King Solomon's Mines (1985) (part 1 of 6)
Cannon didn’t just thrive on ninja films and extending the careers of Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. They also took the occasional stab at the adventure genre. (They also made several attempts at legitimate A-list movie material, but this isn’t really the time or place to go into that.)
Like any good exploitation outfit, Cannon knew how to ride a trend like there was no tomorrow. Hot on the heels of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom, they released King Solomon’s Mines, based on the classic novel by H. Rider Haggard. Starring Richard Chamberlain as Allan Quatermain, it features Sharon Stone in an early role as the heroine, and John Rhys Davies as one of the villains. It was fairly crappy, yet oddly watchable, in a “Well, it’s either this, or sit in the living room flicking the lights on and off for an hour and a half” sort of way.
Nevertheless, it spawned a sequel, which I’ll probably be examining in the near future. And a few years before the sequel, Cannon released a really bad 3-D flick called Treasure of the Four Crowns, which I would gladly give my appendix to own on DVD.
Our movie today is loosely based on the original novel by H. Rider Haggard. And by loosely, I mean barely at all. The basic premise is there, as are some of the characters, but if you go into the novel expecting a shrieking blonde heroine, treacherous Germans, and sadistic Turks, you’re in for a big surprise.
The novel was written in 1885, and was a surprising success for the time period. It inspired pretty much every adventure film made in the last century, most prominently the Indiana Jones films. So naturally, there have been several attempts to adapt the novel, with probably the best being the 1950 version with Stewart Granger—though I’ve heard the 2004 version with Patrick Swayze is rather good as well.
Funnily enough, our feature today isn’t even the worst version of the story to have ever been filmed. The worst version is a direct-to-video turd pile called Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls, released by the Asylum (who else?) in 2008 to capitalize on the most recent Indiana Jones movie. So you might be asking, “Why not tackle that one instead?” And the answer is simple: Nothing happens in that movie at all. Not one single goddamn thing.
Besides, knowing my computer, it would not only refuse to play the disc, but it would also achieve sentience and self-terminate in order to save itself. It’s kind of a dick that way.
This brings us to our feature today, directed by a slumming J. Lee Thompson. Actually, you could describe the whole of his career in the ‘80s as slumming and you’d get no argument from me. Take some bad comedy, some unpleasant racial stereotyping, and a ton of action to try to cover over the fact that the film is crap, and you get King Solomon’s Mines.
I give it 6 out of 10 clownish Germans. Let’s check it out.
Before we begin, I’m happy to announce we’re in for another edition of Video Box Idiocy. It would seem the guy who wrote the copy on the back of the DVD either didn’t watch the actual movie, or he had Raiders of the Lost Ark on in the background while he was working.
The film does involve a search for the female lead’s father, but that’s pretty much over after the 35-minute mark. Also, while there is a German villain, the story takes place during World War I, so I’m pretty sure he’s not a Nazi.
Also, Variety apparently had the phrase “stirring entertainment” somewhere in their review, but I’d bet non-essential parts of my anatomy that it was part of a sentence that was along the lines of “This would be stirring entertainment if it didn’t stink on ice.”
And now, our feature presentation!
An older man looks over a small statue of a woman with intricate markings on it. He tells two guys in suits, one in a fez, and the other an Englishman, that he’ll need time to fully translate the writing on the statue. But he’s told no by Dogati (John Rhys-Davies), a Turkish slave trader and all-around slimy bad guy. Rhys-Davies does his usual solid job here, but I would imagine there were a lot of other things he would have rather been doing. The laundry, perhaps.
Dogati addresses the older man as “Professor Huston”, and orders him to finish the translation immediately. The Englishman tries to leave, but the door won’t open. Dogati slices through a rope, setting off a death trap consisting of a large block lined with spikes.
I have no idea why a death trap like this would be in what appears to be just a simple shop, but it works well enough, impaling the poor guy. I’d also love to know where the damn rope came from, as we had one or two establishing shots of the place before Dogati entered, with no sign of a rope.
The man in the fez laments the damage done to the door (I guess he’s the owner of the shop). Dogati then puts the knife to the professor’s throat, ordering him to get back to work.
Jerry Goldsmith’s main title theme (really, the only good thing about this film) begins, and I’m happy to say the trademark Cannon canary yellow credits make a triumphant return. I don’t know why I dig them as much as I do. I suppose it’s because they lend a certain level of cheapness to the production that just makes me smile.
The credits play over jungle scenery, and I never would’ve guessed Sharon Stone would warrant above-title billing this early in her career, even if she is the female lead. Of course, it could be said that our star Richard Chamberlain didn’t really warrant above-title billing at this point, either (he’s a long way from Dr. Kildare and Shogun, believe me). The same could also be said for Rhys-Davies, as well as Herbert Lom, who plays another villain, so I would imagine Cannon was just happy that three relatively well-known performers said yes, and that Stone’s agent didn’t have anything else lined up for her that looked worthwhile.
We move through the jungle and find our heroes walking along. Allan Quatermain is played of course by Richard Chamberlain, and Sharon Stone plays Jesse Huston, the professor’s daughter. Also with them are the usual native bearers, including Umbopo (Ken Gampu), a pretty important character in the novel who’s given rather shoddy treatment here, to say the least. You’ll see what I mean later.
It has to be mentioned that Chamberlain is rocking the Chuck Norris look here. And yet, he still makes for a weak action hero. The guy is a good actor and all, but there’s a certain quality needed for an action hero that’s sorely lacking in him.
Part of the problem is the script, but I’ve always believed that a good actor can bring awful material up to an acceptable level. Sure, I’ve been proven wrong several times, but it’s still something I’d like to believe!
Jesse and Allan are deep into the “bickering duo who will soon fall in love” routine, and as they make their way through the jungle, Allan notices a very unsubtle intruder following them. Well, to be more precise, we see the guy, he runs off, and Allan notes they’ve “lost” him, which is true only if you consider the guy just plain giving up to be anything close to “losing” him.
Some belabored bantering ensues, and they exit the jungle into a city called Tongola. Umbopo is told to make camp nearby, but he wants to join them as they head into town. Evidently, Tongola is a bit on the rough side. Allan says they won’t be here long enough to get into any trouble, which is a pretty sure sign that they will indeed be getting into some trouble.