As a young man at college, there were a few things that I did that were not really beneficial to the course I was studying. These weren’t bad things by any stretch of the imagination, but show that I was not as diligent in my studies as some of my class mates. One of these areas in which I strayed was in my library habits. While my class mates were borrowing books on design and typography, I was engrossed in the classic section. By classics I don’t mean William Shakespeare or Thomas Hardy – I mean Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard. In particular, I remember the three leather bound editions they had of She, King Solomon’s Mines, and Alan Quatermain. Naturally I devoured them all.
Also at this time, Cannon Films released King Solomon’s Mines starring Richard Chamberlain as Alan Quatermain. The film also featured a virtually unknown actress named Sharon Stone (remember this is 7 years before Basic Instinct and she hadn’t acquired her sexual predator image). This is possibly her first big role.
Naturally, having recently read the book, I went and saw King Solomon’s Mines at the cinema. The cinema was all but empty and I walked out pretty disappointed. Later, when the film was released on video, I caught the film at a student video night, and watching the film with a very relaxed and light hearted audience, I came away with a very different viewing experience. The movie was still crap, but in an enjoyable way. Everything in it is so over the top. It was never meant to be an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s novel, but rather a non-stop roller coaster ride. Once viewed in that light the film is very entertaining.
The action adventure begins with Professor Jebidiah Huston examining a small statue of a women. It looks Egyptian and is inscribed with markings and symbols all over the body. The Professor has spent all his life searching for King Solomon’s Mines and believes this may be a map to their actual location. Before the Professor can decipher the statue, the party is interrupted by evil Turkish merchant, Dogati (John Rhys-Davies). Dogati demands that the Professor decipher the map now and tell him where the mines are. The Professor refuses.
Several months later, Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) comes looking for her father. She has been sent a letter saying that she can meet up with him in the village of Tungola. She is to meet him in an establishment run by slimy trader Kassam (Shaike Ophir). But first she must get to Tungola. That’s where great white hunter and guide, Alan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) comes in. He leads Jesse Huston’s party to the remote jungle village.
Waiting for Jesse Huston are two men. The first is Dogati who has not been able to make the Professor tell where the mines are. The second man, who is Dogati’s partner out of necessity, rather than friendship and trust, is Colonel Bockner (Herbert Lom). Bockner is a pompous German soldier who plans to take the treasure at the mines for the glory of Germany (and his own personal gain, of course).
Once in Tungola, Jesse manages to get herself kidnapped a couple of times, requiring Quartermain to come to her rescue. During the mayhem, Quatermain learns that Dogati and Bockner have Jesse’s father and are transporting him by train to a German military camp in Burumba. Being and action adventure film, Quatermain and Jesse catch the train and scramble on board. But once again, Jesse gets captured and is taken by Dogati and Bockner to her father. Dogati threatens to torture Jesse unless the Professor reveals the location of the mines. The Professor breaks and tells all.
Once again, Quatermain comes to the rescue and saves both Jesse and the Professor. But it is now too late, both Dogati and Bockner are making their way towards the mine and the fabulous riches there within. The Professor pleads with Quatermain to race to the mines first, (with Jesse in tow, too). Reluctantly he agrees and the race is on.
In modern times, the shadow of Indiana Jones looms large over most ‘old fashioned’ action adventures. And undoubtedly, King Solomon’s Mines is drinking from the same well, but you’ve got to remember that there were action adventure films before Indiana Jones. Granted Indiana Jones did it better than most, and that’s why it is used as a template and so many movies are compared to the series. The story of King Solomon’s Mines itself, has been filmed (or variations of) at least four other times. The story is a much loved classic, and it is a classic because it is a good old fashioned adventure, and that’s what the film strives to be. It isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but it is darn good fun – particularly if you don’t expect too much from it, and it is viewed with an audience.