Short Ends and Leader

Hawks and 'Pharaohs' - 'Land of the Pharaohs' (1955)

Stiff and stuffy, but never boring.


Land of the Pharaohs

Director: Howard Hawks
Cast: Jack Hawkins, Joan Collins
Distributor: Warner Archive
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1955
USDVD release date: 2013-05-14

Released in 2007 as part of a Cult Camp Classic collection, this package is now reissued (although the other seems still to be available) via Warner Archives' manufacture-on-demand catalogue.

A campy pleasure full of half-naked guys, Land of the Pharaohs is producer/director Howard Hawks' sole foray into the 50s vogue for Cinemascope historical epics. It's co-written by William Faulkner, a fact harder to believe than Hawks' presence. At least like other Hawks pictures, it's about a world of men working together on a certain project--in this case, building a pyramid for a pharaoh (Jack Hawkins, much better than necessary). And although it's a more stiff and stuffy picture than usual for Hawks, at least it's never actually boring.

Peter Bogdanovich provides commentary and includes snippets of his interview with Hawks in which the director opines on why the picture doesn't work too well: he was more interested in the engineering problem of constructing the pyramid (and by extension the whole film) than in the characters, with whom we feel no investment. Actually, the most sympathetic and understandable character (and the campiest) is the "bad girl". Joan Collins plays a princess traded by her father in ransom to the pharaoh, and from the beginning she's clearly motivated more by rage and revenge than greed. She's just using the only weapon she's got, the vixen, but the system is rigged against her. The film certainly comes alive when she's on screen and we get away from all those dusty blocks.

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