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Monday, January 16, 2017

A Pyramid For 1954 Promotion

Kurt Kasznar, Robert Taylor, and Carlos Thompson Visit the
Great Pyramid Of Cheops On Arrival to Valley Location

Valley Of The Kings Another World Tour From Metro

Long overdue on proper widescreen, Valley Of The Kings is recently out from Warner Archive to close the gap of location treks MGM took during the 50's as dressing for some of their most important releases. This one hadn't gone missing, was around from the early 60's on television and later TCM, but always at full-frame expense of Egypt splendor Metro spent months abroad to capture. The project was a natural to follow King Solomon's Mines in 1950, and then Mogambo in 1953, both these modern, or at least twentieth-century, set. Valley takes place in 1900, though focus on antiquity and primitive backdrop make then or now interchangeable. Many young people saw and were entranced by Valley Of The Kings on initial release, some inspired to pursue Egyptology as result. Template for the film was Solomon/Mogambo, a lone wolf seeker of adventure in foreign climes drawn into quest by a married woman with whom he'll become romantically involved. The concept would much later be kiddie-leveled for the Indiana Jones series, observers citing Republic serials as primary inspiration for those, though Metro specials were the inspire for bigness. Valley Of The Kings belongs to a time when just seeing the real Egypt on a wide screen was event in itself, and reason aplenty to for once abandon the free-box at home.

Trouble was, Valley Of The Kings lost money, not a lot ($24K), but enough to suggest tides were headed out for location for its own sake. Two million was sunk in the negative, most of that run up during  months cast/crew spent in Egypt. Refreshing then, and still, is no cheating with doubles or second units. We get Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker throughout on actual sites, amusing start of which sees Parker go past the Sphinx in a carriage, smiling in general direction of the camera as if something there was more interesting than miracle of the ancient world behind her. Valley Of The Kings got a boost from early '54 discovery of the funeral boat of Cheops that made international news and awoke public fascination for relic finds. So what did Valley Of The Kings lack that made King Solomon's Mines and Mogambo historic hits? (both counting profit by millions) It might have been animals gone wild in both, stampeding in the first, a gorilla hunt in the next. Africa also promised more danger than Egypt, which had mystery of its tombs, but also their stillness. Valley Of The Kings has to reach for what action it has (scorpion-creep into bedding, Taylor doing ritual combat with a native, a camel stampede that is no patch on Solomon's entire jungle turned loose). Valley bumps in each instance were a carbon on stuff done in the earlier pics, and not as effective.

At least for the early 50's, MGM was acknowledged leader in the location field. Global shooting policy saw six features done overseas and ready for 1953-54 release, with Betrayed, Beau Brummell, and Adventures of Quentin Durward charted for fall '53 and after finish. Valley Of The Kings began with departure of director Robert Pirosh to Cairo in late September 1953, him having developed and co-written the project. For Pirosh, this was promotion from scribe ranks, but he reckoned not with heavy supervisory hand back home that would impose script changes he didn't want. Pirosh ignoring dispatches resulted in Metro chief Dore Schary sending hatchet man (and fellow writer) Charles Schnee to Egypt for a showdown. Pirosh was warned to tow the mark or surrender his viewfinder. The writer/director would "check off" the Metro lot (Film Bulletin) after job's completion, recalling his ordeal years later for an interview with film scholar Ronald L. Davis. The Egypt stay was long enough, from a September '53 start till early January 1954 return, to stage virtually all of action on actual sites, "a 2,000 mile junket" within that country, said publicity. Metro had a couple of flagship theatres on site, in Cairo and Alexandria, and these were tabbed for dual world premiering of Valley Of The Kings on 7-21-54.

Look magazine ran a September '53 feature on the influx of Egypt-set epics, it being too early to know that each would fail. In addition to Valley Of The Kings, there was The Egyptian and Land Of The Pharaohs spotlighted. Also in gestation was biggest of all The Ten Commandments, three years away from its open, and the only one of crypt dwellers to punch a winning ticket. Latter had advantage of biblical backdrop and DeMille name in credits, though Valley Of The Kings did float a religious theme by making its pursuit not one for plunder, but proof that Joseph's story in the Bible was confirmed by objects found in the sought-after tomb, a notion more fanciful in 1953. Exploration since has supported the possibility, even to point of scholars claiming that Joseph was himself a Pharaoh, one Im-Ho-Tep (not the same Im-Ho-Tep beloved of Karloffians).  Metro designed its fictional tomb after rediscovered King Tut's of historic 20's discovery, though it's unknown if Tut digs were as picturesquely splayed with Solomon-like treasure. All movies would rely on the Tut find to dress graves, him being a modern art director's best friend.

Special Ad Prepared to Tie-In With The Cheops Find

A location jaunt in those days was no pink tea. Movement was slow with accommodations seldom the Ritz. Everywhere you went, so did a caravan, and work didn't start until all were there and set to go. Valley Of The Kings star Robert Taylor had been six weeks in Egypt, more than that away from California home, having thrown a party "for himself" (Variety) before leaving UK comfort for last leg of the globe-trot. He'd been oversea for several of vehicles that were castle-set, that is, real castles, for Ivanhoe and Knights Of The Round Table. Now would come R&R duly noted by Variety on 1-6-54. Bob's "holiday" would amount to following: flying his own plane, first to Miami, "thence to NY, Aspen, Colo., for a week of skiing, and then Acapulco for fishing." The spree was scheduled to last a month. This then was a star's life at dusk of a Classic Era, and we could wonder how many others had it so good, or would again after the contract system collapsed. Culver and remaining talent in residence were seeing final days as America's own valley of the Kings.


Blogger CanadianKen said...

I remember how disappointed I was when I first saw "Valley of the Kings" and found out it wasn't actually set in ancient times. Always loved it when Hollywood served up full-course Pharaonic feasts. I did enjoy seeing the ad with Eleanor Parker decked out in ancient Egyptian drag. Like so many of her beautiful contemporaries(Gene Tierney, Bella Darvi, Jeanne Crain and Rhonda Fleming), she looked extra-fetching when styled that way. Made me think that if Anne Baxter (who was perfection in DeMille's "The Ten Commandments") hadn't been available, Parker might have made a fine substitute.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the illustration in today's banner? It looks so 70s.....

12:06 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

It's a montage by the great poster artist Robert Peak.

12:57 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

Now you've got me looking for a "Valley of the Kings" fez...

3:30 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

That artwork looks very much like Richard Amsel's style.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Bob Peak, Richard Amsel and Drew Struzan were three of the great poster illustrators of the 70's and 80's. Their stuff could add glamour and excitement to just about any movie. (It's easy to associate these guys with their iconic work for landmark films, but more fun to remember the great stuff they did on behalf of really forgettable flix) Gosh, I wish more movie posters used illustrations these days!

9:43 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Actor Carlos Thompson was quite a depressive person and his final days were actually sad and tragic. His death almost played live on television.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

So amused to see the number of comments generated by the Robert Peak header! When I first arrived in NYC in the early 80's, one of the surviving Times Square movie palaces had, if not that very mural, then one that was very similar. I used to gaze at it as I rode the escalator to one of the shoebox theaters the place had been split into, thinking what a miscalculation it was on the part of the management to remind patrons at that moment of all the talent, glamor, and movie magic they were most definitely NOT about to experience!

10:25 AM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

@Dave K: Me too. But I'm personally grateful for the current movies that do have illustrated posters now.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

@coolcatdaddy: You can always buy a fez:

Be warned, somebody will accuse you of 'cultural appropriation' if you wear one.

7:48 AM  

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