Blu-ray Review: Solomon and Sheba - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Director King Vidor’s 1959 Biblical epic Solomon and Sheba has been issued for the first time on Blu-ray via Twilight Time. This limited edition (3,000 copies in total) boasts a great 1080p transfer and lossless audio. The film was a box office success in ’59, but doesn’t carry a terribly sparkling reputation. In fact, film critic Michael Medved’s book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time places Solomon and Sheba at number 38. Of course, that was published in 1978—surely there have been enough bad movies in the last 37 years to push it off the list. Without being a Biblical scholar, I believe much of the questionable reaction has been due to historical inaccuracies in the adaptation.

How does it hold up purely as entertainment? At two hours, 20 minutes, the film has an excessively leisurely pace that works against it. It’s all pretty stodgy stuff; the lavish production design is great to look at (as is the ravishing Gina Lollobrigida), but the screenplay (by Anthony Veiller, Paul Dudley, and George Bruce) is stilted. Solomon (Yul Brynner) is proclaimed the next king of Israel by his father, King David (Finlay Currie). A power struggle between Solomon and brother Adonijah (George Sanders) ensues, as does a romance between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Lollobrigida).

Solomon and Sheba cover (214x280).jpgThe affair between Solomon and Sheba begins with the worst of intentions, as Sheba only seeks to manipulate Solomon (in cahoots with Egyptian Pharaoh, played by David Farrar) and cause his Kingdom to falter. Additionally, the Pharaoh is further entangled with Adonijah, who seeks to dethrone Solomon. The film is noteworthy for featuring a G-rated (though still interesting to watch) orgy sequence, a Sheban love ritual. It’s also notable for a couple of historical reasons. First, this ended up becoming acclaimed director King Vidor’s final feature film. Secondly, the original Solomon was none other than Tyrone Power. With much of the shoot complete, Power died tragically of a heart attack at the young age of 44. This has no direct bearing on the final product, though it is a fascinating back story since much deliberation went into decided how to complete the film (all of Power’s scenes ended up being reshot).

In my estimation, Solomon and Sheba looks pretty spectacular on Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition. Three-time Oscar winner Fred A. Young was the cinematographer. His work is well represented, indeed, with sharp transfer. Solomon utilized the Super Technirama 70 process (a CinemaScope alternate; 35mm, eight-perforation process in which the film ran horizontally). Here we get to appreciate all the gorgeous Madrid-based location footage (and, of course, the soundstage-bound material) in glorious detail.

The audio is less striking, but presents no trouble. Somewhat surprisingly for a film that was released in 70mm to take advantage of six-track audio, we’re presented with a straightforward DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix. It sounds great. The score by Mario Nascimbene is nicely highlighted on an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track.

I’m not sure what determines whether or not any given Twilight Time title will receive a film historian commentary, but sadly there isn’t one on Solomon and Sheba (though the complex story of its production surely would’ve made for an interesting discussion). Apart from the isolated music track and a couple of theatrical trailers, there are no extras. Film historian Julie Kirgo provides her typically interesting insights in the booklet essay.

Enthusiasts of Yul Brynner, Gina Lollobrigida, and/or Biblical epics should proceed to Screen Archives for ordering information about the limited edition Solomon and Sheba Blu-ray.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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