Archive for August 18, 2017

Isn’t it Pharaonic? Don’t you think?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2017 by dcairns

I mention the prospect of LAND OF THE PHARAOHS for our Hawks binge, and Fiona declares at once, “That’s one of my favourite movies!”

Afterwards, she admitted it wasn’t.

But it made a great impression on her as a kid, because of the ending. “Buried alive with a lot of people with their tongues cut out!”

SPOILER ALERTIt’s like a great ending in search of a movie. And perhaps evidence that no movie about a giant construction project is ever any good (Civil Engineering: See Boring). we have SUEZ, WESTERN UNION, and this. There must be exceptions but I can’t think of any. Don’t say THE FOUNTAINHEAD.

Hawks had engineering training and I guess he got carried away by it. Later, he complained that the film didn’t have sympathetic characters — the slaves are theoretically “sympathetic” because they’re not mean, but they can’t engage our interest because they’re not active protagonists. Which is ironic, since they’re the only ones who do any work. But they’re not actively engaged in a personal struggle of their own, or minimally. They’re not DRAMATIC.Joan Collins plays a weird character — introduced as sympathetic, sent into sexual slavery to spare her father’s people from starvation, and swiftly sentenced to a lashing by Jack Hawkins — but then she becomes a monster of lust, ambition and avarice. If she were simply vengeful, destroying the dynasty (hah!) from within, it would be more consistent.

Despite the colossal sets, the spectacle isn’t very engrossing: Hawks ignores the lessons of CABIRIA and INTOLERANCE, which used the moving camera to involve us in the scenery and bring out the size of the construction work, combining them with a human scale. A bit of dollying in the pyramid interior could really have added to the feeling of being surrounded by great thicknesses of stone. Again, this only comes to life at the climax, where it’s fast cutting rather than camera motion that invigorates the action.My assumption is that after Joan gets entombed alive with the mutes, they all have sex. Am I wrong to think that?

I mean, what else are they gonna do?

(It was major Hawks collaborator Ben Hecht who suggested you could entertainingly read every single fade-out in Hollywood history as an ellipsed sex scene. This is a thought experiment which will liven up any dull B-movie.)

“I don’t know how a pharaoh talks,” is a classic line, and a decent objection to this kind of malarkey. Language gets deracinated. And you could see how the problem would be particularly devastating to Hawks. In the end, apart from the stunning climax, the film’s value is as a course correction that led to RIO BRAVO, a film in which practically everybody is an admirable Hawksian professional, even the baddies, and the talk is casual and plentiful and easily peppered with idiomatic spice.

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