Yes, Nobel Prize winning author Faulkner did write this clunky 1955 movie about the building of the “First Wonder of the World”, the Great Pyramid of Egypt, although two other scriptwriters also get partial credit. Directed by Howard Hawks, filmed in Egypt, starring Joan Collins (she of later “Dynasty” fame) in her first big role at age 22, surely this blockbuster must have been a huge success?
Um no. I had a dim memory of having seen it on late night TV once so I recently ordered a dvd of it from Amazon. (You know me and my fascination with all things Ancient Egyptian.) Even with a tagline like “Her treachery stained every stone of the pyramid” this is a slow moving film. There is a certain amount of interest in thinking about the Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops as the Greeks named him) who decided some 5000 years ago that he needed such a large pyramid to be buried in and directed his nation to build it. But the process took fifteen years or so and as the movie says, the people began happily, singing, and by about year seven, they were sick of the whole thing. That would be us too, watching this process unfold verrrrrrrrry slowly. With some melodrama thrown in.
Anachronisms abound, even though they filmed so much in Egypt, including at the actual quarry where rock was cut for the Pyramid. This Pharaoh dearly loves to ride around on camels, surrounded by soldiers on camels – except camels weren’t domesticated in Egypt until several thousand years later. The movie makers used South American green parrots and American alligators in various scenes. The songs (nearly said the “incessant songs”) on the sound track are actually total gibbberish that the composer said “sounded Egyptian to him”. Ms. Collins wears some fetching, 1950’s-sexy outfits as she schemes and seduces but I was pretty much riveted by her orange lipstick. I remembered my mother talking about Tangee orange lipstick from the 1950’s! And NO eye makeup. If there’s one thing everyone knows about Ancient Egypt, it was how they loved their eye makeup.
I did crave some of the jewelry. The first queen had good taste.
In one really laughable scene (that I think our local TV station must have cut) Pharaoh wrestles a bull to the ground to show his…something – stamina? virility? oh the symbolism…to the applauding Ms. Collins (“Nellifer”, an Ancient Egyptian name if I ever heard one LOL), never mind he had to be assisted by 6 or 8 hunky guys and it was really the Minoans of Crete 2000 years later who specialized in bull wrestling/jumping.
Sort of amusing, at one point Pharaoh is rejecting the plans his Egyptian architects have worked up for the tomb, one of which is a rendering of the actual tomb inside the real pyramid.
Warner Brothers claimed with pride that they hired 9787 extras for one scene – which leads me to wonder why not just blow the budget and hire a few more? Then you could boast you had 10,001 extras! But then, who’s counting?
The Nile was lovely. There were a few mildly good scenes between Pharaoh and his first queen (she never saw that cobra coming after Nellifer taught the young prince a pretty song on his flute)..
The movie cost about $2.9 million (then) and grossed maybe $1.5 million in the US. Director Hawks took four years off after the dismal flop, returning with “Rio Bravo.”
I’d like to show you the original 1955 trailer, which is on youtube, or even the climactic scene where Nellifer gets what’s coming to her in horrifying fashion (although as part of a burial ceremony anachronistic even for Egypt of 5000 years ago) but even those clips are too long and rather boring!
“I don’t want to die,” she says, throwing herself to the floor…well, I don’t want to watch this movie again!