by Brad Nelson
I’m aware of at least three versions of this story. There’s one from 1950 and there’s the 1985 film with Richard Chamberlain which isn’t highly rated. I don’t think I’ve seen either one of those in full.
But I did watch the black-and-white 1937 version. In the first thirty minutes, it’s watchable, although unspectacular. King Solomon’s Mines has some old black and white charm. It’s even got the requisite bad acting in places. (I thought heroine Anna Lee would have been interchangeable with Indiana Jones’ Kate Capshaw in terms of bland and bad.) It’s fairly unpretentious light Saturday afternoon matinee fare. But nothing special.
But somewhere along the way to King Solomon’s Mines, damned if this movie didn’t grow on me. It helped immensely that it had the wonderful character of Umbopa played by renowned opera star, Paul Robeson, whose deep, rich voice makes James Earl Jones sound like a tenor in comparison.
Robeson sings a couple truly charming songs while this gang of diamond-chasers is traipsing through the mountains and desert intent on becoming vulture food, including Climbing Up. I don’t know if those songs are particularly of African origin, but they are one of the highlights of this film.
It’s fun to watch the Irish accent of Anna Lee wander in and out of the picture. Yep. She’s obviously Irish. (Eyeroll) Cedric Hardwicke anchors the film as the believably sober and understated Allan Quatermain. He’s the kind of man (a hunting guide) you would expect could survive more than one excursion into the heart of Africa and make it out alive.
But this time he’s got more than his share of Kate Capshaws to weigh him down. For the rest of this trekking party, it’s a bit of a Chinese fire drill as everyone finds a reason to go wandering off into the uncharted desert. Lucky for them that Quatermain is such a man of honor. I would have left them to their fate.
Do they find the diamonds? Are they consumed by the volcano? Do they get killed when they are caught up in tribal warfare? Stay tuned, same Solomon time, same Solomon channel. Suffice it to say, there will be no sequel. But it did end up being reasonably entertaining. I give it 2.7 feather-dusters-of-death (that’s sort of what Gagool’s whip looked like) out of 5.
King Solomon’s Mines (1885) by H. Rider Haggard is available as a free book at Gutenberg.org. I’ve read this one as well as his second novel featuring Allan Quatermain, Allan Quatermain (1887). Both are above-average reads that I very much enjoyed. Here is Haggard’s author archives as well the Wiki entry for Allan Quatermain.
Here’s a wonderful medley by Paul Robeson.