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SOLOMON AND SHEBA (director: King Vidor; screenwriters: Anthony Veiller/Paul Dudley/George Bruce; cinematographer: Freddie Young; editor: Otto Ludwig; music: Mario Nascimbene/Malcolm Arnold; cast: Yul Brynner (Solomon), Gina Lollobrigida (Sheba), George Sanders (Adonijah), Marisa Pavan (Abishag), David Farrar (Pharaoh), John Crawford (Joab), Finlay Currie (King David); Runtime: 139; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ted Richmond/Tyrone Power; United Artists; 1959)
“Dull biblical epic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

King Vidor (“The Big Parade”/”The Crowd”/Stella Dallas”) directs this dull biblical epic, one of many in vogue for Hollywood during the 1950s. It’s best remembered for being the last film of the great silent screen director Vidor and the pic where the 45-year-old leading man, Tyrone Power, cast as Solomon, died of a heart attack during a sword scene with George Sanders after 75% of the film was shot. The studio ordered the filmmaker to re-shoot Power’s scenes with his replacement Yul Brynner. It was photographed in Spain. The filmmaker and writers Anthony Veiller, Paul Dudley and George Bruce fictionalize the biblical romance of the Israelite king named Solomon (Yul Brynner) and the pagan Arabic queen named Sheba (Gina Lollobrigida) in a Hollywood way, and never get any sizzle in the romance as they keep the tale trivial with festive but meaningless glossy visual scenes and let the romance stagnate between an ill at ease Solomon and a pouting Sheba. For many, attending Sunday school might have been more exciting than this pretentious sleep-inducing pic.

It’s set in ancient Israel, some thousand years before Christ’s birth. The Egyptian forces are handily defeated under the command of Israel’s warrior-prince Adonijah (George Sanders) and his contemplative younger brother, the poet Solomon (Yul Brynner). When learned their father, King David (Finlay Currie), is on his deathbed, Adonijah assumes he will become the next king and rides out on the field to capture a royal expedition led by the beautiful and willful Queen Sheba, while Soloman rushes to his dad’s side. When Adonijah returns to Jerusalem, he learns that dad picked Solomon to be the next king. The embittered older brother hides his disappointment and grudgingly accepts the appointment by Solomon to command the nation’s armies. The opening years of the poet king’s reign are prosperous and it signals the construction of the Great Temple. Sheba plots to seduce the tolerant Solomon and help the Egyptians reduce the power of the mighty king and topple his people.

The Great Temple is destroyed by lightning, as Sheba’s seduction works and in Solomon’s weakest moments the heavy Adonijah seizes power. The Israelites think the temple’s destruction is a sign of God that Solomon is no longer his favored son and they turn against the righteous king. Meanwhile the manipulative Sheba has a change of heart and falls in love with Solomon, and converts to Judaism and renounces her pagan gods.

The epic battle between the Israelites and the Egyptians is shot with a cast of thousands, making it loud and spectacular. For those who love such lavish vulgar productions, lap up the orgy scene with campy glee, can handle only small doses of political intrigue and love gawking at a hot looking Gina, should find enough here to help keep them awake for this overlong and ponderous flick. Others should mind that it strays far from the facts, that the conflict between brothers is never developed and that the love story is inert.

Though critically assailed, the epic did well at the box office.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”