If you watch Raiders
of the Lost Ark and think it’s an
original movie, think again and then rephrase
that thought. Raiders
of the Lost Ark is a great movie, and certainly
an exciting one, but it is not as original as
you might think. Few films if any are completely
unique. The idea of archaeological adventure in
cinema has been around for quite some time, and
treasure hunt films have been around longer than
desert on camels.
The 1950s was a Technicolor
explosion of adventure films set in exotic lands.
It kicked off with a bang in 1950 with the excellent
remake of King
Solomon’s Mines. Another notable adventure
of the period was Secret
of the Incas, released in 1954. That same
year saw the release of another great adventure,
Valley of the Kings,
the plot of which will sound familiar to those
who think Indiana Jones is a new concept.
Set in 1901, Eleanor Parker stars
as the daughter of a deceased archaeologist who
was obsessed with discovering the whereabouts
of the tomb of Ra Hotep, believed to be the biblical
Joseph of legend. Parker, as Ann Mercedes, bears
a small golden statue, which contains the first
clue to the location of the tomb. She persuades
notable local archaeologist Mark Brandon, played
by Robert Taylor, to aid her in fulfilling her
father’s lifelong quest. But someone else
wants the treasure of Ra Hotep’s legendary
tomb and will stop at nothing to keep Brandon
from reaching it alive.
Swordfight with nomads.
This is a fun film to watch today
for modern audiences, being one of the obvious
precursors to Indiana Jones, but merely seeing
it as an inspiration for another film diminishes
its own value as entertainment. MGM
pulled out all the stops on this movie, filming
most of it on location in Egypt. The film is filled
to the brim with beautiful footage of every major
Egyptian pyramid, ruin, cityscape, and landscape,
including the Valley of the Kings.
The story is also extremely entertaining.
Brandon and Mercedes wander through bazaars in
Cairo, trek into the desert on camels while braving
sandstorms and Bedouin brigands, visit the catacombs
of ancient monasteries, and piece together lost
clues while trying to stay one step ahead of their
mysterious enemies. The movie is filled with action
and Taylor’s Brandon is no slouch. The plot
finds the two-fisted archeologist in swordfights
with Arab nomads, cart chases in Cairo, surviving
an impressive aforementioned sandstorm, braving
the dangers of lost tombs, deciphering the hieroglyphics
of ancient stone tablets, and even getting into
a dangerous fistfight on the top of one of the
massive statues at the famous Egyptian temple
of Abu Simbel.
Be warned those of you untested
in the ways of older cinema. The action is paced
well for 1950s filmmaking. This is not the frantically
paced Indiana Jones or Lara Croft style of editing,
but it is the same kind of action. Keep an open
mind and let the story take you in.
The characters are well developed
for a film of this genre and the story contains
an adequate number of twists and subplots to keep
things interesting during the quieter moments,
of which there are few. Taylor and Parker’s
chemistry is decent if not electric, but then
again Taylor was often a wooden actor, as his
performance in Ivanhoe
will attest. Parker is, as usual, drop-dead gorgeous.
She had one of the coolest and most varied careers
of 1950s cinema, starring in an eclectic group
of films including Valley
of the Kings, Scaramouche
and The Naked Jungle.
But don’t let me get sidetracked on Eleanor
Parker, which I am prone to do.
of the Kings is definitely worth watching.
A great adventure movie with everything modern
audiences like in their cliffhanging treasure