Movie Review: King’s Solomon’s Mines (1937)

AnnaLeeThumbby 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_1937

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.

Available on DVD (new – $5.99, used – $2.23) or Instant Video ($2.99 rental) from Amazon.com. Also available in full for free on YouTube. Not available on Netflix.

Here’s a wonderful medley by Paul Robeson.

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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9 Responses to Movie Review: King’s Solomon’s Mines (1937)

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    The only Quatermain movie I’ve seen is the 1960s version of She (with Ursula Andress as Ayesha). I will note that Mike Resnick had a parody of it as one of his Lucifer Jones stores in Adventures, and that S. M. Stirling really likes such stories and tries to find ways to write fantasy/science fiction of a similar sort.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Sounds interesting, Timothy. Maybe I’ll work my way through the three movies. But I did find the book to actually be sort of a fun read. It’s not Shakespeare. But it was a nice casual read. Sometimes you need a break from the Thomas Sowell stuff. 🙂

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’ve also read the third book in the series of books by Haggard (in the order of publication) called “Maiwa’s Revenge: or, The War of the Little Hand (1888).” It was very good, and a fairly short read.

    I liked the first three books so much that I’m about 3/4 of the way through the fourth, “Marie.” This one is a bit of a challenge because the plot is a bit stale and repetitive. I’ve put it down and picked it up several times in an attempt to just soldier through it. But it’s not been easy. There just isn’t much artfulness in this one.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finally finished Haggard’s “Marie.” I’d set the book down a couple times because two of the principles in it (Boer characters) were rather lame. The first quarter of the book is rather good showing the young Quatermain making a name for himself and engaging in truly heroic endeavors.

    And the very very end is good as well (which I can’t tell you about). But the rest of the bits suffer from The Puppet Syndrome. It’s where a writer takes characters out of character (or out of believability) and jerks on their strings to have them behave in somewhat artificial ways just to make his story move forward or to make it work out.

    Neither the relative passivity of Quatermain toward his nemesis, or the sudden onset of what can only be called Mad Cow Disease in his would-be father-in-law (the uncle of his nemesis), are plausible. It thus ruins the story — for me. Perhaps another reader will not see it this way.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Having turned Mr. Kung onto the reading pleasures of H. Rider Haggard, he has likewise done the favor and told me that his novel, She, is well worth reading.

    And so it seems to be, at least halfway through, which is where I am. Our intrepid explorers have just run into “She Who Must Be Obeyed,” and I mean neither Hillary Clinton nor Mrs. Rumpole.

    I’m so far finding this book good, but by no means earth shattering. But Wiki has this to say about it which I did not know:

    She, subtitled A History of Adventure, is a novel by Henry Rider Haggard, first serialised in The Graphic magazine from October 1886 to January 1887. She is one of the classics of imaginative literature, and as of 1965 with over 83 million copies sold in 44 different languages,[1] one of the best-selling books of all time.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I just finished my fifth Allan Quatermain book (not including Haggard’s “She”), Allan’s Wife. It’s a novella, actually, and a very fun read. It’s another dash across Africa for fun and adventure. But beware the Zulus who seem to be around every corner.

    The one flaw in this book is that Haggard has the very annoying habit of having Quatermain let his archenemies go out of some kind of sense of mercy…and these enemies always come back to haunt him. It makes the otherwise fearless Quatermain look like a putz. This shtick was used to ill effect in “Marie” as well, which very much ruined that novel for me.

    But it’s a mere quibble here. You’ll love this one. This is good old pulp fiction written by a literate man.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This weekend I finished my seventh Haggard book, and sixth Quatermain book (“She” isn’t a Quatermain book): Child of Storm. It’s the seventh book written by Haggard. I’ve been more or less reading the Quatermain books in the order of their publication, not chronologically. As Wiki notes:

    The novel is the second in a trilogy by Haggard involving the collapse of the Zulu kingdom and the dwarf Zikali. The first book is Marie, and the third, Finished.

    I think “Child of Storm” is his best work thus far. It’s a coherent and interesting story throughout with a plot that builds to a nice conclusion. Basically Quartermain gets involved with a big-chief-wannabe, Saduko. Intersecting with his ambitions for power is the uber-beautiful femme fatale, Mameena.

    This, and more, plays out nicely in the general vicinity of and by the Zulus. There’s an interesting witch doctor thrown in as well. This isn’t high literature, but I found no major faults with this book. It was just a satisfying read.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      It might be interesting to compare Haggard’s portrayal of Zulu society with that of actual histories (such as Donald Morris’s The Washing of the Spears or other more recent studies), or for that matter the movies Zulu and Zulu Dawn.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    After having set this book down for at least a year, last night I finished Finished, roughly the ninth book in this series, and the final one in the Zulu trilogy. “The thing that should never have been born” (the wizard, Zikali) finally exacts revenge on the Zulus.

    I put this down about a quarter of the way into it, just as Quatermain and his company came upon the “temple,” a building made of marble set in the middle of nowhere in and about southern Africa. I got bored but finally came back to it. I get the right mood struck. It was a good read from there to the end, although these books do tend to resemble themselves.

    There’s a lot of mysticism in this one. Quatermain doesn’t believe for a moment that Zikali is anything but a trickster. But the evidence that this wizard might indeed have supernatural powers is always hovering in the background. As hard as Allan tries to explain away the many bizarre events he was witnessed, the reader is fairly sure that he has only half convinced himself.

    If you’ve read the first two in the Zulu-based trilogy (Marie and Child of Storm), you’ll want to finish this one. Child of Storm is the jewel in this trilogy, and the best Quatermain book I’ve read so far. (Haggard apparently considered this his best writing.)

    Next I’m off to The Ancient Allan which picks up some of the story of The Ivory Child. I’m only a few pages into it, but clearly this will be about some kind of mystical trip whose departure will depend upon a rare and mysterious Egyptian herbal powder that allows one to travel (or at least to see) into the future.

    In The Ivory Child, Quatermain rescued the now Lady Ragnall from the clutches of an Isis cult wherein the Lady was (because of a moon-shaped birthmark) deemed to be an incarnation of the ancient priestess of the cult. Her husband has recently died (in mystical circumstances while excavating an Isis temple in Egypt) and she has time to pursue something she mentioned in that book: to use the powder, a sample of which she has maintained. She invites Quatermain for a weekend at her estate and there, presumably, they will both take of the magical herb and the adventure will begin.

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