Solomon and Sheba
|Solomon and Sheba|
|Directed by||King Vidor|
|Produced by||Ted Richmond|
|Screenplay by||Anthony Veiller|
|Story by||Crane Wilbur|
|Based on||Books of Kings|
Books of Chronicles
|Music by||Mario Nascimbene|
|Cinematography||Fred A. Young|
|Edited by||Otto Ludwig|
Edward Small Productions
|Distributed by||United Artists|
Solomon and Sheba is a 1959 American epic historical romance film directed by King Vidor, shot in Technirama (color by Technicolor), and distributed by United Artists. The film dramatizes events described in The Bible—the tenth chapter of the First Kings and the ninth chapter of Second Chronicles.
It starred Yul Brynner as Solomon and Gina Lollobrigida as Sheba; and features George Sanders as Adonijah, Marisa Pavan as Abishag, and David Farrar as the Pharaoh. The screenplay by Anthony Veiller, Paul Dudley, and George Bruce, was based on a story by Crane Wilbur. In February 2020, the film was shown at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival, as part of a retrospective dedicated to King Vidor's career.
The film's theme differs substantially from Biblical sources and is highly fictionalized, most notably in representing the Queen of Sheba as an ally of ancient Egypt in opposition to King Solomon of Israel, and in her having a love affair with Solomon.
Under the rule of King David, Israel is united and prosperous, although surrounded by enemies, including Egypt and its allies. The aging King favours Solomon to succeed him, but his elder brother Adonijah, a warrior, declares himself King. When David learns of this, he publicly announces Solomon to be his successor. Adonijah and Joab, his general, withdraw in rage, but Solomon later offers his brother the command of the army, knowing that Adonijah may use it against him.
Israel continues to prosper under Solomon's rule. The Queen of Sheba conspires with the Egyptian Pharaoh to undermine Solomon's rule by seducing him and introducing Sheban pagan worship into Jerusalem. Solomon is indeed bewitched by her, and the two begin living together under the pretense of forming an alliance between their two kingdoms. The king's reputation is damaged, but at the same time Sheba—who sees the king's wisdom in the Judgment of Solomon—begins to truly fall in love with him and regret her plotting. Things come to a head when Solomon recklessly allows a Sheban 'love festival' (in fact an orgy in celebration of a pagan god Almaqah) to be held within Israel. In an act of divine retribution, lightning from heaven destroys the Sheban altar and damages the newly built Temple in Jerusalem, and the land is beset with a deadly famine. Solomon is publicly rebuked by the people; the High Priest and Nathan the Prophet disown him.
Meanwhile, Adonijah, banished by his brother after an assassination attempt, goes and strikes a bargain with Pharaoh; given an army, he will conquer Israel for Egypt, in exchange for being placed on the throne as a kind of viceroy. The tiny army mustered by Solomon (who has been abandoned by his allied states) is quickly routed, and Adonijah presses on to Jerusalem and makes himself king. Meanwhile, Sheba, now a believer in the power of the God of Israel, prays for Solomon to be redeemed and restored to power as Nathan the Prophet overhears.
Pursued by the Egyptians, who were sent to finish him off, Solomon thereafter devises a plan. He lines up the remnants of his army on a hill, prompting the enemy to charge. The Israelites, who have arranged themselves to face east, then use their highly polished shields to reflect the light of the rising sun into the Egyptians' eyes. Blinded, the Egyptians are prevented from seeing the chasm in front of which the Israelites have positioned themselves, and the entire army rushes headlong over the edge and falls to its death.
Meanwhile, Adonijah, met with a tepid reaction to his coup, tries to stir up Jerusalem's population by ordering the stoning of Sheba. Midway through this hideous display, Solomon makes a triumphant return to the city. Adonijah attacks his brother, refusing to be deprived again of his throne, but is himself struck down. Joab, in retaliation, attempts to attack Solomon, but is struck down by Solomon's faithful retainers Josiah and Ahab. At Solomon's prayer Sheba is miraculously healed of her wounds; as he resumes his power, she returns to her homeland, now pregnant by Solomon.
- Yul Brynner as King Solomon
- Gina Lollobrigida as Queen of Sheba
- Marisa Pavan as Abishag
- David Farrar as Pharaoh (Siamun)
- Harry Andrews as Baltor
- John Crawford as Joab
- Laurence Naismith as Hezrai (credited as Lawrence Naismith)
- Finlay Currie as King David
- Jean Anderson as Takyan
- William Devlin as Nathan
- Jack Gwillim as Josiah
- José Nieto as Ahab (credited as Jose Nieto)
- George Sanders as Adonijah
- Maruchi Fresno as Bathsheba
- Julio Peña as Zadok (credited as Julio Pena)
Edward Small announced plans to make a film about King Solomon as early as 1953. The following year Julius Epstein was writing a script for Small which was going to be produced by the team of Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse (who often made movies under Small's supervision). Small then announced he was developing the project with Arthur Hornblow Jr. and in 1955 Gina Lollobrigida was signed. United Artists agreed to distribute the following year. Small provided 75% of the film's anticipated $6 million budget, with United Artists provided 25%.
Lollobrigida came on board as financial partner, getting a percentage of the profits. The role of Solomon was initially turned down by Tyrone Power and Yul Brynner; however, Power agreed to accept the part after the script was rewritten.
Power's involvement meant the film became a co-production with Power's Copa Productions, headed by Ted Richmond. In the interim, Small and Hornblow had made Witness for the Prosecution together which was a hit but they decided to end their partnership. Small went into co-production with Copa Productions, with Hornblow retaining a financial interest.
Death of Tyrone Power
Two thirds of the movie had been shot and the unit was in Madrid when on 15 November Tyrone Power filmed a duel scene with George Sanders, who played his brother. (The two had also filmed a sword fight in the 1942 film The Black Swan.) The duel had to be repeated several times. Power finally dropped the sword and said he couldn't continue, complaining of a pain in his left arm. He was helped to his dressing room and given brandy. It is unclear what happened next, as stories differ. In one scenario, he was taken to the hospital in Gina Lollabrigida's car and died. Another scenario is that Power died in his dressing room. In order to keep his jaw from dropping, a scarf was put around his neck to "walk" him out of the studio to the car. This was done in part because Mrs. Power was at the hotel and knew nothing about what happened. Ted Richmond gave orders that no press was to be called, and Mrs. Power was not to be called. He died en route to the hospital. Mrs. Power was escorted to the hospital. A memorial service was held on 16 November at US Torrejon Air Force Base. 
Production of the movie was halted. Because love scenes remained to be shot, another actor would have to be cast if the existing script was to be used; battle sequences had been filmed, but most of these could still be used, with close ups of the new actor added. Other possibilities discussed including rewriting the script to use Power's footage, or use Power for the first half of the movie (as "young Solomon"), then recasting another actor as Solomon for the second half. The issue was complicated by the fact that three different parties had full script, star and director approval: Small, Copa Productions, and Gina Lollobrigida.
On 16 November Small offered the part of Solomon to Yul Brynner, a friend of Power, and the actor accepted. This meant Brynner had to delay playing the lead role in Spartacus, to which he had committed. However United Artists had not been told of Brynner's casting and were unsure of the conditions which had been granted to him. Ted Richmond wanted to pull out of producing and for a time there was some doubt if the film would go ahead at all.
Another option was to cancel Solomon and Sheba altogether: the production was insured up to $3 million in the case of the death of one of the six lead players; Lloyd's of London covered the daily $100,000 bill while the film was halted. However, in the end it was decided to proceed with Brynner in the role of Solomon.
The film was eventually completed over ten weeks after much difficulty with an estimated cost of $6 million. It was felt that this was relatively inexpensive, considering the scale of the movie; and Spain increasingly became a basis for Hollywood movies.
Solomon and Sheba received its world premiere on 27 October 1959 at the Astoria Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London, where it was presented in 70mm.
Solomon and Sheba received indifferent to negative reviews and Yul Brynner's performance was criticized by no less than the film's director, King Vidor, who stated that Tyrone Power had been much more believable as a conflicted king than Brynner, who apparently played it with too much self-assurance. Variety, however, praised some of the film's sequences as "magnificent production scenes", and described Lollobrigida as showing "the queen to be a woman of sharp brain as well as sensual beauty." The magazine also stated that Brynner "does a fine job in presenting a Solomon who credibly suggests a singer of songs, yet finally is a man of ordinary flesh and blood who cannot resist Sheba."
The film was included in the 1978 book, The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and How They Got That Way), by Harry Medved, Randy Dreyfuss, and Michael Medved.
Comic book adaption
- Scheuer, Philip K (13 Jan 1958). "Comedy Will Star Taylor: Small Splurges on 'Solomon;' Mann to Film 'Ripe Fruit'". Los Angeles Times. p. C9.
- Block, Alex Ben (2010). George Lucas's Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies . HarperCollins. p. 976. ISBN 9780061963452.
- "'Solomon and Sheba': Art of War Varies Little Over Years". The Milwaukee Sentinel. January 3, 1960. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
- Oviatt, Ray (January 29, 1960). "New Biblical Epic Stays With Formula". Toledo Blade. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
- "Berlinale 2020: Retrospective "King Vidor"". Berlinale. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
- Hopper, Hedda (30 Oct 1953). "Looking at Hollywood: Spencer Tracy to Do 'Digby' Film Version". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. a11.
- THOMAS M. PRYOR (31 Aug 1954). "GREENE AND ROUSE TO MAKE 12 FILMS: They Form Team to Produce, Write and Direct With the Backing of Edward Small". New York Times. p. 26.
- "Drama: Lollobrigida to Star in 'Solomon and Sheba'". Los Angeles Times. 4 Nov 1955. p. B10.
- THOMAS M. PRYOR (8 May 1956). "UNIVERSAL IS HOST TO FOREIGN AIDES: Movie Studio Greets Sales Officials From Abroad in First Global Conference Of Local Origin". New York Times. p. 28.
- "Future Still in Doubt for Power's Last Film: One of 3 Coproducers Reportedly Engaged Yul Brynner Without Consulting Partners". Los Angeles Times. 19 Nov 1958. p. 28.
- THOMAS M. PRYOR (6 Feb 1958). "FOX BUYS RIGHTS TO AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Studio Will Film 'Beloved Infidel' by Sheilah Graham -- 'Solomon' Advances". New York Times. p. 24.
- Special to The New York Times. (17 Nov 1958). "BRYNNER TO ASSUME TYRONE POWER ROLE". New York Times. p. 38.
- THOMAS M. PRYOR (20 June 1958). "PHIL CAREY CAST IN DISNEY MOVIE: Actor to Star With Mineo in 'Tonka' -- Negulesco to Direct 'The Blessing'". New York Times. p. 27.
- "Transcript of Stand-In Mike Steckler's remarks at American Cinematheque". 16 Nov 2008.
- "https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DS19581115.2.7&e=-------en--20--1--txt-txIN--------1". 15 Nov 1958. External link in
- "Movie Halted; Some Scenes May Be Saved". Los Angeles Times. 16 Nov 1958. p. A.
- "Yul Brynner to Take Over Tyrone Power's Film Role: Immediate Resumption Set in Spain". Los Angeles Times. 17 Nov 1958. p. B1.
- THOMAS M. PRYOR (18 Nov 1958). "METRO WILL FILM PLAY TO BOW IN '59: Buys 'The Golden Fleecing' by Lorenzo Semple Jr. -- Donen Comedy Scheduled". New York Times. p. 43.
- "Tyrone Power's Body Due to Arrive Today: Widow and His Secretary Also Coming by Air; Funeral Service Being Arranged". Los Angeles Times. 18 Nov 1958. p. 5.
- Gies, Joseph (1 Feb 1959). "Sheba Was An Expensive Girl!: Problems? Everything From Jets To Vanishing Helmets". Los Angeles Times. p. i10.
- Scheuer, Philip K (17 July 1959). "Shooting, Dubbing of Spectacle Told: 'Solomon and Sheba' Giant Undertaking for King Vidor". Los Angeles Times. p. 23.
- MURRAY SCHUMACH (4 Oct 1959). "HOLLYWOOD STAND: Case for Shooting in Spain Upheld by 'Solomon and Sheba' Producer". New York Times. p. X7.
- "TCM – "Solomon and Sheba"". Retrieved 13 August 2012.
- "Review: "Solomon and Sheba"". Variety. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
- Medved, Harry (1978). The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time (and how They Got that Way) (First ed.). Angus & Robertson. p. 288. ISBN 9780207958915. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
- "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
- "Dell Four Color #1070". Grand Comics Database.
- Dell Four Color #1070 at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)
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