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King Solomon's Mines (1937)
Fortune hunter Patrick O'Brien has left his daughter Kathy and guide Umbopa to trek across the desert in hopes of finding the fabled diamond mines of Solomon. Worried about her father, Kathy persuades hunter Allan Quartermain to lead a party to rescue him. After surviving the desert they are found by natives and brought to their chief, Twala. Umbopa reveals himself to be the true heir to the tribal throne, having been exiled years earlier by Twala and the tribal witch, Gagool. Quartermain's only hope to gain access to the mines and the possible rescue of O'Brien is to try to help Umbopa regain his rightful place as chief.
Paul Robeson ... Umbopa
Cedric Hardwicke ... Allan Quatermain
Roland Young ... Cmdr. Good
Anna Lee ... Kathleen 'Kathy' O'Brien
John Loder ... Sir Henry Curtis
Arthur Sinclair ... Patrick 'Patsy' O'Brien
Robert Adams ... Twala
Arthur Goullet ... Sylvestra Getto (as Arthur Goullett)
Ecce Homo Toto ... Infadoos
Makubalo Hlubi ... Kapse
Mjujwa ... Scragga
Director: Robert Stevenson
Codecs: Xvid / AC3
Surprisingly, this 1937 effort from British Gaumont is the first movie version of H. Rider Haggard's novel and, as such, it bids well to be the best of the three that have been made to date (disregarding the TV movie and mini-series).
Although this film is never anything less than enjoyable, it certainly cries out for a little dash of technicolour; the monochrome picture never manages to capture the vast majesty of the desert or the vibrancy of the tribe's natty outfits, and you're left with the faint impression that, despite all the action taking place on screen, you're missing out on something.
After seeing the likes of Stewart Granger and Richard Chamberlain portraying Quatermain as a vigorous chap prone to bouts of derring-do and selfless action, Cedric Hardwicke seems a curious choice for the part of Quatermain; he plays the adventurer as more of a staid professor, with pipe clenched firmly between his teeth and a vague distaste for all those about him. In fact virile John Loder in the part of Sir Henry Curtis fits the popular perception of Quatermain more closely, and provides the love interest for director Robert Stevenson's whimsical and feisty (and also rather lovely) wife Anna Lee and her wonky Oirish accent.
By far the most interesting character, however, is that of Commander Good provided by Roland Young. The epitome of the English gent with the dry and sardonic sense of humour, Young comes up with such pearlers as "Would it help if I whipped off my trousers again, d'you think?" when faced with an angry tribe of warriors, and, as he wields his shotgun in the face of advancing tribesmen, informs his neighbour that, "last time I fired this gun it didn't work," then, having produced only the click of a hammer on an empty barrel after taking careful aim, wryly comments: "Still doesn't". The man's a genius, and just the kind of company you want on a perilous journey into the South African desert.
Close second to Young comes the old hag (uncredited stage actress Sydney Fairbrother) who guards the entrance to the Mines: after seeing her seamed and wrinkled visage you will no longer wonder where George Lucas found his inspiration for Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back.
This is a very fine adventure film, with much to recommend it. Plenty of excitement, a little romance, and a few well-sung songs help push the plot along.