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  Land of the Pharoahs Pyramid Scheme
Year: 1955
Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: Jack Hawkins, Joan Collins, Dewey Martin, Alex Minotis, James Robertson Justice, Luisella Boni, Sydney Chaplin, James Hayter, Kerima, Piero Giagnoni
Genre: Drama, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Thousands of years ago in the Kingdom of Egypt, Pharoah Khufu (Jack Hawkins) was obsessed with increasing his already enormous fortune, and to that end would wage campaigns against his neighbours to secure not only their compliance, but their riches and their populace as slaves into the bargain. But now he had all this wealth and treasure, where would he keep it? The answer he settled upon was to build a pyramid for him so he could secure it all even after he died, and he enlisted the assistance of captured architect Vashtar (James Robertson Justice) to help...

Well, Vashtar didn't have much say in the matter, but so began one of the best recalled of the historical epics of the nineteen-fifties, although oddly enough it was not a hit at the time, providing filmmaker Howard Hawks with a lot of soul searching about the correct direction the rest of his career should take. He did return to directing a few years after this, but it's safe to say Land of the Pharoahs was never going to be one of his favourite projects, even if thanks to its regular television showings it proved to be one of his most durable. This in spite of the fact that really, the public might have been right first time around.

That's because if there's anything that has stuck in the mind about this, it's not the plot that leads up to the last five minutes, it's those last five minutes themselves which reveal the whole story to have been a sick joke with a great punchline. Only the lead up to that is not quite as capably told as it might have been, as it is a long and rambling walk through the era's idea of what Egyptology had taught us up to that point, and for the initial half hour at least the film appears to consist mostly of large amounts of extras walking through massive sets from left to right and then from right to left, impressive in its way but hard to truly engage with outside of musing over the amount of cash this must have cost.

Fortunately, Hawks had an ace up his sleeve as Khufu does his best to fund his spiralling pyramid project by taking over yet more of his surrounding peoples, and with them comes none other than Joan Collins, playing Nellifer, a devious princess who wishes to improve her lot by becoming his queen. Now, he already has a queen, and she has borne him a son, but Nellifer isn't going to let a little thing like that stand in her way so starts to think up ways of getting to the top position. By that she doesn't only mean becoming queen, but by becoming ruler of all Egypt when the Pharoah pops his clogs, something that she is only too willing to help him to do, whether he wants her to or not.

Greedily eyeing that treasure, as well as Khufu's Captain of the Guards, she hatches a plot to see off the little son, and then ensure that her new husband goes the way of all dust as soon as possible. While the affliction of most of these costume dramas was that most of the cast were instructed to take it very seriously, resulting in some pretty stuffy acting, Collins brightened this one up a shade with some kittenish bad girl behaviour, which is directed at making that climax all the more satisfying. In the meantime, Land of the Pharoahs was something of a slog, though notable for Dewey Martin's Senta, slave and son of Vashtar, whose unimistakably American charms, no matter how anachronistic, were evidently intended to have contemporary audiences thinking hey, that Senta guy's right, those Ancient Egyptians were crazy. Not quite fun enough to be camp, this one was all about its pay-off - but it was an undeniably good one. Music by Dmitri Tiomkin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Review Comments (1)
Posted by:
Andrew Pragasam
Date:
14 Dec 2010
  This just proves that not even the genre-hopping Howard Hawks was infallible. Having delivered a classic in every other genre, I guess historical epics were his one achilles heel. As I recall from an old Empire interview, Joan was none too fond of this one either. She was quoted as saying only Peter Cushing made more bad movies than her. Sorry, Joan, but you're wrong about that. Nice stab at being Yvonne De Carlo here though.
       


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