Jesus. This is a boring film. The tedium gnaws away in your head like a tumour that just doesn’t go away. The script reads like a school play, one written by children and seemingly performed by them. Except it wasn’t written by a child. It was written by a group of grown adult men, one of whom was William Faulkner. William goddamn Faulkner. One of the greatest writers of his generation, and also the man who helped write To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, two of the most entertaining movies to listen to of all time. And then that script was handed to a director who went and filmed it. Except that director was Howard Hawks. Howard fucking Hawks. The same man who directed those two aforementioned films, plus Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday and Red River, not to mention plenty of other classics.
That Land of the Pharaohs was a flop at the time of release is no surprise. Who would want to see a film so dry and boring? The plot is irrelevant; some Pharaoh has a lot of gold and wants a nice secure pyramid so no one goes and steals it when he dies, so he gets an architect that he’s enslaved from a neighbouring country. In the meantime one of his queens is greedy and wants the gold. It trods along, the characters telling each other exactly what is happening and what they are going to do with all the pace and urgency of Iain Duncan Smith attempting to help a poor person.
In Hollywood’s Golden Age, the Sword and Sandal genre was a money-raking staple. Although many of these films have since dated badly with their mixture of old-fashioned Christian morality, Charlton Heston he-man-overdoses and hammy scripts, they were often at least capable of providing a good spectacle, thanks to the swollen budgets and scales often associated with these films. Land of the Pharaohs was the first picture of its type that Hawks tried his hand at, and it’s clear he struggles. There are scenes of an impressive scale and spectacle in this film, but they are completely irrelevant to any wider narrative purpose. The first scene features the Pharaoh, a preposterously costumed Jack Hawkins (how little has changed in the 60 years since this to Ridley Scott’s Exodus when it comes to white Anglo-Americans being cast in everything), marching back from a war. Lavish sets and huge numbers of extras colour in his return. The scene goes on about two minutes too long, as if to pad out the film. The second of these purposely spectacular scenes features the building of the pyramids. A voiceover tells us what is happening in front of us: miles and miles of extras toiling and doing things. Then the voiceover shuts up and we’re treated to five more minutes of extras doing things. In both cases the first few shots impress with their size and scale, before boring with inane repetition – nothing interesting happens onscreen for several minutes. Nothing moves forward, or sideways, or even backwards. The film practically stops.
Are there good aspects to Land of the Pharaohs? Well…I suppose the sets are nice. And despite the sheer boredom of the film, there’s little to genuinely hate about it. It’s just a film made with so little passion put into it that it’s difficult to care as a viewer to. The failure of this film convinced Howard Hawks to quit movies for a while. He returned four years later with Rio Bravo. If there’s one truly good thing about Bland of the Pharaohs (GEDDIT?!?!), it’s that. Otherwise, ignore.