Release Date(s)1959 (March 10, 2015)
Studio(s)United Artists (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: N/A
King Vidor’s 1959 biblical epic Solomon and Sheba is neither as great as it should be nor as weak as its reputation suggests; although it is probably best known as the film that killed its director’s career and literally killed original star Tyrone Power, viewed today it’s an extremely entertaining – if somewhat compromised – example of its genre. Why Vidor never made another movie is a bit of a mystery given that, perception to the contrary, Solomon and Sheba was commercially successful at the time – maybe he was just wiped out from the logistical difficulties of replacing his leading man two-thirds of the way through production. Producer Power cast himself as Old Testament poet and ruler Solomon opposite sex symbol Gina Lollobrigida as the Queen of Sheba, with a fine supporting cast that included George Sanders as Solomon’s villainous brother Adonijah. With veteran helmer Vidor (Duel in the Sun, The Fountainhead) on board, everything seemed to be in place for a sweeping, sexy spectacle – until Power had a heart attack and dropped dead during shooting.
The decision was made to move forward with the production and reshoot all of Power’s scenes, and the choice of replacement was a bit of a mixed bag. Vidor cast the Lollobrigida-approved Yul Brynner, still hot off of his 1956 streak that included The King and I and The Ten Commandments, and while the actor had power and screen presence to spare he lacked any sense of nuance – whereas Power had intended to play Solomon as a bit of a neurotic, Brynner’s interpretation is, to put it generously, one-note. Luckily, that note fits in well with the overall tone of the piece, as the new leading man brings a larger-than-life gravitas to the role that complements Lollobrigida’s hammy sultriness surprisingly well. Their scenes together are thoroughly compelling, as is the movie as a whole – while it lacks the intellect of something like Spartacus and the tonal variety of The Ten Commandments, it delivers as a vibrant melodrama with plenty of sexual tension and action. Vidor alternates theatrical dialogue and romance scenes with enormous battle sequences that are still riveting over fifty years later – in fact, they’re probably even more impressive in a CGI-dominated world, since one is immediately awed by the sheer scale of thousands of human actors and hundreds of horses (several of whom, unfortunately, were killed during production).
The epic scope of the film is evident on Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray, which contains a decent but flawed transfer that seems to be limited by the quality of its source material. As one of the lesser known biblical epics, Solomon and Sheba hasn’t been kept in the great shape of something like The Ten Commandments or The Robe, and there are a number of odd glitches in the image here – it jumps around on occasion, and there are slight but still somewhat annoying shifts in color temperature. Nevertheless, the clarity of the image is solid overall, with remarkable detail in the wide shots that allows one to fully appreciate the precision of Vidor’s direction. The disc contains a fine DTS-HD 2.0 sound mix, along with an isolated music and effects track; unfortunately, there are no extras aside from a pair of original theatrical trailers. With its stirring action and occasionally outrageous sexual content (including a bizarre “orgy” sequence and some highly inventive wardrobe selections for Lollobrigida), Solomon and Sheba serves as an amusing relic of its era – not exactly a masterpiece, but well worth a few hours of your time.
- Jim Hemphill