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Namrata Singh Gujral
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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 if 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 <email@example.com>
The temple was never destroyed by lightning. See more »
[praying to God in the temple after her unsuccessful attempt to prevent Solomon from attending Sheba's pagan ritual]
Lord God, hear the prayer of thy servant. Mine was not the strength to save my lord Solomon from himself. But thine is the power. Let not thy wrath descend upon him. Look into his heart and pity him. But if it be thy will to punish him, visit it upon me in his stead.
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King Vidor, one of the most famous figures in movie history, the director of Tolstoy's classic on screen (WAR AND PEACE), was not known for making biblical epics. Nobody associates him with this genre that much as we do Cecil B DeMille or D.W.Griffith, for instance. Yet, his last film, SOLOMON AND SHEBA, has a straight reference to the Bible. Nevertheless, the movie can hardly be seen as a biblical epic due to one important factor, its content.
Solomon...what can we say about him from the Bible?...a famous third king of Israel (after Saul and David), a man known for exceptional wisdom, a builder of the splendid first temple of Jerusalem... there is indeed much about him in the Old Testament. But Sheba? All we know is that she, as a queen of a distant land (today's Yemen), paid a visit to Jerusalem in order to see the splendor of the city and of the entire kingdom as well as to admire the wisdom of its king. However, what we find in the movie deals primarily with Solomon-Sheba relations: first a conspiracy, evil intentions, then weakness, desire, treason, finally sacrificial love and mercy. And now we would have to ask ourselves "is it a historical movie or a fairy tale with some historically accurate background?"
I think that in order to understand the director's intentions, we have to look deeper at the cinema of that time and King Vidor himself. SOLOMON AND SHEBA with its title refers to a 1951 Henry King's movie, "David and Bathsheba." Making films at that time was much like this: the producers picked up some aspect from history or the Bible and created a movie out of this containing lavish costumes, great cast, campy spectacle but barely any historical accuracy - all for entertainment. And this is clearly noticeable in SOLOMON AND SHEBA. Besides, there is one more factor that helps get the idea of this film...the content of SOLOMON AND SHEBA was partly inspired by a long ago forgotten movie, one of the most gigantic spectacles of all time, still presumed lost, THE QUEEN OF SHEBA (1921) with Betty Blythe and Fritz Leiber. A love affair of the wise Israeli king and an exotic lustful queen was something particularly entertaining for 20th century viewers. Therefore, we cannot treat Vidor's film as a biblical epic, it's only INSPIRED by the Bible. However, while many people concentrate on the film's weak points: inaccuracy, unnatural battle scenes, etc, I rather feel compelled to focus on some of its strong points.
It is, indeed, a lavish spectacle. There are many scenes that reveal the spirit of grandeur. Here, it seems necessary to mention the two consecutive moments: Solomon enters the temple of luxury devoted to the only God (he says his famous prayer) and the next moment in the Land of Sheba where its queen is surrounded by the luxurious sets, a dedicated servant and a parrot. This contrast has its roots in one major factor Israel differed from other kingdoms and nations: the Israeli king was a servant of God while other rulers were masters of their own. That was the genius and righteousness of the Israel of that time! Another moment worth seeing is the Israel-Egypt battle and the shields shining in the sun. Quite an interesting idea...
The performances are worth consideration. Yul Brynner is different than in his other films (primarily due to hair on his head) but does a nice job as Solomon. He expresses the pride, power, wisdom but also desire that he is driven by. The best scene played by Yul in this movie is, I think, when Solomon is tempted to take part at Ragon celebration. Although virtuous Abishaq (Marisa Pavan) tries to discourage him from joining the orgy, he is not able to listen to her. Consider his face and the whole performance... masterpiece! Gina Lollobrigida plays well but she holds one disadvantage. Most people (particularly men) focus on her sex appeal forgetting that she has one primary task as an actress: to act and feel the role. The similar problem is, nowadays, with Monica Bellucci (also Italian). Men cannot be objective in the evaluation of her performance because the sex appeal steps in and makes them blind to possible shortcomings in acting. I liked Gina Lollobrigida in the role not only because of her beauty but also because of her good acting, sometimes exposed to difficulties! The moment Solomon is making love to Sheba in a cave at the pagan celebration dedicated to god Ragon is quite freely treated for the 1950s... The supporting cast also give memorable performances including George Sanders as Adonija and Harry Andrews as Baltor, the queen's second.
I also liked the whole atmosphere. Although there are historical inaccuracies in the reconstruction of Jerusalem, the film has a charm and historical mood. It is definitely not the perfect one but I could not evaluate this as a movie without any entertainment. If it weren't for the ridiculous ending (Sheba miraculously healed and speaking with God Jehova???), the film would be equal to such epics as DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS (1954), SAMSON AND DELILAH (1948) and THE CRUSADES (1935). It's not that great but, in its inaccuracy, it definitely cannot be compared to Bruce Beresford's movie (1985) since we do not expect the biblical story from SOLOMON AND SHEBA that much as we do from a movie entirely described as a biopic of king David.
Not a bad film and worth seeing particularly for epic movie fans. Moreover, it is one of the rare films that shows one down to earth fact: wisdom does not mean that desire is conquered... 6/10
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