King Solomon's Mines (1950) - Warner Archive CollectionOverview -
The classic African adventure that inspired a number of copycats, the 1950 version of King Solomon’s Mines thrusts us into the untamed wilds of the Dark Continent as it chronicles a daring expedition into a remote, abandoned diamond mine. Deborah Kerr, Stewart Granger, and Richard Carlson are the intrepid explorers in this ravishing Technicolor film that’s been given a stunning makeover by Warner Archive. A brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative, robust audio, and a vintage making-of featurette make this Blu-ray worth its weight in gold. Highly Recommended.
Before there was Indiana Jones, there was Allan Quartermain, the stalwart hero of H. Rider Haggard's classic 1885 novel that's been filmed four times. Stewart Granger portrays Quartermain in this 1950 adaptation that was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award and won Oscars for Color Cinematography and Film Editing. Deborah Kerr plays the prim Englishwoman who hires Quartermain to lead the hunt for her missing husband, even though no safari has ever returned from the uncharted regions their expedition must cross. Part adventure, part spectacle and filmed amid the awesome splendor and peril of untamed Africa, KING SOLOMON'S MINES is a film fan's treasure.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Allan Quartermain may not possess the same degree of rogue charm and cocky swagger as Indiana Jones, but the hero of King Solomon’s Mines surely inspired the daring adventurer of Raiders of the Lost Ark nonetheless. Based on H. Rider Haggard’s popular novel and shot largely on location in Africa, MGM’s 1950 adaptation wowed the public just as Indy would do 30 years later, becoming the studio’s top moneymaker of the year and earning a Best Picture Oscar nomination. (It lost to All About Eve.) It’s still a marvel today. Edging out The African Queen by a year and Mogambo by three, King Solomon's Mines was the first Hollywood movie to showcase the African landscape and wildlife since 1931's Trader Horn, and directors Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton immerse us in the exotic setting.
MGM presents the film with much fanfare. The opening titles flow horizontally across the screen in huge letters á la Gone with the Wind and it's instantly evident the studio spared little expense to bring this chronicle of a dangerous expedition deep into the heart of unexplored Africa to the screen. Part adventure yarn and part travelogue, King Solomon's Mines isn't always cohesive, but it's awfully pretty to look at and occasionally resembles a nature documentary. We see elephants, ostriches, turtles, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, zebras, lions, leopards, monkeys, and even porcupines up close and in glorious Technicolor. The shots of so many wild animals in their natural habitat, as well as native rituals and tribal villages, make us feel like we're on safari and often eclipse the well-worn narrative. Some viewers might deem the travelogue and pageantry sequences excessive, but we must remember how mysterious Africa still was back in 1950 and what an eye-opening experience King Solomon's Mines must have been for contemporary moviegoers who could only dream of visiting what was then known as the Dark Continent.
The story takes place a few years before the turn of the 20th century and focuses on the efforts of Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John Goode (Richard Carlson) to track down Elizabeth's missing husband, who vanished during his trek to a lost diamond mine in the depths of interior Africa. The pair enlists the services of Quartermain, who reluctantly agrees to be their guide. Adventures abound, danger constantly lurks, romance ensues (of course!), and mysteries are solved during the arduous journey.
Though the film takes great pains to paint an authentic portrait of Africa by shooting scenes in existing villages and employing local people as extras, it can't completely divorce itself from Hollywood glamor. Kerr never looks the least bit bedraggled during her weeks-long trek across rugged plains, parched deserts, and dank caves (the mine scenes were actually shot at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico), appearing impeccably made up and coiffed throughout. (A small rip at the shoulder seam of her safari blouse is the only sign of struggle.) At least Granger and Carlson break a sweat and get their hands dirty.
Witty dialogue and snappy repartee distinguish the screenplay by Helen Deutsch, who would co-adapt the Rudyard Kipling novel Kim the same year and receive her sole Oscar nomination for Lili in 1953. The character of Elizabeth does not appear in Haggard's book and Deutsch's female perspective undoubtedly infused her with the right mix of spunk and softness. Elizabeth may be intimidated at times, but she's no shrinking violet, and Kerr gets as much mileage out of her as the script allows.
The deeply tanned Granger makes a dashing Quartermain in his American film debut (Errol Flynn was first offered the role, but chose to do Kim in India instead) and he and the prim yet fiery Kerr create plenty of sparks. Kerr had been itching to break free of the ornamental roles MGM saddled her with ever since they imported her from England in 1947, but even after a Best Actress Oscar nomination as Spencer Tracy's troubled wife in Edward, My Son, the studio persisted in casting her as regal, one-dimensional ingenues. She tried to interest MGM production chief Dore Schary in adapting The African Queen, but when he told her another studio held the rights, he offered her King Solomon's Mines instead. Though the part doesn't tax Kerr, she makes more of it than what's on the page, deftly showing how a repressed woman begins to blossom when she's thrust into nature and freed from society's rigid constraints. She looks ravishing in Technicolor and adds complexity to the largely straightforward story.
King Solomon's Mines is good, old-fashioned, lightweight entertainment. It can be hokey at times, but it's packed with action, immerses us in an exotic land and culture, is gorgeous to look at, and doesn't tax our brains with heavy themes. Haggard's novel has been recycled cinematically for more than a century; the first screen treatment premiered way back in 1919(!) and spawned remakes in 1937, 1950, and 1985, along with a 2004 TV miniseries. This version may not stand as the most faithful adaptation, but it's arguably the best, and thanks to Warner Archive, it looks better than ever before.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The 1950 version of King Solomon's Mines arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
A brand new 4K scan struck from the original Technicolor camera negatives yields a sumptuous, often jaw-dropping 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that faithfully honors and stunningly showcases Robert Surtees' Oscar-winning cinematography. Pitch-perfect clarity and contrast produce a vivid, immersive picture that brims with detail and depth and faint grain preserves the feel of celluloid, but it's the brilliant color that's the true star of this exceptional rendering. Crystal blue skies, verdant green landscapes, bold red lipstick, and Kerr's flaming red locks consistently grab attention, while the colorful accents in the native garb and purple lily pads dotting a lake also make statements. The textures of wood grain, clay mud walls, and craggy caves are distinct and breathtaking close-ups highlight Kerr's alabaster skin and Granger's overly thick mahogany tan. Both day-for-night and nocturnal sequences are striking (instances of crush are minimal at best) and not a single nick, mark, or speck dot the pristine remastered source. I don’t own the previous DVD of King Solomon’s Mines, but it’s impossible to imagine this rousing adventure looking any better than it does here. This is another triumph for the Warner Archive technical crew that presents Technicolor classics better than anyone else in the business.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track can’t quite match the video, but it’s impressive nonetheless and helps bring the African landscape and native culture to life. From the opening credits onward, the bass drums that punctuate the track are weighty and crisp, as are the rumbling hooves of the stampeding zebras, the roaring waterfall, and rushing river rapids. On the higher end, elephant squeaks, monkey babbling, and insect buzzing provide notable sonic accents, while subtleties like chirping birds and crickets and footsteps across rocky terrain come through cleanly. A wide dynamic scale gives the music score by Mischa Spoliansky plenty of room to breathe and all the dialogue is clear and easy to understand. No distortion creeps into the mix and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle intrude.
The film's original trailer is ported over from the 2004 DVD and Warner Archive adds a vintage making-of featurette in HD.
Vintage Featurette: Jungle Safari (HD, 10 minutes) - This rare making-of featurette chronicles the challenges inherent in producing this major motion picture on location in Africa and documents the treacherous journey of a caravan of studio trucks across rough terrain to the remote shooting site.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 4 minutes) - The film's original preview hypes King Solomon's Mines as the "greatest adventure drama of the ages!" and heralds the filming "in the savage heart of equatorial Africa."
The 1950 version of King Solomon’s Mines still engenders admiration almost 75 years after it captured the imagination of a moviegoing public that flocked to see the African landscape and wildlife in glorious Technicolor. Warner Archive reverently honors this rousing adventure and captivating travelogue with a spectacular transfer struck from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. Excellent audio and a fascinating vintage making-of featurette also distinguish this superior Blu-ray presentation of a beloved classic. Highly Recommended.
Order your copy of King Solomon's Mines on Blu-ray
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