The Oscar-winning adventure film, King Solomon’s Mines, makes its arrival on Blu-ray by way of the Warner Archive Collection.
On one level, it’s hard to believe that King Solomon’s Mines was nominated for Best Picture at the 23rd Academy Awards. Perhaps what is even more hard to believe is that the film won for Film Editing over the likes of All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard. It’s win for Cinematography–Color is perfectly understandable. The cinematography on display here is just absolutely splendid as the film takes its audience on an African safari. In watching the film, I couldn’t help but think about The African Queen. Funny enough, Deborah Kerr wanted to star in the Warner Bros. film but because she was with MGM at the time, this opportunity came about. Meanwhile, there is a universe where Errol Flynn takes on the role but he did a different film instead.
Helen Deutsch takes some liberties in the 1950 adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s novel. First and foremost, she gender-flips the lead character from make to female. In doing so, Deutsch’s script brings about a romance between Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and British safari guide Allan Quatermain. Elizabeth is seeking to find her husband, Henry, who vanished a year earlier. All we know is that he was seeking the titular mines in the Uncharted Regions. Quatermain is initially reluctant but eventually agrees when Curtis promises an advance of 5,000 pounds with more upon arrival. Joining them is her brother, John Goode (Richard Carlson), and a number of East Africans in the town where Quatermain is based. All they have to guide them is a 400-year-old map.
Between the native crew running away, Van Brun/Smith (Hugo Haas) threatening them, and the threats of the jungle, there are no shortage of problems along the way. The journey was never going to be easy in a film like this. Nevertheless, the thrills come through on the screen. I can only imagine sitting in the 1950 audience and seeing this film on the big screen. Can you imagine seeing the animals stampeding on the big screen? When one factors in insurance and CGI, the scene would be fairly different today, unless you’re Tom Cruise. It feels impossible to substitute the authenticity of watching the cast fear for their lives during the stampede. While the film is mainly shot on location in Africa, there are some scenes where they have no choice but to reshoot in the US.
While both Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton have directing credit, Marton is the one who did most of the work. A second-unit director, he rose up to the challenge when Bennett lost the job. I’m not sure how many of Bennett’s scenes are in the film but an adventure film requires a director to rise up to the challenge. The fact that Marton works so well with cinematographer Robert Surtees is a big reason why the latter would win an Oscar. In fairness, it also helps that the two big Oscar contenders were in black and white. Anyway, the photography is absolutely gorgeous and looks just as much on my TCL 43″ 4K Roku TV.
Despite plagiarism accusations against Haggard, his 1885 novel would inspire the Lost World genre. His novel predates the Tarzan books but this didn’t stop people from unfairly saying that the film was inspired by Tarzan.
Say what one will about the adventure plot itself, King Solomon’s Mines features gorgeous visuals.
DIRECTORS: Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton
SCREENWRITER: Helen Deutsch
CAST: Deborah Kerr, Stewart Granger, with Richard Carlson
MGM released King Solomon’s Mines in theaters on November 24, 1950. The film is now available on Blu-ray. Grade: 3.5/5
Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.