So, King Solomon’s Mines is starting off with a couple strikes against it, principally that the film is advertised on the poster as having been filmed “entirely in the wilds of Africa”, which to me elicits recollections of 1931’s Trader Horn, which wrangled a Best Picture nom for basically identical reasons despite the fact that it was a piss poor film in its bones. Top it off with a wild elephant getting shot and killed in the opening minutes, and you’ve got enough to send away a good half of the meager audience that would probably be giving this a shot for any reason. Frankly, I’m not blaming any of those people in the slightest; as an exhibition of Africa, King Solomon’s Mines might be sufficient, but as a film, it is little more than that, and it seems to not care about it.
Allan Quatermain has just returned from leading a safari in the wilds of Kenya circa the turn of the 20th century, and he’s just about fed up with doing such. Of course, he is then approached with an offer for one final expedition: the wife of a missing explorer named Henry Curtis wants to set out and find him, courtesy of a hand-drawn map she says her husband used to go into a large, uncharted territory nearby. Managing to entice the wannabe retiree with an exorbitant sum of money, Mrs. Curtis, her brother, and Quatermain set off with a small group of local tribesmen to go where none have ever been and lived to return… to follow the missing Mr. Curtis’ fantasy of finding the diamond mines of the lost King Solomon. Really, the background is only the barest pretense of narrative enough to prop up what the film really wants to be, and that is a whole bunch of nice Technicolor footage shot of the wilds of Africa, both human and otherwise. To say that this is little more than a theme park ride on the silver screen is to be patently blunt about it; the film itself is seemingly put together by the directors (two of them) shooting whatever wild footage of animals and scenery they could get, and then finding ways to incorporate as much of it into the final cut as they could via the excuse of the narrative. Even then, what narrative there is is simplistic and only there because the audience expects it; hell, even Deborah Kerr, the female lead, exists in the film only to provide a bunch of reaction shots to the actual footage of Africa. I’ll give props to Stewart Granger for looking very much his part as Quatermain, but the rest of the film wasn’t really worth the price of admission.
My opening jib at Trader Horn was far more on the mark than even I could’ve foreseen; this sort of thing should be nowhere near Best Picture. It’s not technically bad, I guess, but it absolutely pretends to be something it’s not to bring in more people than would’ve otherwise watched this. It’s kind of a shame, especially given how beloved and classic the original book and the character of Quatermain are in literature. I guess it’s no surprise that this won a couple Oscars for color cinematography and editing, but that this was also the second-highest grossing film of the year as well is a little sad to think about. And again, that this was also nominated for Best Picture is the biggest question mark one can have. If you want a bunch of footage of Africa circa 1950 or so, well, here you go; otherwise, there’s no reason to sit through this, even with the short running time that it’s cut down to.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10