Land Of The Pharaohs (1955)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/5/16
Director: Howard Hawks
Cast: Jack Hawkins, Joan Collins

Few movies are truly epic, but "Land Of The Pharaohs" is worthy of the claim. Shot on location in Egypt with a cast of thousands (there were reportedly over 9700 extras in one shot), it's a staggering production and an overwhelming cinematic experience. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the plot. The ruler of Egypt, Pharaoh Khufu (Jack Hawkins), is driven mad by an insatiable appetite for war and wealth. To protect his vast treasure, he employs an enslaved master architect to design the most fantastic tomb ever conceived, and the Egyptian people suffer greatly during the years that it takes to build the great monument. During this time, the people of Cypress send a venomous viper in the form of princess Nellifer (Joan Collins) to Khufu in lieu of tribute. Based on her behavior and disposition, they were probably glad to be rid of her. A cruel and wicked woman, she fully exploits her charms to seduce and betray the Pharaoh in order to rob him of his wealth and power, but her plan backfires when she finally ascends to the throne.

It's a great looking film and the spectacle is awe-inspiring. The massive number of people onscreen gives the film a tangible sense of immense weight and scope. You simply could not make a film like this today, and animated CGI crowds have nowhere near the same effect. The film plays out more like a documentary about the great pyramids than a historical drama, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it creates a disconnected and schizophrenic narrative. Unfortunately, the weak story, lackluster acting, and dismally sluggish pacing drag the film down and betray its otherwise impressive production values. Joan Collins is another victim of the film, as her innate beauty is spoiled by sickly looking olive makeup and hideous orange lipstick. Not attractive at all. Despite all of its grandeur, the costly film failed to find an audience and ended up being Howard Hawks' first commercial failure.