King Solomon’s Mines (1950): Adventure Starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr

As a genre, the action-adventure has always appealed to the mass public but it was not much respected by the Academy’s Oscar voters.

With their ceaseless entwining of special-effects violence, stock characters, and simplistic one-liners, actioners are certainly not Oscar stuff films.   In 86 years, four adventures have won the Best Picture Oscar and about a dozen have been nominated.

The nominated adventures appeared in two major cycles: in the 1930s and in the 1970s. No adventure films were nominated in the 1940s and 1960s, and few in the 1950s.  Adventure films are always strong in production values and special effects, but there are differences between the 1930s and 1970s nominated adventures. In the earlier decade, adventures had melodramatic stories and well?constructed, if contrived, plots.

The World War II years weren’t particularly conducive to the production of adventures.  And they continued to be missing in the 1950s, a decade better known for its historical and biblical epics.

“King Solomon’s Mines” stands out as one of the most entertaining adventure of the decade. It was the most popular picture of the year, grossing over $10 million at the domestic box-office, though it needs to be said that MG spend a lot of money (about $3.5 million, way above the average) on making it.

The second of five screen versions of the 1885 novel by Henry Rider Haggard, this 195o movie was adapted by Helen Deutsch and co- directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Morton.  Even by standards of its times, it was old-fashioned–though enteraining and enjoyable.

“King Solomon’s Mines” is marked by exquisite color cinematography of Africa’s jungles by Robert Surtees, who won an Oscar, and impressive editing by Ralph E. Winters and Conrad A. Nervig, who also won.

Stewart Granger, an actor who specialized in costume dramas, plays the safari guide Allan Quartermain, an expert who is beginning to tire of his métier, wishing to go back home. 

The ladylike Deborah Kerr plays the wealthy Elizabeth Curtis, looking for her husband who’s been missing ever since he went to Africa five years ago to search for a secret legendary diamond mine. The only clue to his whereabouts is a map he had sent them. Richard Carlson plays her loyal brother Jack, who accompanies her to Africa.

Quartermain, whose wife had died years back and has a son in England, is fed up with taking rich people out on safaris, so he turns down the request to locate Henry Curtis, telling them it’s too dangerous a territory, where few white men have been before. Elizabeth then makes an offer he can’t refuse, 5,000 pounds upfront, which he accepts, claiming that if he dies at least his son will collect the money.  Even so, Quartermain suspects there may be ulterior motives to her generosity.

Most of the narrative is taken by the risky journey and the various obstacles the group faces, such as harsh terrain for a trek, unbearable heat, snakes and other dangerous animals, a stampede of zebras and giraffes, hostile enemies (whites and locals).

This version, like the others, changes Haggard’s plot to include a female in the lead role.  However, if in the earlier British film, made in 1937, Paul Robeson received top billing, Umbopa’s part is reduced along woth all those played by the non-white actors.

The picture made an international star of Stewart Granger, playing a part that had been originally intended for Errol Flynn, who chose to another film instead, “Kim.”  Though a leading man by physical stature, Granger lacks the charisma and sex appeal of Flynn, and his delivery of lines is stiff and monotonous.

Detailed Plot

In the first scene, Allan Quatermain (Granger), a vet, arrogant hunter and guide, who is divorced and a father to a young boy, reluctantly agrees to help Elizabeth (Kerr) and her brother John Goode (Richard Carlson) to search for her husband Curtis, who disappeared in African while looking for some legendary mines.  Allan accepts the task just for the money–big money–not out of concern for the husband.

Initially, the only objcet they have to go by is a copy of the map he used. A mysterious native, Umbopa (Siriaque), joins the safari. Quartermain has no use for women on a safari, but predictably, during the long and grueling journey, they fall in love.

When the party encounters Van Brun (Hugo Haas), a lone white man living with a tribe, he asserts to have met Curtis. However, when Allan recognizes him as a fugitive, they take him hostage and leave the village safely. Van Brun tries but fails to shoot Allan, but succeeds in killing the faithful Khiva (Kimursi).

When they finally reach the destined region, they are met by people who resemble Umbopa, suggesting that he is royalty–Umbopa has returned to dethrone the evil King Twala (Baziga). Umbopa leaves with his supporters, while Allan, Elizaeth and John prepare for a tense meeting with Twala.  The king’s advisor Gagool (Sekaryongo) leads them to a cave that contains jewels, and to Elizabeth’s shocking discovery of her husband’s skeleton.

While distracted by the sight, Gagool tries to seal them inside the cave, but the group escapes through a stream and returns to the settlement.  The strategy of Umbopa’s people in determining their leader involves a duel by the contestants. Winning the battle, Umbopa then arranges for his friends’ safe trip back home.

Stay away from the 1977 and 1985 remakes, the latter starring Patrick Swayze.

 

Oscar Nominations: 3

 

Picture, produced by Sam Zimbalist

Cinematography (color): Robert Surtees

Film Editing: Ralph E. Winters and Conrad A. Nervig.

Oscar Awards: 2

In 1950, “King Solomon’s Mines” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with “All About Eve,” which won, “Born Yesterday,” “Father of the Bride,” and “Sunset Boulevard.”

 

Cast:

 

Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr)

Allen Quartermain (Stewart Granger)

John Good (Richard Carlson)

Smith (Hugo Haas)

District Officer (Lowell Gilmore)

 

Credits

Running time: 102 minutes 

Director: Compton Bennett and Andrew Morton

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