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  Queen of the Nile Walk Like an Egyptian
Year: 1961
Director: Fernando Cherchio
Stars: Jeanne Crain, Edmund Purdom, Vincent Price, Amedeo Nazzari, Liana Orfei, Carlo D’Angelo, Raf Baldassarre, Alberto Farnese, Clelia Matania
Genre: Drama, Romance, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: In ancient Egypt, the beautiful, highborn Tenet (Jeanne Crain) is in love with humble sculptor Tumos (Edmund Purdom), who requests a special decree from his close friend Prince Amenophis (Amedeo Nazzari) that will allow them to marry. Things take a turn for the unexpected after the death of the reigning pharaoh leaves Amenophis ruler of Thebes and scheming high priest Benakon (Vincent Price) tells Tenet she is his daughter. Rechristening her Nefertiti, he reveals she has been promised in marriage to the new pharaoh. Tumos stands in the way, so Benakon arranges for his death. Aided by friends, he escapes and returns to Thebes to toil dejectedly on the sculpture destined to grant Queen Nefertiti her place in history. When Amenophis bestows favour upon followers of a new religion devoted to the god Aten, the star-crossed lovers are caught in the midst of Benakon’s attempt to ignite a religious war.

By the mid-Fifties, Twentieth Century Fox’s resident wholesome good girl, Jeanne Crain tried to broaden her range by taking roles that were either more complex, as in Dangerous Crossing (1953) and The Joker Is Wild (1957), or more upfront about their sexuality, as in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955) or Man Without a Star (1955). She even had a short-lived lounge act on the Las Vegas Strip alongside Jane Russell. This change of image never quite took off and by the Sixties, working only sporadically after leaving Fox, she found herself in Italy headlining Nefertiti, regina del nilo which was released three years later by drive-in kings American International Pictures as Queen of the Nile.

Made sometime before Cleopatra (1963), the latter’s influence was still likely given how production on that mega-budget colossus rambled on for ages on the Cinecitta soundstage. However, with this and his earlier Cleopatra’s Daughter (1960) starring Debra Paget, Fernando Cherchio birthed an intriguing sub-genre of female-oriented peplum, leaning more towards drama and romance instead of musclemen wrestling monsters. Production values here are more lavish compared to the average peplum and the cinematography by Massimo Dallamano, future director of classic giallo and sexploitation fare What Have You Done To Solange? (1971), Venus in Furs (1970) and What Have They Done To Your Daughters (1972), is top-rate.

An unusual choice for the role, Jeanne Crain exudes glamour and sensuality but her strained sincerity pitches the film towards camp. Our heroine spends most of the movie pining after the plank-like Edmund Purdom - as stoically stiff here as in almost all of his roles since The Egyptian (1954). Only towards the finale does she exhibit the resolve on expects the historical Nefertiti, who wielded an unprecedented amount of power, had in abundance. Chief consort to the pharaoh Akhenaton, the real Nefertiti did indeed gain lasting fame thanks to a sculpted bust that now resides in Berlin’s Neues Museum, and changed Egyptian religion away from polytheism towards worshipping one god, Aten. This becomes the crux of the plot concocted by Cherchio, producer Ottavio Poggi and co-writer John Byrne.

The movie makes vague connections between Aten and the Judao-Christian god that may annoy Egyptologists, but the religious sub-plot does actually break from convention. Conversion to monotheism does not bring the troubled Amenophis (who is plagued by unspecific nightmares and prone to strangling his friends in his sleep) salvation, but drives him completely loopy. Benakon’s attempt to stir up trouble between the faiths backfires almost immediately. Queen of the Nile resists the caricatures that make up so many Cecil B. DeMille biblical epics, but is duller by comparison, dwelling on soapy romance and posturing speeches without any real payoff, besides a rushed battle scene.

Cherchio has Purdom wrestle a lion and throws in sexy dance routines involving lovelorn Menet (Liana Orfei), an unusually proactive secondary heroine who despatches several of the film’s villains, but this lacks the vitality of Crain’s early vehicles. Vincent Price strides through it all with panache and resists the temptation to camp it up too much, despite sporting a near-Rastafarian hairdo.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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