LAND OF THE PHARAOHS got an undeserved bum rap over the years, dismissed by its director, Howard Hawks, patronized by the wheezing auteur critics, eventually relegated to camp status due mostly to leading lady Joan Collins later escapades in press, television and various bedrooms. Leading man, the British stalwart Jack Hawkins, called it “a perfectly ridiculous film”. Ouch. Some of that fallout rained because after many months of work and a pyramid of hype it lost money, its 1955 take coming up $1,500,000 short next to an excavation tablet of $5,800,000.
The story concerns the building of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, its Pharaoh Khufu (Hawkins) and his tribulations with his sexpot second wife, Nellifer (hiss!) played with panting pouts by the 21-year-old Collins, upstaged by her own bared midriff (guess I better watch it again to certify my findings).
The problem with the movie is that it lacks a smasheroo action scene that viewers who invest themselves in Epics expect, and much of the talk just lies there in the dust. Hawks protege Dewey Martin is a dead loss in his secondary role. It’s not overlong at 105 minutes, which makes it a lot easier to digest than the 220 minutes of tedium and truly awful dialog, acting and direction of The Ten Commandments, which whaled into theaters the following year.
What is undeniably awesome is the scale of this production: there is one sequence that has twelve thousand Egyptian extras filling the screen. The construction of the pyramid is quite interesting: that was what piqued Hawk’s interest to start with—the building of an entire movie around that muse being the rub. Scenes with hordes of men dragging massive blocks into place are marvels of choreographed and actual engineering and the final ‘entombment’ sequence is an unforgettable display of the ‘Revenge Best Served Cold’ school of payback.
Dimitri Tiomkin’s score helps a lot, and gets the movie going with a rousing parade march. Collins fairly oozes lust. She and supporting actor Sydney Chaplin had such a rollicking affair going that a frustrated Hawks ended up scolding them publicly about their effect on his production, warning them if they wanted careers after the movie wrapped they’d better behave. He had already enough heat on his mind, like scorching desert temperatures severe enough to fell 66 extras from sun exhaustion in a single day. With Alexis Minotis, James Robertson Justice and Kerima.