Kerr's Hair Raising Experience
Whilst the storyline has changed in places the 1950 adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines" is the most faithful that I have watched so far. And as such for those who have watched the 80s action adventure version which saw Richard Chamberlain play Allan Quatermain as an Indian Jones style figure may find it all rather dull. The swashbuckling adventure which filled the later version barely raises its head and instead we have something closer to a nature movie, an exploration of Africa with its different wildlife and tribes. It is still full of danger and builds to an action finale but rather than having chases and fights along the way we get to see more natural dangers such as stampeding animals and angry tribes.
Hunter, adventurer and guide Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger - The Wild Geese) agrees to help Mrs. Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr - Black Narcissus) go in search for her husband on the proviso that if they don't make it back the money he should be paid goes to his young son who is at a boarding school in England. He stipulates such because not only has he lived longer than many adventurers and so thinks his time to die is coming but to try and find Mr. Curtis they must enter uncharted and dangerous territory where the danger is not only from the wildlife but also the natives who are reportedly to be cannibals. But that is not the only reason he agrees as whilst he doesn't fully believe they exist, Mr. Curtis had been searching for King Solomon's Mines and finding these legendary mines is what interests him.
So as already mentioned this 1950 version of H. Rider Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines" is so far the most faithful adaptation I have seen. It does change things slightly as whilst we still have Quatermain leading a group from England into uncharted Africa in search of the missing adventurer Henry Curtis we have Curtis's wife instead of his brother being the one desperate to find him. Of course this brings on another obvious change and whilst Quatermain is not happy having a woman on the trek they finally fall for each other in an expected manner. And by expected manner we get big dramatic kisses and hugs when the animosity between them fades away and they let their feelings show themselves.
But other than this major change the story does pretty much follow Haggard's version and as such the actual adventure side of things which modern audiences would expect doesn't really come in to play until the final few scenes. Instead we have the excitement of a trek through a foreign country and so we get the danger from the wild life and also the fear factor of local tribes which may be cannibals. In many ways it feels like a nature movie especially when during the early stages of the trek we have Quatermain being more tour guide than adventurer telling Mrs. Curtis and her brother all about the wildlife and way of life in the African jungles. And as such for those who watch this 50s version of "King Solomon's Mines" having watched more recent swashbuckling adventure movies may find it initially quite dull.
Now I say initially for a reason as once you accept that this isn't going to be a movie of over the top action and adventure it becomes good especially with some brilliant nature footage. Now in fairness there is plenty of camera trickery and use of dummies involved but if seeing the perceived danger of Quatermain and his men dealing with an angry Rhinoceros isn't enough a stampede is especially good with how close the camera gets to the action. Yes some of it is very dodgy, an early scene with a giant spider is comically bad but none of these bad moments compare to the legendary bad hair scene. And by that I mean the scene where Elizabeth Curtis so frustrated with being unable to make her long hair look nice hacks it off with a large pair of scissors and then in the next scene she looks like she's just come out of a salon.
Despite this one seriously poor hair cutting scene Deborah Kerr is otherwise very good as Elizabeth Curtis and delivers the solid performance you expect from her. As such we watch how she struggles with the trek, with the wild life and initially with Allan Quatermain but then we get the melodrama of her falling for him whilst also dealing with the fact that they are looking for her husband who may just still be alive. As for Allan Quatermain well Stewart Granger plays him in a very typical 50s matinee idol sort of way, handsome, fearless but also a good guy despite initially being a little cruel towards. Mrs. Curtis.
What this all boils down to is that "King Solomon's Mines" is so far the most faithful adaptation of Haggard's novel I have watched but in being so is probably not going to work for those who watch it having watched more recent "Indiana Jones" style versions. But once you embrace that this isn't some over the top action movie and the adventure comes from uncharted territory, nature and local tribes it becomes entertaining with some brilliant footage of African wild life which often takes your breath away.