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Patrick Schoenmaker

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King Solomon's Mines
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Help Support Research Indy's Influences Legacy King Solomon's Mines
King Solomon's Mines

Released by The Cannon Group, Inc - 1985

Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Story by: H. Rider Haggard (novel)
Screenplay by: Gene Quintano & James R. Silke
Produced by: Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan

Richard Chamberlain .... Allan Quatermain
Sharon Stone .... Jesse Huston
Herbert Lom .... Colonel Bockner
John Rhys-Davies .... Dogati
Ken Gampu .... Umbopo


The late 1970s and 1980s was an interesting era of filmmaking. Television some thirty years before had forced the big movie studios to scale back and rethink the way they did business as more and more viewers stayed away from the theatres to watch their televisions instead.
In this time of confusion, independent producers and directors gained a foothold and by the 1970s were producing some of the most cutting-edge material of the period, using the big studios to distribute their pictures to theatres while able to retain creative control because the financing of the films themselves was coming from the smaller production houses.

Tough Quatermain.

By the late 1970s, Jaws and Star Wars had caused quite a cinematic stir, prompting some independents to jump into the genres of fantasy, adventure, and science-fiction like never before. Some independent producers named the Salkinds were able to get film rights to Superman and make the blockbuster Superman: The Movie, even though Warner Bros. owned DC Comics.
It was a licensing coup of a kind that would not be possible today, as studios have since bought up or run out those independents and regained control of the film industry. Anyone out there remember
Carolco Pictures? How about Orion Pictures? Nope, I thought not. But it might interest you to know that they were responsible for mega hits like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Robocop.
In the 1980s, these companies were alive and well and all things were possible. A slew of fantasy and adventure films were made, some great but most of them terrible. For every
Highlander there was a Beastmaster, for every Last Starfighter there was a Flash Gordon. Needless to say, it was an interesting time to go to the movies. You never knew what would pop up next.

In 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark brought adventure films back to the theatres and in 1984, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom proved that they were back in a big way. Independent production company Golan-Globus wasted no time, and teamed up with The Cannon Group to bring King Solomon’s Mines back to the big screen.
Their intention in retrospect is hard to discern. What resulted from their efforts is nothing like the serious, regal adaptation starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. The theatrical trailer for the film touts the character of Allan Quatermain as the greatest adventure hero of all time, clearly comparing him to Indiana Jones.
Yet rather than adapt the book’s solid adventure, this film seems to be an attempt to capitalize on the style of Indiana Jones rather than rely on the strength of H. Rider Haggard’s classic story or previous cinematic incarnations.

From the first frame, this movie feels satirical. It has a zany kind of humor that is often so over the top it forces you to choose between a laugh of disbelief or a groan of pain. The film begins without any studied, and badly needed, exposition, throwing you right into the story to drown. Once again, Quatermain must help his female companion find her father who searches for King Solomon’s legendary mines.

John Rhys-Davies

In this incarnation, set just before or during World War I, Kaiser-style Germans pursue Quatermain, led by Pink Panther series alum Herbert Lom. Lom teams up with John Rhys-Davies, who is no longer the best digger in Egypt, but the most evil mercenary in Turkey.
Richard Chamberlain takes on the role of Allan Quatermain and does the best he can with it given the nature in which the script was filmed. Chamberlain is an excellent actor, but
Golan-Globus made a fatal error when giving this film a humorous spin. They should have relied on Chamberlain’s abilities as a serious and dramatic actor, but instead they leave him out to dry with contrived plot devices and weak lines.
Sharon Stone, as the female sidekick Jessie, has never looked better on screen. I say never looked better, because as far as her acting is concerned, this veteran of the infamous
Basic Instinct has certainly delivered better performances in years since. Unfortunately, she is given little to do but whimper and scream and ask incessant questions in a manner that makes Kate Capshaw’s Willie character seem downright dignified.

There are fun things for Indiana Jones fans to see in the movie. Of course, Quatermain’s look has been redone to echo Indy with a signature bandolier and hat over safari clothes. Quatermain carries a shotgun and packs a Webley MkVI, which would find its way into Indy’s hand in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Chamberlain & Stone.

The opening sequence of the film has Quatermain in a massive marketplace reminiscent of Cairo in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There, Jessie is captured by thugs who roll her up in a carpet and start running off with her. Like Indy and the baskets, Quatermain forces a carpet out of the hands of some locals only to find that Jessie is not there. Instead of a hay cart, Jessie falls into a fruit cart.
Later, Quatermain one-ups Indy by falling off of and then sliding under a moving train only to catch a chain and get dragged behind it on the rails just like Indy and the Nazi truck. Then, in another prophetic (if poorly conceived) action sequence, Jessie and Quatermain have a misadventure in a German biplane, which Indy and his dad would four years later.
From there it’s an encounter with two hostile native tribes in a row, hungry lions, cannibals, people who live upside-down, the worst giant spider and bog creature in movie history, and finally collapsing destruction of the legendary mines which begins with a chamber sealing the heroes in as a spiked ceiling descends upon them. Hmm… sounds like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to me.

The only way to describe the bulk of this film is "sloppy". There is no time for the audience to catch a breather, no break between action scenes, and no logic to any of the situations they stumble into. The pacing is terribly rapid as if the director wanted the audience to go past plot holes so fast they couldn’t possibly see them. The effects are sub par, even for the period
During the film, these are just a few of the questions I asked myself: "Why do World War I Germans wear British uniforms and carry British weapons from both world wars?", "This is the third time he’s reappeared. When will John Rhys-Davies’ character actually die?", "Why are all these African tribes hostile without motivation?", "Could this be the worst romance scene I’ve ever watched?"
It’s a mess of a film that’s only reflections of the real story are the mines, the search for Jessie’s father, the return of the rightful king to the troubled tribe, and Allan Quatermain as the hero.

Cheerful Quatermain.

All that said, I confess I liked it a little. Why? Because it is such a vintage rip off of Indiana Jones I couldn’t help but be charmed by its blatant borrowings. At the same time, all of the actors seem to be having great fun with the movie, even if the film is bad. In one scene, surrounded by an entire city of cannibals, Jessie begs Quatermain for a plan. Quatermain cracks, "OK, you take the thousand on the left and I’ll take the thousand on the right." Later in the film, Jessie tells Quatermain, "You’re the only one who thinks your bad jokes are funny!"
With lines like those every now and then, a few good sight gags, and a competent theme by the late Jerry Goldsmith, it’s a tolerable film to view.

King Solomon’s Mines is a self-aware film. It’s aware that it’s ridiculous, the characters are aware, and unless you are dead, you’ll be aware of it as well. I cannot recommend this film as a purchase or even a rental, but I wouldn’t discourage it either because it’s so bad it’s fun. (MF)


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