Thursday, April 8, 2010

1955 - LAND OF THE PHARAOHS, Howard Hawks very entertaining intimate epic

Howard Hawks stuck has name before the actual title, Land Of The Pharaohs to let the audience know he was the man in charge on this one.  However the movie was not well received by critics or the public and was not a financial success in 1955.  Watching the film today it's difficult to understand why it was so disliked.

The film is about the building of an Egyptian pyramid that will hold the remains of the current pharaoh as he travels to his second life.  Admittedly the film lacks the epic battle scenes usually associated with this kind of film.  But Hawks was more interested in the court intrigue and the actual building of the pyramid than having thousands of extras pretend to fight each other. 

The details of the building of the pyramid are actually rather fascinating.  The thousands of extras deployed in this film demonstrate how such a monumental undertaking may have been accomplished.  Hawks is good at capturing the Pharaoh's obsessiveness without making him seem like a total nutcase.  Land of the Pharaohs also just happens to have one of the greatest endings in the history of movies.

Land Of The Pharaohs is just incredibly well made.  The cinemascope photography and the production design on the film are excellent.  The film composer Dimitri Tiomkin really jacked up the music for this film with a very bombastic score.  Howard Hawks was never known for his flashy camera tricks but he always knew how to get the most out of a scene and always worked with the best technicians.  

Joan Collins plays the evil second wife of the pharaoh and her machinations towards the end of the film do tend to border if not cross the line of melodramatic at times.  But her scheming is very interesting and entertaining.

Somehow William Falkner got mixed up in writing this film for Hawks.  However it seems that Faulkner spent most of his time partying with Howard Hawks and his cronies than actually working on the story.   The real heavy lifting on the script was done by the writer Harry Kurnitz. 

 The criticism of Land Of The Pharaohs as an empty epic seems incredibly unfair.  The Ten Commandments, Cleopatra, Troy and Titanic are also considered epic films but for all their popularity they are very poor films. In  Land of the Pharaohs Howard Hawks at least attempted to film an intelligent spectacle.

106 epic minutes.

144 epic minutes.

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