Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Land of the Pharaohs (1955)


“Yes, he will be remembered. The pyramid will keep his memory alive”

            Ever since I was little I have had a great fascination with Ancient Egypt. I think it all started when I was little and I used to watch the Sesame Street video Don’t Eat the Pictures: Sesame Street Visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art where Big Bird and Snuffy have to help this little Egyptian kid who was cursed to live in a tomb on display in the museum answer a riddle so he can join his parents in the sky. Do not be shocked I recently watched that again for the first time in God knows how long. Anyway, Ancient Egypt was always my first historical and artistic love and still is. I scour through the History Channel and History International looking for any kind of programs on the time period.
            Not that long ago my Uncle Frank, my grandpa’s brother, was talking about the film Land of the Pharaohs with Joan Collins. He was going on and on about the costumes and the sets and how gorgeous it is. Luckily he told me about it when TCM was airing it the same week so I recorded it.  It is a dramatized fictional story mixed with some historical figures and events.
            Land of the Pharaohs is about the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza by King Khufu (Jack Hawkins). He has just captured a group of people for slaves through his conquest of their lands. Khufu has reaped more gold than can be imagined. He does not want anyone touching it so he hides it in a cellar protected by guards. Khufu wants to take his treasure with him to the afterlife and does not want anyone to take it away from him. He has the best architects work on a maze and secret chambers to hide and bury him with his fortune. The architects he chose did not come up with any good plans. He remembers while he was invading the last country he was in there was an architect who built the greatest mazes and chambers he had ever seen he even offered a reward to his soldiers to capture this architect. The architect’s name is Vashtar and he and his son are chosen to work on the pyramid.
            Fifteen years go by before the pyramid is near completion. In the mean time Pharaoh has gained a new wife named Nelifer (Joan Collins). Nelifer is no good. She wants Pharaoh’s treasure all to herself and she plots to have his first wife and child killed so she and her lover can become king and queen of Egypt and has all the treasure to themselves.

            The plan almost goes over without a problem… almost.
            The acting is so-so and stiff. I never saw Joan Collins in a film before I did not have any expectations set for her. Collins was not too bad but she is bad enough to cringe at times. Jack Hawkins as Khufu was not good he was stiff and looked amateur. The only person who had any acting ability was Sydney Chaplin as Nelifer’s lover. The oldest of Charlie Chaplin’s children had a successful stage career on Broadway so besides the fact that his father is one of the greatest actors ever Sydney Chaplin had legitimate acting abilities.
            Howard Hawks the man known for his fantastic screwball comedies directed this film. This was a flop upon release (which is not that much of a shock) and after filming completed Hawks took a year off and it was the longest break between films he ever took.
            Land of the Pharaohs is considered a campy, cult film and I can see why. But I liked seeing all the ancient Egyptian sets and scenery actually filmed in the country. The score by Dimitri Tiomkin is enough to sit through the film it is incredible. Land of the Pharaohs is worth sitting through at least once and if you ever do do not take it seriously just have fun with it.