Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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Who Needs Sunday School When You Have the King?

I've only read parts of the King James Bible. I did start reading the thing just straight through--I think I read two hundred pages or so and was amused and impressed with the unvarnished childishness of God and had no trouble seeing why Nietzsche called Christians slaves for following him. I don't remember why I stopped reading, I always meant to go back to it one day. I've read other segments relevant to various discussions I was having but have never done a complete beginning to end read through. A lot of my conceptions of mythological history told in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have come from Hollywood movies of the 1930s and 1950s. I was a big fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark when I was a kid and now I'm delighted to see the Ark of the Covenant, more as a prolific cinematic monster than as a biblical reference, turning up in older decadent Hollywood epics. It looks and acts basically the same in Henry King's 1951 David and Bathsheba as it did in Raiders of the Lost Ark and it's basically the same beast in another film made by a guy named King, King Vidor's 1959 film Solomon and Sheba which practically feels like a sequel to David and Bathsheba. In the earlier film, David, played by Gregory Peck, tries and fails to build a temple for the Ark. In the newer film, David's son and heir, Solomon, played by Yul Brynner, succeeds in building that temple. Though Solomon and Sheba may be the weakest of Hollywood's Biblical spectacles I've ever seen, inferior in terms of acting, writing, cinematography, and, well, spectacle.

The luscious Gina Lollobrigida as Sheba is the highlight of the film, though compared to previous Biblical seductresses Susan Hayward as Bathsheba or Hedy Lamarr as Delilah, her performance falls short and her wig looks worse than Barbara Stanwyck's in Double Indemnity.

This is her sexiest outfit and you can almost talk yourself into believing she's naked under there if you can convince yourself she lacks not only nipples but also a belly button. It's a shame the 1921 film with Betty Blythe as the Queen of Sheba is lost.

There is one genuinely good actor in the film--George Sanders as the villain, Solomon's brother Adonijah, who sees the throne of Israel as his birthright. But I was reminded of how Sanders was reluctant to have sword duels with Tyrone Power in the pirate film The Black Swan because he was lousy with a sword. The choreography in The Black Swan is so impressive it really looks like Sanders is having a vigorous duel with the truly talented swordsman Power. No such choreographic magic was at work in Solomon and Sheba, though. We watch the supposed military mastermind Adonijah sluggishly swishing his gladius from side to side.

Maybe Sanders accepted the role because he thought he was going to be playing opposite his old co-star, Tyrone Power, in the role of Solomon but Power died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 44 with still a quarter of his scenes left to shoot. Brynner was brought in to replace him and he's not so bad, probably about Power's equal as an actor, which, yes, isn't saying much. He sure could glower, though.

All in all, Solomon and Sheba pales in comparison to Vidor's previous film, his adaptation of War and Peace in 1956, which was itself a weak echo of its source material except for Henry Fonda's and Audrey Hepburn's wonderful performances. And the battle scenes in Vidor's War and Peace were truly awesome in scope and execution, which made the lameness of the battles in Solomon and Sheba all the more puzzling. I did find a neat beauty in the climactic moment when Solomon orders his men to blind the Egyptians approaching from the east at dawn by raising their polished shields.

There's a really amusing ham-fisted quality to the film, though. All the characters are so broad with big, flat lines. When the Pharaoh (played by David Farrar in a bit part) wonders at the ways of women, Sheba remarks in a sly and decisive tone that the way of woman is after man's. In one scene I found rather funny, Sheba kneels before the Ark and promises God she'll convert her people to Israel's religion if God allows Solomon to prevail against impossible odds. I guess this sounds like a pretty sweet deal to God because immediately afterwards the tide impossibly turns for Solomon. You can't buy publicity like that, God must have said to himself, most of the time.

Twitter Sonnet #632

Flat orange juice balloons overcrowd the mall.
Labelled infections divide on vein routes.
Calliope's Catarrhine stole the ball.
The uninvited young allele still pouts.
Orange blooded sunset sheets smother the pine.
Jangling green tooth needles scent the new car.
Aphids punch the secret heaven world vine.
Money can't hang planets from a real star.
Clarinets stuffed with clover blurt beanies.
Arm made hands devalue the middle wrist.
Miss Hepburn could beat ten Albert Finneys.
Tiffany witches weave a breakfast mist.
Noble Yule tongues swap out the gladius.
David's monster pie squared the radius.
Tags: bible, christian, george sanders, gina lollobrigida, king vidor, movies, solomon and sheba, tyrone power, yul brynner
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