So, this is a weird one.
As we all know, today is Oscar Sunday! As I wait for the big show to begin, I’ve been watching some of the Oscar-nominated films that I have collected on the DVR over the past month. For instance, this morning, I watched 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines.
King Solomon’s Mines was nominated for best picture of the year and watching it … well, you really have to wonder why. It’s an adventure film, one that was shot on location in Africa and it features a lot of footage of wild animals. It also features several scenes that were shot in actual African villages and a good deal of time is devoted to documenting tribal rituals. It’s true that the film has a plot but, for the most part, it’s a travelogue. One gets the feeling that it was mostly sold as a chance for American and European audiences to see a part of the world that, up until that point, they had only read about. Not only would they get to experience Africa from the safety of the neighborhood movie theater but they’d get to see it in a color as well!
(Seriously, it’s difficult to watch the nature footage in King Solomon’s Mines without imagining a serious voiced narrator saying, “However, one gazelle has strayed too far from its mother. The lion cubs will eat tonight…”)
As for the plot, King Solomon’s Mines is based on a novel by British adventure enthusiast H. Rider Haggard. Allan Quartermain (Stewart Granger) is an experienced guide and hunter. When we first meet him, he’s helping two rich Englishmen hunt an elephant. It’s a disturbing scene, largely because it’s obvious the footage of the elephant dying is real. Allan prevents his clients from killing more than one elephant and later talks about how much he hates his job but still, it’s pretty much to impossible to really like him after watching that elephant die.
Anyway, Allan gets hired by Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John (Richard Carlson). It seems that Elizabeth’s husband disappeared in Africa while searching for a legendary treasure. Allan tells Elizabeth that her husband is probably dead. Elizabeth still insists on searching for him…
…and, from that point on, you can pretty much predict everything that is going to happen. Though the footage of Africa looks great, it’s just not a very interesting film. Playing the type of role that would probably be played by Gerard Butler if the movie was made today, Stewart Granger comes across as being bored with it all. For that matter, even the great Deborah Kerr seems as if she’d rather be hanging out with Robert Mitchum.
Still, it is interesting to note that Hugo Haas shows up as a villain. Who is Hugo Haas? He was a Hungarian actor who, after playing a bad guy here, went on to direct several idiosyncratic B-movies, like Hold Back Tomorrow, The Girl On The Bridge, Bait, and One Girl’s Confession. If nothing else, watching King Solomon’s Mines has inspired me to, someday, do a little Hugo Haas film festival here on the Lens.
King Solomon’s Mines seems like an odd best picture nominee. Its triumphs are largely technical and even those successes no longer seem that special. It was, however, a big hit at the box office and I imagine that probably has something to do with its nomination. However, when the Oscars were awarded, best picture went to All About Eve.
Stewart Granger was no match for Bette Davis.