Monday, May 03, 2010

Valley of the Kings (1954)



Valley of the Kings wasn't everything I'd hoped it would be, but it came a lot closer than I had any right to expect. I'm always looking out for movies that'll scratch that Raiders of the Lost Ark itch, so I was immediately interested in this story about an archeologist and his teacher's daughter searching for lost treasure in Egypt. That sounds a lot like the plot for Raiders, but I'm not suggesting that Raiders ripped it off. It's really a very different story.

Religion plays a big part of Valley of the Kings too though. More so, in fact, than it does in Raiders. In Valley of the Kings, Eleanor Parker (The Baroness from The Sound of Music) plays the daughter of an archeologist who recently died before completing his life's work. His quest was to find the tomb of the Pharaoh who ruled during the time of the Biblical Joseph. Picking up her father's work, Ann hires one of her dad's former students, a rough character named Mark Brandon (Robert Taylor from Ivanhoe). Along with Ann's new husband - who may or may not have his own reasons for wanting to find the tomb - they follow clues around Egypt and it's great fun watching them do it.

They begin by tracing Moses' path across the Red Sea to a secluded monastery at Mt. Sinai where Ann's father ended his search. After that, they visit quaint little curio shops in Cairo, meet mysterious strangers in taverns, sail the Nile, ride camels, take refuge in ruins from a sandstorm, meet desert bandits, fight villains on top of enormous statues, and yes, explore lost tombs. Plot-wise, it's everything you want in an Egyptian adventure story.

What it lacks, after the break.


There are a couple of problems with the movie though. One is with Parker's performance. She has a complicated role with her being torn emotionally between a husband she's not sure she trusts and the surly Mark Brandon. She also has to struggle with her faith and decide if she's on this quest for her father or herself. And if it's just for her father, what does that say about him if she doesn't believe in his life's dream? It's a great role, but Parker's not really up for it. She's not great at showing convincing emotions and she doesn't have chemistry with either of her romantic interests.

Which brings us to the other problem. Taylor does a fine job playing his character, but his character is an unlikable jerk. He can be pleasant enough when he's getting his way, but he admits to being impatient and he's quick to call Ann self-centered when she's not doing what he wants to do. He's distrustful of Ann's husband and plants seeds of doubt in her mind about him, but it's been clear from their first scene together that he wants to sleep with her. That makes his suspicions about poor Philip themselves suspicious. Brandon's exactly the kind of guy who would break up a marriage to sleep with the wife.

Ann's husband Philip is played by Carlos Thompson, who also does an excellent job. He's much more charming and at ease than Brandon, but he's not very rugged or useful other than as a companion for Ann, so we never really cheer for him to hold onto her. And he does act kind of suspiciously sometimes. Really, we keep getting the feeling that Ann would be better off without either of these guys.

Still, the shaky romance isn't bad enough to detract from the adventurous parts of the movie, which are fantastic. It's not available on DVD, but if you have the opportunity to catch it on Turner Classic Movies, you really should.

Four out of five scorpions in the blanket.
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