) wonderfully manages to adjust his film to the audiences of that time, to entail the most important ideas and facts from the thick novel, and to recreate the lifestyle of the Egyptians who lived in one of the most amazing periods, in the reign of Akhnaton.
The first and most important fact for me in this movie is the psychological development of the main character that Edmund Purdom plays. Sinuhe, having been brought up in a simple family by his step parents, becomes a physician. All his life, he never stops asking a question "why?" and searching for the answer. Alluring love that he finds in a courtesan Nefer (Bella Darvi) leads him to financial and spiritual disaster. He has to repair the mistakes by hard work in the House of Death and starting to build up his reputation from nothing. First, he thinks that the only cure is revenge. However, in the long run, he realizes that "eye for eye" is no solution. Finally, what stands before him in very strange circumstances is the temptation to be a pharaoh. Nevertheless, there is one moment he finds the answer for his questions that touched him throughout his life... The story of the main character, though based on the book, is so interesting psychologically that every open minded person should consider this aspect in the film. The main character's psychological struggle is intensified by the times he lived in, the times when, probably for the first time to that extend, the power of sword clashed with the power of thought.
Curtiz's movie also retains one rule that all films of his era kept to: great cast and lavish sets. There are mostly British actors and actresses who give very nice performances. How is it possible not to mention the mainstay of ancient epic, Victor Mature. This time, he is not Demetrius, Hannibal or Samson but Horemheb - a fighter, a lover, at last a pharaoh. Jean Simmons appears in a very delicate role of Merit, a woman who loved Sinuhe all her life but it was too late when he realized that. Peter Ustinov, probably most famous for his gorgeous performance as Nero in QUO VADIS? three years earlier, does a great job as Kaptah, Sinuhe's friend. The royalty of the film is also played by two great cast, Gene Tierney and Michael Wilding. Tierney is excellent as cold, desirous of power Baketamon, the sister of pharaoh. Wilding gives a marvelous performance as "insane" Akhnaton. When I was in Louvre in Paris and saw Akhnaton's original face carved in stone, he looked very much the same as the actor in the film. Bella Darvi, an actress born in Poland, is quite memorable as a wicked courtesan Nefer. And there is one more actress who appears only in one scene but whom it is hard to forget, Judith Evelyn as Taia, pharaoh's mother. This voice, these eyes!
The sets are magnificent. The director recreated the most probable image of the outdoor temple of Aaton, the god that the Egyptians worshiped to in the reign of Amenhotep IV. I also loved the scene of pharaoh's first entrance. What a glorious picture that forever lasts in one's memory!!! However, there is also one aspect that I would like to draw the attention of all people interested to see the film. The Egyptian is similar to other epics in many respects, but it also stands out as a unique film. There are very few films which make such a wonderful use of different curiosities as for ancient times. There is a mention of iron used first by the Hetites. It's also the only film about ancient Egypt which talks openly of Egyptians' magnificent curing abilities. It memorably shows the contrasts of lifestyles, particularly the moment of a slave's death for whom no one cares followed by the announcement and consequently the widespread mourning after the death of pharaoh. Finally, "The Egyptian" shows one historical fact: there were other nations except for Jews (before Christ) where the spirit of God shone in some human hearts. Yet, the only difference was that it did not survive that long as at Jews' because it did not have a strong fundament. The scene of Akhnaton's death supplies you with so many biblical and Christian values that you may think you watch a religious movie.
All things considered, I highly recommend Michael Curtiz' film. It is a great production at multiple levels: an entertainment for epic fans, an admiration of marvelous performances for cinema fans, a soul feast for spiritual people. Finally, it is a beautiful story of extraordinary things which happened thirteen centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.
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