KING VIDOR's "Solomon and Sheba," which opened at the newly renovated Capitol last night, seems to convey less of the spirit of the Holy Bible or historical fact than it does of "The Queen of Sheba," made in 1921 by J. Gordon Edwards, with Fritz Leiber and Betty Blythe.
For all its Super-Technirama, its color, its stereophonic sound and its pretensions to artistry and elegance because it was photographed in Spain, this blissfully fabricated fable of the romance of an Israelite king and an Arabic queen in the tenth century before Christ is strictly old-fashioned Hollywood. It stems from the jewel-in-the-navel and the lady-in-the-bathtub school of films.
Indeed, its high point is an orgy, one of those pre-DeMille affairs in which a mob of the co-religionists of the Queen of Sheba set up an image of their god within the city of Jerusalem (how they got there is not quite clear) and go into a splurge of tub-thumping and shimmy-shaking while their queen dances wildly in their midst, invoking virility and fertility, and girls and fellows rush off squealing into the woods. It is the sort of erotic nonsense that was ridiculous thirty years ago.
So is the pseudo-lustful story of the wise and upright king who flips for the ravishing charmer, sent by the Pharaoh of Egypt to captivate him, and so leaves himself wide open to the intrigue of his wicked brother to snatch his throne. It is one of those sand-and-sequins fables that not only lacks basis in fact but also defies reason in any context, except the context of a Hollywood costume film.
As the Queen of Sheba, Gina Lollobrigida, the original Italian over-stuffed star, has the physical equipment to suggest a Little Egypt type of charmer, but her way with a love-laden line or with a spontaneous show of emotion leaves something (other than the obvious) to be desired. And as Solomon, the Israelite ruler, Yul Brynner is as specious as that hair they have pasted (or he has grown) on his nude noggin. Neither it nor he suits the character.
George Sanders plays the heavy, the treacherous brother of the king, with standard expression and gestures; Marisa Pavan is a lovelorn Israelite girl and John Crawford, Laurence Naismith and several others strut and sweat under heavy robes.
Except for some scenes of battle in which Egyptians and Israelites clash with the usual displays of skill by stunt men falling off horses and doing other lurid things, it is hard to find anything in this picture to make you believe that Mr. Vidor directed it. It is solemn, slow and ponderous. Watch out it doesn't put you to sleep.
By Bosley Crowther