Sunday, April 20, 2014

King Solomon's Mines


It's been a very exciting weekend here at Chateau Maine as I gathered my campaign staff together in my lovely Regency furnished dining room for some strategizing. Between deliveries of take-out from Spago and Skybar, Joseph my manager, Madame Rose my publicist, Tommy my Jungian therapist, Mr. Brad my personal decorator, Fajer and Hellmann attorneys and I met to strategize and figure out the best way to get our message across in the California governor's race. It's early days yet and we have quite some distance to go, but the latest poll shows me pulling ahead of Gallagher and Gary Coleman and coming within striking distance of Arianna Huffington.

Our first decision was that we would get better press coverage if we could get all of the celebrity candidates together for a group event. Fajer and Hellmann suggested a formal debate, with us all at podia and a stentorian moderator in the Walter Cronkite mode. I thought about it for a moment, but decided something with more flair, which would show all of my assets to best advantage, was needed. After more discussion, I am pleased to announce that I will be hosting a 'Tap Off' for the candidates at the Shrine Auditorium later in the month. Each candidate will have five minutes to present their ideas for the future of the great state of California in the form of a tap solo, with the winner judged by applause-o-meter. I was so excited, I had to retire to my boudoir to start working on my costume. I haven't made a final decision but I'm going to accessorize with the diamond tiara that Norman bought at Elizabeth Taylor's yard sale a few years back.

As I was trying on the diamonds, I turned on the television looking for inspiration and found that one of the cable stations was running the 1985 version of King Solomon's Mines with Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone. As the plot revolves around a fabulous diamond mine, I decided to settle in for a couple of hours. Besides, my campaign staff were beginning to bore me with their talk of yard signs and doorbelling. I had seen several of the earlier film versions of the H. Rider Haggard classic, but had missed this one which came and went very quickly one summer. After seeing the whole thing, I understand why.

King Solomon's Mines is the story of heroic Allan Quartermain(Richard Chamberlain), one of the great white hunters of late 19th and early 20th century Africa. He has been hired by Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) to guide her to a distant city in search of her father, vanished in his search for the legendary diamond mines of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. There they discover a map, and soon they are off after treasure, pursued by evil Germans (led by a hammy Herbert Lom) and even more evil Turks (led by an even hammier John Rhys-Davies). This leads to a whole series of bad action set pieces including a market place battle, leaping over the top of a train, a biplane dogfight, and a swan dive into a very large pot of cannibal stew. By the time we get to the African tribe who seem to have escaped from Cirque to Soleil and spend their days perfecting their rope and silks routines, I was full of helpless giggles and we hadn't even gotten to the mines yet. Of course the mines are eventually reached, they're full of cut glass and left over sets from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There's a lot of fighting, some bad special effect volcanic explosions and are heroes are off to the next adventure. (Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold, made concurrently with this film despite critical and audience revulsion.)

The film is basically a cheap knock-off of the Indiana Jones films of Steven Spielberg. Quartermain has a big hat, a bigger braggadocio, and quips that dribble down his chin, rather than spring forth in sparkling repartee. Chamberlain, never anyone's idea of an action hero, is completely miscast in the central role and looks like he'd much rather be anywhere else. As his partner in crime, Sharon Stone, several years before her leg crossing success, shrieks and screeches her way through her damsel in distress part, like an epileptic macaw. She makes Kate Capshaw's annoying Willie Scott look like a Kathy Bates earth mother. The supporting cast at least have a little bit of fun with their stock parts, even if there's no racial stereotype the film makers overlook.

The film was made by the Golan-Globus outfit, Israeli financiers whose Cannon group became synonymous with cinematic junk in the 1980s. They were known as being amongst the most parsimonious of film makers and every penny saved shows up on the screen. The African vistas look suspiciously like southern California, with badly matched stock animal footage spliced in. The sets are obvious papier-mache. The miniatures can be spotted a mile away. Wires and cables and boom shadows are seen at regular intervals. The stunts are completely unconvincing, with Richard Chamberlain disappearing under his hat for a stunt double so often, you feel you're watching a late Roger Moore Bond film.

While the film is a turkey, director J. Lee Thompson does keep it moving from bad sequence to bad sequence. The whole thing is like a chain reaction accident on the freeway. You watch from your vantage point in horrified disbelief, while gleefully anticipating the next scene to see how much worse it can get. It never disappoints. Do not, under any circumstances, expend money on this 'entertainment' but, if it happens to show up on late night HBO sometime, you might catch it for the unintentional hilarity it provokes.

Carpet rolling. Exploding antiquities shop. Plastic vegetables. Mardi Gras beads masquerading as native jewelry. Gratuitous airfield strafing. Gratuitous river of lava. Gratuitous quicksand. Gratuitous collapsing death chamber. Pot rolling. Wicked ancient crone. Sinking Victrola.

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