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EGYPTIAN, THE(director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriters: Philip Dunne/Casey Robinson/from the novel by Mika Waltari ; cinematographer: Leon Shamroy; editor: Barbara McLean; music: Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Newman; cast: Edmund Purdom (Sinuhe), Victor Mature (Horemheb), Jean Simmons (Merit, Tavern Maid), Gene Tierney (Baketamon), Michael Wilding (Akhnaton), Bella Darvi (Nefer), Peter Ustinov (Kaptah), Judith Evelyn (Taia), Henry Daniell (Mikere, palace priest), John Carradine (Grave robber), Carl Benton Reid (Senmut); Runtime: 140; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1954)
“Overlong, risible and plodding historical blockbuster.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Marlon Brando wisely got out of starring in this overlong, risible and plodding historical blockbuster (budgeted for $4.2 million) and was replaced at the last minute by Twentieth Century-Fox studio contract player Edmund Purdom. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s mistress at the time Bella Darvi is miscast as the femme fatale with the awful French accent who exhibits a lack of any acting chops. She’s someone trying to ensnare the goody-goody hero physician played in all earnestness by Purdom. It’s loosely based on Mika Waltari’s bestselling lusty but scholarly-detailed novel and is weakly written by Philip Dunne and Casey Robinson. Director Michael Curtiz (“The Breaking Point”/”King Creole”/”We’re No Angels”) keeps it as lavish Hollywood pageantry like The Robe, offering authentic recreated studio sets shot in lush CinemaScope by respected cinematographer Leon Shamroy and offers plenty of banal dialogue to go along with the 140 minutes of melodrama.

The film is told from the POV of a former unwanted child and the now banished elderly self-sacrificing respected physician Sinuhe (Edmund Purdom), who acts as narrator to the glory days of ancient Egypt whose monuments are now in ruins and dust. It’s set 33 centuries ago in the 14th Century B.C., in Thebes, Egypt. Senmut, the kind-hearted physician to the poor, and his wife, adopt a baby found in a basket floating in the Nile River and name the orphan child Sinuhe, who also grows up to be a physician serving the poor. While roaming the streets for patients, the loquacious, one-eyed slave Kaptah (Peter Ustinov) volunteers to be his servant. Victor Mature is the affable soldier Horemheb, of low-birth, the son of a cheese-maker, who acts as best friend and protector of Sinuhe. The two are arrested by the palace soldiers for touching a holy man while on a lion hunt and are brought before the prissy new pharaoh Akhnaton (Michael Wilding), whose father just died, and are surprisingly freed and rewarded by the enlightened ruler. Sinuhe is asked to be the court physician, but turns it down to serve the poor; while Horemheb gets his wish to be a soldier in the palace guard and begins his rise in power to when he eventually becomes the next pharoah after poisoning the present one and will later betray his former friend Sinuhe for his rebellious religious beliefs.

Gene Tierney is Baketamon, the ambitious princess and nasty sister of the pharaoh who hooks up with soul mate Horemheb. Jean Simmons is the monotheistic good girl tavern maid who loves the physician without his realization, and dies for her beliefs with an arrow thrust through her heart. Henry Daniell is Mikere, the head palace priest who resents that the Pharaoh believes in monotheism thereby breaking with the past polytheistic tradition and plots his assassination. Judith Evelyn is the vulgar and earthy Taia, Akhnaton’s mother, who knows some secrets about Sinuhe’s birth. Bella Darvi is Nefer, a Babylonian courtesan and consummate party giver and gold digger, who Sinuhe is overwhelmed with over her sultry beauty when he meets her when Horemheb treats him to a night out on the town.

If you like spectacle, costumes and crowd scenes this film delivers the goods, but there are too many tedious moments to sit through and too much historical inaccuracy to endure. It follows the usual weaknesses of the early Hollywood blockbuster and should interest mostly those clamoring for the way the studio system made such extravaganzas back in its golden age. I assume that most viewers will come out of viewing this ponderous epic soap opera learning nothing worthwhile about ancient Egypt and probably feeling they have hardly been entertained by such crass filmmaking efforts.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”