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King Solomon's Mines

King Solomon's Mines(1937)

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teaser King Solomon's Mines (1937)

In 1886, the book King Solomon's Mines was published. It was written by H. Rider Haggard and was intended as direct competition to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Advertised as "The most amazing book ever written", this fantastical adventure story was an immediate success. It is rather surprising then that it took over fifty years for the first movie version to be produced. The film King Solomon's Mines opened in 1937, and was received with the same sort of anticipation and excitement that greeted any new book by Haggard. Starring Paul Robeson and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, it featured vicious battle scenes between warring native tribes, an exploding volcano, and some ethnographic musical sequences. And what would a Robeson film be without singing?

Although versions of King Solomon's Mines would be released in 1950 and 1985, the 1937 offering is considered to be the most faithful to the book. Granted, the 1950 interpretation was memorable for its Technicolor scenery and the star duo of Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger and the 1985 remake - an Indiana Jones imitation - did have Sharon Stone. But superior production values and a standout performance by Paul Robeson elevate the 1937 film above its descendants. Directed by Robert Stevenson (no relation to Robert Louis), it is the story of a band of British explorers trying to find a missing adventurer who disappeared in search of the legendary diamond treasure known as King Solomon's Mines. Led by a noble African native, Umbopa, (Robeson), they delve deeper into uncharted territory. Cedric Hardwicke plays Allan Quartermain, the legendary hunter, who has agreed to go along on the quest, and Roland Young stars as Commander Good, another member of the search party. Along the way, they encounter numerous life-threatening situations before being captured by a tribe of natives once ruled by Umbopa, their guide.

Paul Robeson gives an amazing performance as the dignified Umbopa. In reality, Robeson was the quintessential Renaissance man. The third black man to be admitted to Rutgers University, from which he graduated valedictorian in 1919, he also earned a graduate degree from Columbia University of Law. A tremendous athlete, he played professional football, as well as excelling in baseball, basketball, and track. Robeson then embarked on a stage career, making a name for himself in plays such as Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones; four years later in 1928, he would wow London theatre audiences with his performance as Othello. Yet it was Robeson's unmistakable bass-baritone voice that would make him legendary. His version of "Ol' Man River" in the stage and film versions of Show Boat would forever link the man with the song. But there was another side to Robeson that would have an adverse effect on his career. A defiant, outspoken proponent of Soviet policy during the Cold War, Robeson battled with McCarthyism, a defiant act that eventually resulted in the revocation of his passport. Although it was later reinstated in 1958, the incident caused irreparable damage to Robeson's career; he lived the rest of his life in seclusion until his death in 1976.

His co-stars and director fared better. Cedric Hardwicke, a classically trained English actor, made his debut on London stages in 1912 aided by his association with George Bernard Shaw. A prolific stage actor, Hardwicke was bestowed a knighthood in 1934; at the age of fifty-one, he was the youngest actor to receive such a honor. Roland Young, who provided the comic element for King Solomon's Mines, is best remembered for his role as Cosmo Topper in Topper (1937), for which he earned a best supporting actor nomination. Director Robert Stevenson would enjoy a forty-year career, helming such Disney fare as Mary Poppins (1964) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971).

Director: Robert Stevenson
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Michael Hogan, Roland Pertwee, A.R. Rawlinson, Ralph Spence
Cinematography: Bernard Knowles, Cyril Knowles, Glen MacWilliams
Costume Design: Marianne
Film Editing: Michael Gordon
Original Music: Mischa Spoliansky
Principal Cast: Paul Robeson (Umbopa), Cedric Hardwicke (Allan Quartermain), Roland Young (Commander Good), John Loder (Henry Curtis), Anna Lee (Kathy O'Brien).

by Eleanor Quin

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