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Land of the Pharaohs
IMDB Rating: 6.7/10 from 2,513 votes
Release: 24 June 1955 (USA) /

Land of the Pharaohs

Genre: Drama, History
Director: Howard Hawks,
Stars: , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: In ancient Egypt the Pharaoh Khu-fu is obsessed with acquiring gold and plans to take it all with him into the "second life." To this end he enlists the aid of Vashtar, an architect whose people are enslaved in Egypt. The deal: build a robbery-proof tomb and the enslaved people will be freed. During the years that the pyramid is being built a Cyprian princess becomes the pharaoh's second wife, and she plots to prevent Khufu from taking his treasure with him when he dies .. as well as helping him make the journey early. Written by Ron Kerrigan <mvg@whidbey.com>

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Critic Reviews


Here's a film hotly criticized by not only many who saw the film, but by director Hawks himself. It's true, there's a bit of the Hollywood glam element to the production, but I'd say no more so than a half dozen other Hawks films, including the much more often praised "Rio Bravo" and "Hatari!"! (which both followed directly after "Pharaohs"). And the plot of "Pharaohs" makes a lot more sense than that of Hawks' earlier film, "The Big Sleep," which I believe is over praised because of its cast.

As a grand epic from the era where they made them big and were not afraid to spend money where it would show up on screen, "Land of the Pharaohs" surpasses many other epics of its period and even many recent films dealing with a similar subject (1999's "The Mummy" comes to mind). "Pharaohs" has an impressive and very satisfying climax that makes perfect sense historically and dramatically.

Also, no one seems to have mentioned the marvelous handling of crowds, particularly in the lengthy building of the pyramid sequence. I'll even go so far as to say the way Hawks composes his crowds for the cinemascope screen - arranging his Egyptian workers and pharaoh worshipers in intricate patterns with complex movements - rivals even Fritz Lang's similar work in "Metropolis" (1926), famous for its handling of crowds.

I think one of the reasons the film keeps getting bashed is because people haven't seen it in its original widescreen format in many years. Until recently, no Region 1 DVD has been available, so in its cropped, pan and scan VHS incarnation, the film comes across as wimpy and ridiculous. As can be seen in the widescreen DVD release, the grandeur is stunning, its art direction, costumes, sets and locations all holding up marvelously.

It must be said that composer Dimitri Tiomkin probably never wrote a score as majestically spirited as this one, a vast canvas of antiquity and drama. The cast is very much of its time, and some of the dialog is stilted and dated, but with the passing of time, most films suffer from this. Time passes and acting styles change. But a good plot holds up, and "Pharaohs" has plenty of the devious vs altruistic characters that drove many of Hawks plots effectively.

The powers that be in Hollywood finally released the film on DVD, promoting it as a camp classic, adorning the cover with a cheesy shot of Joan Collins, the one thing they apparently consider notable and sell-able about the film. Too bad. Yes, "Land of the Pharaohs" does have an element of campiness, but there is true grandeur in the vastness of the production and the fact that its cast of thousands was indeed a cast of thousands, not CGI. Perhaps one day the wonders of this film will be given the appreciation it deserves. As time passes these epics seem to be acquiring as much antiquity as the genuine historical period itself.

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