Solomon and Sheba


2h 19m 1959
Solomon and Sheba

Brief Synopsis

Epic tale of the Biblical king's seduction by a pagan queen.

Film Details

Genre
Historical
Religion
Release Date
Dec 1959
Premiere Information
World premiere in London: 27 Oct 1959; New York opening: 25 Dec 1959
Production Company
Theme Pictures, S.A.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Spain; Madrid,Spain

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 19m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.20 : 1, 2.35 : 1
Film Length
14 reels

Synopsis

In ancient Israel, the sons of King David, Adonijah and Solomon, successfully repel an Egyptian invasion. Although Solomon believes in a peaceful future, Adonijah chafes at the restrictions decreed by their father to only defend against attacks by Israel's enemies. David's chancellor Hezrai finds the brothers to report that the elderly king lies near death in Jerusalem. While Solomon returns to the city, Adonijah, having learned that soldiers from the small independent kingdom of Sheba were part of the Egyptian forces, goes in search of them. Upon finding the queen of Sheba, Adonijah introduces himself as the king of Israel and proposes that they join forces to destroy Egypt. Scornful of Adonijah's arrogance and presumption, Sheba refuses. In Jerusalem, Solomon is welcomed by the daughter of devoted tribal elder Ahab, Abishag, who has grown up in the palace. The ailing king reveals that he has had a vision and calls for a meeting with the tribal elders the next day. At the palace assembly, the king declares his greatest accomplishment in his forty-year reign is the unification of the twelve tribes that make up Israel. Adonijah then arrives at the gathering, where David stuns his eldest son by announcing that God has proclaimed Solomon as the next king. Furious, Adonijah accuses Solomon of turning David against him, but when Hezrai reveals that Adonijah pronounced himself king before Sheba, the elders and the king accuse him of breaking the law and being unworthy. Adonijah insists he will never give up his rightful claim and departs the court, shortly after which David crowns Solomon king. Later, on his deathbed, David requests that Solomon build a great temple to honor God and house the covenant. After his father's death, Solomon prays for guidance and God assures him that as long as he fulfills his pledge to David, Israel will flourish. Solomon orders construction of the temple and after several weeks visits Adonijah to ask him to return to Jerusalem and head Israel's army. Although surprised, Adonijah agrees. The completion and consecration of the temple some years later finds Israel thriving and peaceful. In the land of Sheba, the queen receives notification that the Egyptian Pharaoh has called a conference of the Arab tribes out of concern over Israel's growing army. Baltor, Sheba's advisor, explains that in addition to this practical concern, the Pharaoh fears Solomon's devotion to monotheism, which threatens their own polytheistic beliefs. At the conference, when Pharaoh demands to know what size army Sheba will supply, the queen declares she will save employing the numerous forces by ruining Solomon personally. Although hesitant, Pharaoh agrees to allow Sheba and her entourage to proceed to Jerusalem alone. Solomon and his court welcome Sheba's visit, which she declares is a mission to learn from Solomon's just and effective reign. The Israelites are taken aback by the blatant display of the visitors' pagan idols, but Solomon treats the queen with great diffidence. When Adonijah visits Sheba to repeat his earlier proposal, the queen again refuses to assist him. After several days, Sheba grows frustrated at not being able to arrange time alone with Solomon, but is impressed by his judicious rulings in dealing with the daily difficulties of his people. Solomon gradually spends time with Sheba, but when the queen invites him for a private dinner, he avoids the engagement. Later that evening, however, Solomon challenges Sheba to explain the real reason for her presence in Jerusalem. Solomon dismisses Sheba's claim to be spying for Pharaoh, so the queen confesses her plan to ruin him because of his irreproachable reputation, but confesses that she has fallen in love with him. Overcome by his long-denied attraction to Sheba, Solomon embraces her. Days later, Hezrai and a high priest visit Adonijah to express their dismay over Sheba moving into the royal palace. Meanwhile, Sheba summons Baltor to demand their immediate return to their country. When the queen admits she has truly fallen in love with Solomon, Baltor reminds her of her mission and duty to her people. Sheba reluctantly agrees and describes her plan to gain Solomon's approval for a lavish religious celebration that will scandalize the elders and Israelite people. A few days later, Solomon proposes marriage to Sheba, but she indicates their religious differences make that impossible and announces her plan to return home. Stunned, Solomon demands an explanation and Sheba explains that as queen, she must oversee an annual religious tradition. Their discussion is disrupted by an assassination attempt by two men, one of whom Solomon discovers is Adonijah's lieutenant, Joab. Outraged, Solomon confronts Adonijah, who declares that the people are angered by Solomon's involvement with Sheba. The king angrily sends his brother into exile. Upon learning that Solomon has approved of Sheba's pagan celebration, the high priests meet with the king, but he insists that he has acted only out of love. Dismayed, the court prophet Nathan announces that God will turn his hand against Israel for Solomon's actions. The next evening, Sheba and her people conduct a sensuous ceremony that mesmerizes Solomon. Fearful of the prophecy, Abishag goes to the temple and pleads with God to spare Solomon, offering her life in exchange for his. At the height of the ceremony, a thunderstorm breaks out and both the pagan idol and the temple are struck by bolts of lightning. Stunned, Solomon later finds Abishag dead in the ruined temple and realizes the depth of his offense to God. The king then publicly apologizes to his priests and people, but the elders depart after declaring Israel's unity ruptured. As foretold, the land soon returns to a desert. In Egypt, Adonijah meets with Pharaoh and vows to lead the kingdom's armies against Solomon in exchange for Israel's throne. Pharaoh agrees and demands the death of Sheba for remaining in Jerusalem. Solomon soon learns of the approaching Egyptian army and, mustering those who have remained faithful to him, leads his soldiers into the desert to meet the attack. The king is gratified when Ahab joins him, pledging his tribe's support in memory of Abishag. Adonijah's superior forces quickly surround the smaller Israelite army and after a vicious battle, Solomon sounds the retreat. Adonijah orders Solomon found, but his officers report the Israelites have faded away. Impatient, Adonijah takes a small group into Jerusalem, leaving his captain to finish off the Israelites. Up in the hills, an officer reports to the weary Solomon that the surviving Israelite troops have abandoned him. In Jerusalem, Baltor tells Sheba of Solomon's defeat, but learning that the king remains alive, Sheba hastens to the temple ruins where she prays, vowing to return to her country to build a great tabernacle to honor God if he spares Solomon. The following morning, Solomon is astonished when his soldiers return to him and, abruptly inspired, he orders them to burnish their shields. As day breaks, the Egyptian captain orders the army into a final assault on the Israelites who wait on a distant hill. At the height of the charge, the Israelite soldiers turn their mirrored shields into the sun, blinding the approaching soldiers to a huge chasm lying just below the hill. After the Egyptian army has been destroyed by riding over the cliff, Solomon returns to Jerusalem in triumph. Meanwhile, Adonijah has declared himself king and ordered Sheba stoned. Infuriated by Solomon's appearance, Adonijah attacks him and Solomon kills him. The king then takes the unconscious Sheba to the temple where she revives and praises God for sparing him and Jerusalem. Repeating her vow, Sheba is gratified when God heals her injuries and commends her love and loyalty to Solomon. Sheba then reveals to Solomon that she is pregnant with his child, but insists she must fulfill her promise to return to her country. Solomon agrees and gives thanks to God for his forgiveness.

Film Details

Genre
Historical
Religion
Release Date
Dec 1959
Premiere Information
World premiere in London: 27 Oct 1959; New York opening: 25 Dec 1959
Production Company
Theme Pictures, S.A.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Spain; Madrid,Spain

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 19m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.20 : 1, 2.35 : 1
Film Length
14 reels

Articles

Solomon and Sheba


One of the many Hollywood biblical epics that enjoyed a vogue in the '50s, Solomon And Sheba (1959) is best remembered as the final project in the long and distinguished career of director King Vidor. This expensively mounted Bible saga, however, is also marked with the unfortunate distinction of having a major leading man become a production casualty.

In November 1958, after six weeks of filming in sweltering Madrid locales and with 75% of Solomon and Sheba in the can, the project's originally-cast Solomon - Tyrone Power - squared off with co-star George Sanders to shoot the story's climactic swordfight. At one point, a suddenly wan Power begged off for a rest; in his dressing room, he shrugged off the pains in his chest and arm as bursitis. Cooler heads rushed him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead within the hour. The handsome star, who had recently warned of the dangers of overexertion in a short made for the American Heart Association, and whose actor father died in his arms on a movie set in 1931, was taken by a heart attack at age 45.

Regrouping after the tragedy, the filmmakers elected to recast and to re-shoot Power's scenes. Yul Brynner, who had declined when he had previously been offered the role, agreed to the million-dollar payday offered for completing Solomon and Sheba. Brynner made a rare screen appearance with a full head of hair, and existing long shots of Power were matched where possible. Even factoring in the seven-figure insurance proceeds on Power's life, the then-considerable production costs of $4 million wound wind up swelling to $6 million.

It's not as if the lavish budget isn't reflected onscreen. The freely adapted story opens with an impressive sequence wherein an attack by Egyptian forces is handily thwarted by Israelites commandeered by the warrior-prince Adonijah (Sanders) and his contemplative younger brother, the poet Solomon (Brynner). On the news that their father David (Finlay Currie) lies mortally ill, Solomon rushes to his side; Adonijah's response is to assume the crown on the spot. As his first kingly duty, he confronts a royal expedition from Sheba moving through the territory; Sheba's beautiful and willful regent (Gina Lollobrigida) responds to the overture by lashing him in the face.

It worsens for Adonijah on his return to Jerusalem, where a recovered David announces to his court a revelation from above that Solomon should be next to wear the crown. The embittered eldest eventually takes grudging acceptance of Solomon's offer of command of the nation's armies, and the opening years of the poet king's reign are marked by prosperity and the construction of the Great Temple.

Wary of Israel's growing influence and strength, the heads of the neighboring nations convene to address the potential threat posed by Solomon. Sheba proposes that feminine wiles would accomplish much more than armed might in bringing Solomon down, and she mounts a gift-laden caravan to Jerusalem on the pretext of fostering peace. With great persistence, she eventually breaks down Solomon's adherence to protocol; the king begins to allow Sheban icons to be erected, to the dismay of much of the populace.

Solomon's tolerance leads to his sanction of a celebratory orgy (all props to "Orgy-Sequence Adviser" Granville Heathway); as Sheba's seduction is completed, the Great Temple is destroyed in a paroxysm of heavenly wrath. Between the anger of his people, a new incursion by Egypt, and Adonijah's recognition of the moment to grasp power, Solomon is brought to the ultimate low, and Sheba, whose manipulation has given way to genuine love for the embattled king, is prepared to make amends via the ultimate sacrifice.

While much expense went into the production design of Solomon and Sheba, one aspect of the filmmaker's homework was notoriously slipshod. The Star of David appears throughout as a motif in clothing and architecture, although its recognition as a Judaic icon antedates Solomon's reign by approximately two and 1/2 millennia. Still, the craftwork in the film has much to commend it; the climactic set-piece concerning Solomon's ambitious military gambit with onrushing Egyptian hordes remains a compelling spectacle.

The project's salvaging was not remembered fondly by either the director or his substitute lead. Vidor felt that Brynner's reading lacked the threads of self-doubt that Power brought to the role. "Tyrone Power had understood the dualistic problem of the anguished king," the director recounted in Raymond Durgnat and Scott Simmon's King Vidor, American. Brynner, he continued, "fought the idea of a troubled monarch and wanted to dominate each situation without conflict. It was an attitude that affected...the integrity of the film."

Brynner's attitudes were reflected in his son Rock's memoir Yul: The Man Who Would Be King (Simon & Schuster). The younger Brynner deemed the film "on an aesthetic par with Steve Reeves as Hercules...George Sanders, in his fifties, appeared so feeble in battle that he turned to camera as if soliciting comfort from the audience." Although critics of the period were indifferent at best to Solomon and Sheba, the film's global grosses still ensured a multi-million dollar profit despite the on-set disaster.

Producer: Ted Richmond, Tyrone Power
Director: King Vidor
Screenplay: Anthony Veiller, Paul Dudley, George Bruce
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Film Editing: Otto Ludwig
Art Direction: Richard Day, Luis P¿z Espinosa, Alfred Sweeney
Music: Mario Nascimbene, Malcolm Arnold
Cast: Yul Brynner (Solomon), Gina Lollobrigida (Sheba), George Sanders (Adonijah), Marisa Pavan (Abishag), David Farrar (Pharaoh), John Crawford (Joab).
C-142. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jay S. Steinberg
Solomon And Sheba

Solomon and Sheba

One of the many Hollywood biblical epics that enjoyed a vogue in the '50s, Solomon And Sheba (1959) is best remembered as the final project in the long and distinguished career of director King Vidor. This expensively mounted Bible saga, however, is also marked with the unfortunate distinction of having a major leading man become a production casualty. In November 1958, after six weeks of filming in sweltering Madrid locales and with 75% of Solomon and Sheba in the can, the project's originally-cast Solomon - Tyrone Power - squared off with co-star George Sanders to shoot the story's climactic swordfight. At one point, a suddenly wan Power begged off for a rest; in his dressing room, he shrugged off the pains in his chest and arm as bursitis. Cooler heads rushed him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead within the hour. The handsome star, who had recently warned of the dangers of overexertion in a short made for the American Heart Association, and whose actor father died in his arms on a movie set in 1931, was taken by a heart attack at age 45. Regrouping after the tragedy, the filmmakers elected to recast and to re-shoot Power's scenes. Yul Brynner, who had declined when he had previously been offered the role, agreed to the million-dollar payday offered for completing Solomon and Sheba. Brynner made a rare screen appearance with a full head of hair, and existing long shots of Power were matched where possible. Even factoring in the seven-figure insurance proceeds on Power's life, the then-considerable production costs of $4 million wound wind up swelling to $6 million. It's not as if the lavish budget isn't reflected onscreen. The freely adapted story opens with an impressive sequence wherein an attack by Egyptian forces is handily thwarted by Israelites commandeered by the warrior-prince Adonijah (Sanders) and his contemplative younger brother, the poet Solomon (Brynner). On the news that their father David (Finlay Currie) lies mortally ill, Solomon rushes to his side; Adonijah's response is to assume the crown on the spot. As his first kingly duty, he confronts a royal expedition from Sheba moving through the territory; Sheba's beautiful and willful regent (Gina Lollobrigida) responds to the overture by lashing him in the face. It worsens for Adonijah on his return to Jerusalem, where a recovered David announces to his court a revelation from above that Solomon should be next to wear the crown. The embittered eldest eventually takes grudging acceptance of Solomon's offer of command of the nation's armies, and the opening years of the poet king's reign are marked by prosperity and the construction of the Great Temple. Wary of Israel's growing influence and strength, the heads of the neighboring nations convene to address the potential threat posed by Solomon. Sheba proposes that feminine wiles would accomplish much more than armed might in bringing Solomon down, and she mounts a gift-laden caravan to Jerusalem on the pretext of fostering peace. With great persistence, she eventually breaks down Solomon's adherence to protocol; the king begins to allow Sheban icons to be erected, to the dismay of much of the populace. Solomon's tolerance leads to his sanction of a celebratory orgy (all props to "Orgy-Sequence Adviser" Granville Heathway); as Sheba's seduction is completed, the Great Temple is destroyed in a paroxysm of heavenly wrath. Between the anger of his people, a new incursion by Egypt, and Adonijah's recognition of the moment to grasp power, Solomon is brought to the ultimate low, and Sheba, whose manipulation has given way to genuine love for the embattled king, is prepared to make amends via the ultimate sacrifice. While much expense went into the production design of Solomon and Sheba, one aspect of the filmmaker's homework was notoriously slipshod. The Star of David appears throughout as a motif in clothing and architecture, although its recognition as a Judaic icon antedates Solomon's reign by approximately two and 1/2 millennia. Still, the craftwork in the film has much to commend it; the climactic set-piece concerning Solomon's ambitious military gambit with onrushing Egyptian hordes remains a compelling spectacle. The project's salvaging was not remembered fondly by either the director or his substitute lead. Vidor felt that Brynner's reading lacked the threads of self-doubt that Power brought to the role. "Tyrone Power had understood the dualistic problem of the anguished king," the director recounted in Raymond Durgnat and Scott Simmon's King Vidor, American. Brynner, he continued, "fought the idea of a troubled monarch and wanted to dominate each situation without conflict. It was an attitude that affected...the integrity of the film." Brynner's attitudes were reflected in his son Rock's memoir Yul: The Man Who Would Be King (Simon & Schuster). The younger Brynner deemed the film "on an aesthetic par with Steve Reeves as Hercules...George Sanders, in his fifties, appeared so feeble in battle that he turned to camera as if soliciting comfort from the audience." Although critics of the period were indifferent at best to Solomon and Sheba, the film's global grosses still ensured a multi-million dollar profit despite the on-set disaster. Producer: Ted Richmond, Tyrone Power Director: King Vidor Screenplay: Anthony Veiller, Paul Dudley, George Bruce Cinematography: Freddie Young Film Editing: Otto Ludwig Art Direction: Richard Day, Luis P¿z Espinosa, Alfred Sweeney Music: Mario Nascimbene, Malcolm Arnold Cast: Yul Brynner (Solomon), Gina Lollobrigida (Sheba), George Sanders (Adonijah), Marisa Pavan (Abishag), David Farrar (Pharaoh), John Crawford (Joab). C-142. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Jay S. Steinberg

Quotes

Trivia

Co-producer-star 'Power, Tyrone' had completed shooting more than half of the film when he collapsed during a duelling scene with 'Sanders, George' and died a few minutes later. Power was replaced in the role of Solomon by Yul Brynner, who refilmed all of Power's scenes. Power, however, is still visible in the film in long shots.

Notes

The opening and closing cast credits differ in order. The onscreen widescreen process is listed only as Technirama, but reviews list it as Super Technirama 70. Reviews list film editor Otto Ludwig as John K. Ludwig. Choreographer Jaroslav Berger's first name is misspelled onscreen as Jeroslav. According to a June 1954 Daily Variety news item, a project on the legendary romance between ancient Israel's King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba was slated to be written by Julius Epstein for Small Productions. Epstein's contribution, if any, to the final script has not been confirmed. In November 1955, Hollywood Reporter announced that Arthur Hornblow had been set to produce for Small. In July 1957 Daily Variety noted that the film would have a five million dollar budget and would likely be shot using TODD-AO cameras on location in Israel, Spain and Italy. The following Mar, Daily Variety reported that the script would go contrary to the Biblical story of Solomon and Sheba, with the queen bearing a child. In July 1958 Variety indicated that Hornblow was withdrawing from the project due to its lengthy pre-production. Ted Richmond was announced as Hornblow's replacement and a new budget was projected at $3.5 million. By August 1958, Tyrone Power and Gina Lollobrigida had been cast in the title roles. In September Variety revealed that the film's shooting was to be done entirely in Spain, as Israel did not have the numerous horses required for the production.
       Principal photography began in mid-September 1958. On 15 Nov, during the filming of a sword fight between Power and George Sanders, Power complained of feeling ill and was rushed to a Madrid hospital where he was pronounced dead of a heart attack. Power was 45-years-old. In 1931, Power's father, stage and film actor Tyrone Power, Sr. also had died of a heart attack shortly after work on a film. Power's last completed film was the 1957 United Artists release Witness for the Prosecution (see below). Two days after Power's death, Daily Variety stated that Yul Brynner had been selected to assume the role of Solomon and shooting in Spain would continue around the character. Los Angeles Times reported the next day, however, that two of the film's three producers had not been consulted before Edward Small announced Brynner's casting, which was thus in doubt.
       A November 20, 1958 LA Mirror-News reported from Madrid that after three days of discussion Brynner would indeed replace Power, and that all the footage containing Power would be re-shot. The article also noted that producer Richmond, who was partners with Power in Copa Productions and a close friend of the actor, might withdraw from the film due to emotional exhaustion. Hollywood Reporter reported on November 21, 1958 that Ben Goetz would go to Madrid to assume production control of the film, but it would not affect Richmond's or director King Vidor's status. Daily Variety reported the same day that Peter Viertel was to rewrite the script especially for Brynner, but there is no further information on any contribution by Viertel. Although all the preceding items indicated that the film would be entirely re-shot, apparently footage with Power was kept with the hope of using as much as possible in the final film. A June 24, 1959 Variety article quoted Vidor as admitting that despite intending to match both long and close shots of Power with Brynner, it was not possible because of the very different physical approach each actor took to the role.
       Hollywood Reporter news items add Noel Purcell and Graham Summers to the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Another Hollywood Reporter item noted that actors Lawrence Naismith and William Devlin switched roles as "Nathan" and "Hezrai" because Naismith had been delayed working on another production in London. An early November 1958 Hollywood Reporter article indicated that Vidor had secured government permission for the use of Madrid's Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, built by King Philip in 1577.
       Solomon and Sheba was loosely based on the characterization of King Solomon found in the Bible's Old Testament books of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. The film accurately depicts King David's selection of Solomon over his older half-brother Adonijah (and nine other older brothers) to rule Israel after his death. Solomon's coronation conducted before David's death is also portrayed in the film as presented in the Bible, but there is no indication in the film that this was likely brought about by Solomon's mother Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan in order to halt an attempted take-over by Adonijah. Solomon's dedication to building a great temple to house the Ark of the Covenant (containing the Ten Commandments) and early devotion to God are reflected in Solomon and Sheba. The film does not mention that Solomon, like David before him, was polygamous and among his many wives was the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt, with whom Solomon eventually made an alliance. As depicted in the film, Abishag lived in the palace under David's care and is described as a Shummanite. After David's death, Adonijah petitioned Bathsheba to ask Solomon for permission to marry Abishag and, outraged, Solomon slayed Adonijah.
       Unclear from either Biblical or Islamic traditions is the depth of the relationship between Solomon and Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. The kingdom of Sheba, the ancient name for Abyssinia, was, as shown in Solomon and Sheba, safe for many years because of its remote location and good relationship with Egypt. The Biblical account and various Islamic myths agree that Makeda visited Jerusalem in order to confirm Solomon's reputation for having great wisdom. More elaborate legends indicate the queen devised a number of riddles to confound the king and was impressed by his quick, intellectual responses. Both the Biblical books of Kings and Chronicles state that the queen presented Solomon with lavish and rare gifts from her native land before returning to her country. Ethiopian tradition indicates that Makeda returned to Sheba and bore Solomon's son Menelik, who later became the first emperor of Ethiopia.
       Solomon and Sheba portrays the queen as using idolatry to bring the downfall of Solomon. Historical accounts note that Solomon's great wealth and polygamy contributed to his gradual drift from Judaic law and his ultimate demise. Solomon died after a forty year rule and Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Another film inspired by the story of Solomon and Sheba was the 1921 Fox film The Queen of Sheba, directed by J. Gordon Edwards, and starring Betty Blythe and Fritz Leiber (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1959

With the death of the original leading man, Tyrone Power, and the subsequent hiring of Yul Brynner, it was found necessary to rewrite and reshoot almost all the major scenes at a reported cost of $5,000,000.

Super Technirama 70

Released in United States 1959