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Friday, September 24, 2021

LAND OF THE PHARAOHS -- Movie Review by Porfle


Currently watching: LAND OF THE PHARAOHS (1955), a staggeringly epic film by Howard Hawks. 

While not Biblically inspired, this breathtaking cinematic fever dream of ancient Egypt rivals the greatest works of Cecil B. DeMille in sheer spectacle, with huge sets and the proverbial cast of thousands.

It's the sort of thing that's mostly left to CGI effects whizzes these days, and the fact that it's all real--even the magic of matte paintings and other photographic effects of the time is sparse--makes the grandeur on display throughout the film even more impressive.

The story is simple yet compelling. Jack Hawkins plays the Pharaoh as one who believes himself a living god, and the thought of his tomb being raided of his precious store of treasures after his death prompts him to hire the greatest architect available to design for him a theft-proof tomb, nestled inside the largest pyramid ever built, which will take many years and hordes of slaves to complete.

The architect is himself a slave, but he persuades Pharaoh to release his people if the theft-proof tomb is a success. Meanwhile, Joan Collins (at her most gorgeous) plays a would-be queen whose avarice rivals Pharaoh's, and she conspires to have him entombed as soon as possible so that she may claim both the throne and the treasure. 


How director Howard Hawks manages to make all this so compelling is a wonder to behold. The film is not only visually intoxicating but exceedingly literate (with William Faulkner among the screenwriters) and well acted.

Hawks stages it all to perfection, and seems to thrive on this sort of spectacle even without his trademark rapid-fire overlapping dialogue and touches of lighthearted humor.

While stately and exquisitely dry, the script also leaves Hawks plenty of room for the sort of gaudy visual and thematic indulgence which is the very stuff of the most satisfyingly over-the-top cult classics. This helps him keep things effortlessly involving for the film's entire running time, all the way up to the not-so-surprising yet still rewarding twist ending.

I'd heard about this film's cult popularity over the years--people who saw it as kids seem to have retained their fondness for it--but never suspected that I myself would find it so richly entertaining and rewatchable.

Still, it does lack a key element of DeMille's spectacles in that there's no core of religious faith, no ultimate catharsis of the spirit to send us off at the end with that soulful glow. LAND OF THE PHARAOHS does have a satisfying ending, but it's a rather hollow one.


(Thanks to William De Lay for the DVD)


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