Solomon and Sheba (1959)

139-141 mins | Epic | December 1959

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HISTORY

The opening and closing cast credits differ in order. The onscreen widescreen process is listed only as Technirama, but reviews list it as Super Technirama 70. Reviews list film editor Otto Ludwig as John K. Ludwig. Choreographer Jaroslav Berger’s first name is misspelled onscreen as Jeroslav. According to a Jun 1954 DV news item, a project on the legendary romance between ancient Israel’s King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba was slated to be written by Julius Epstein for Small Productions. Epstein’s contribution, if any, to the final script has not been confirmed. In Nov 1955, HR announced that Arthur Hornblow had been set to produce for Small. In Jul 1957 DV noted that the film would have a five million dollar budget and would likely be shot using TODD-AO cameras on location in Israel, Spain and Italy. The following Mar, DV reported that the script would go contrary to the Biblical story of Solomon and Sheba, with the queen bearing a child. In Jul 1958 Var indicated that Hornblow was withdrawing from the project due to its lengthy pre-production. Ted Richmond was announced as Hornblow’s replacement and a new budget was projected at $3.5 million. By Aug 1958, Tyrone Power and Gina Lollobrigida had been cast in the title roles. In Sep Var revealed that the film’s shooting was to be done entirely in Spain, as Israel did not have the numerous horses required for the production.
       Principal photography began in mid-Sep 1958. On 15 Nov, during the filming of a sword fight ... More Less

The opening and closing cast credits differ in order. The onscreen widescreen process is listed only as Technirama, but reviews list it as Super Technirama 70. Reviews list film editor Otto Ludwig as John K. Ludwig. Choreographer Jaroslav Berger’s first name is misspelled onscreen as Jeroslav. According to a Jun 1954 DV news item, a project on the legendary romance between ancient Israel’s King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba was slated to be written by Julius Epstein for Small Productions. Epstein’s contribution, if any, to the final script has not been confirmed. In Nov 1955, HR announced that Arthur Hornblow had been set to produce for Small. In Jul 1957 DV noted that the film would have a five million dollar budget and would likely be shot using TODD-AO cameras on location in Israel, Spain and Italy. The following Mar, DV reported that the script would go contrary to the Biblical story of Solomon and Sheba, with the queen bearing a child. In Jul 1958 Var indicated that Hornblow was withdrawing from the project due to its lengthy pre-production. Ted Richmond was announced as Hornblow’s replacement and a new budget was projected at $3.5 million. By Aug 1958, Tyrone Power and Gina Lollobrigida had been cast in the title roles. In Sep Var revealed that the film’s shooting was to be done entirely in Spain, as Israel did not have the numerous horses required for the production.
       Principal photography began in mid-Sep 1958. On 15 Nov, during the filming of a sword fight between Power and George Sanders, Power complained of feeling ill and was rushed to a Madrid hospital where he was pronounced dead of a heart attack. Power was 45-years-old. In 1931, Power’s father, stage and film actor Tyrone Power, Sr. also had died of a heart attack shortly after work on a film. Power’s last completed film was the 1957 United Artists release Witness for the Prosecution (see below). Two days after Power’s death, DV stated that Yul Brynner had been selected to assume the role of Solomon and shooting in Spain would continue around the character. LAT reported the next day, however, that two of the film’s three producers had not been consulted before Edward Small announced Brynner’s casting, which was thus in doubt.
       A 20 Nov 1958 LA Mirror-News reported from Madrid that after three days of discussion Brynner would indeed replace Power, and that all the footage containing Power would be re-shot. The article also noted that producer Richmond, who was partners with Power in Copa Productions and a close friend of the actor, might withdraw from the film due to emotional exhaustion. HR reported on 21 Nov 1958 that Ben Goetz would go to Madrid to assume production control of the film, but it would not affect Richmond’s or director King Vidor’s status. DV reported the same day that Peter Viertel was to rewrite the script especially for Brynner, but there is no further information on any contribution by Viertel. Although all the preceding items indicated that the film would be entirely re-shot, apparently footage with Power was kept with the hope of using as much as possible in the final film. A 24 Jun 1959 Var article quoted Vidor as admitting that despite intending to match both long and close shots of Power with Brynner, it was not possible because of the very different physical approach each actor took to the role.
       HR news items add Noel Purcell and Graham Summers to the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Another HR item noted that actors Lawrence Naismith and William Devlin switched roles as “Nathan” and “Hezrai” because Naismith had been delayed working on another production in London. An early Nov 1958 HR article indicated that Vidor had secured government permission for the use of Madrid’s Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, built by King Philip in 1577.
       Solomon and Sheba was loosely based on the characterization of King Solomon found in the Bible’s Old Testament books of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles . The film accurately depicts King David’s selection of Solomon over his older half-brother Adonijah (and nine other older brothers) to rule Israel after his death. Solomon’s coronation conducted before David’s death is also portrayed in the film as presented in the Bible, but there is no indication in the film that this was likely brought about by Solomon’s mother Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan in order to halt an attempted take-over by Adonijah. Solomon’s dedication to building a great temple to house the Ark of the Covenant (containing the Ten Commandments) and early devotion to God are reflected in Solomon and Sheba . The film does not mention that Solomon, like David before him, was polygamous and among his many wives was the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt, with whom Solomon eventually made an alliance. As depicted in the film, Abishag lived in the palace under David’s care and is described as a Shummanite. After David’s death, Adonijah petitioned Bathsheba to ask Solomon for permission to marry Abishag and, outraged, Solomon slayed Adonijah.
       Unclear from either Biblical or Islamic traditions is the depth of the relationship between Solomon and Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. The kingdom of Sheba, the ancient name for Abyssinia, was, as shown in Solomon and Sheba , safe for many years because of its remote location and good relationship with Egypt. The Biblical account and various Islamic myths agree that Makeda visited Jerusalem in order to confirm Solomon’s reputation for having great wisdom. More elaborate legends indicate the queen devised a number of riddles to confound the king and was impressed by his quick, intellectual responses. Both the Biblical books of Kings and Chronicles state that the queen presented Solomon with lavish and rare gifts from her native land before returning to her country. Ethiopian tradition indicates that Makeda returned to Sheba and bore Solomon’s son Menelik, who later became the first emperor of Ethiopia.
       Solomon and Sheba portrays the queen as using idolatry to bring the downfall of Solomon. Historical accounts note that Solomon’s great wealth and polygamy contributed to his gradual drift from Judaic law and his ultimate demise. Solomon died after a forty year rule and Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Another film inspired by the story of Solomon and Sheba was the 1921 Fox film The Queen of Sheba , directed by J. Gordon Edwards, and starring Betty Blythe and Fritz Leiber (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ). More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
4 Jan 1960.
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Box Office
11 Jan 1960.
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Daily Variety
29 Jun 1954.
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Daily Variety
15 Jul 1957.
---
Daily Variety
4 Mar 1958.
---
Daily Variety
17 Nov 1958.
---
Daily Variety
21 Nov 1958.
---
Daily Variety
4 Nov 59
p. 3.
Film Daily
24 Dec 59
p. 8.
Filmfacts
1959
pp. 336-38.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 1958
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 1958
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Sep 1958
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Oct 1958
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1958
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 1958
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 1958
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 1958
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Nov 1958
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 1959
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Dec 59
p. 3.
LAMirror-News
15 Nov 1958.
---
LAMirror-News
20 Nov 1958.
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Nov 1958.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Nov 1958
p. 28.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
9 Jan 60
p. 540.
New York Times
26 Dec 59
p. 7.
Variety
23 Jul 1958.
---
Variety
10 Sep 1958.
---
Variety
24 Jun 1959.
---
Variety
4 Nov 59
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A King Vidor Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d unit dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Miss Lollobrigida's cost executed by
Ward coord
MUSIC
Mus score and arr
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Wrangler
Scr supv
Dial coach
Orgy seq prod
Military adv
Chief Staff Officer, Spanish Army
Tech adv for cavalry seq
Tech adv for cavalry seq
Pub dir
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1959
Premiere Information:
World premiere in London: 27 October 1959
New York opening: 25 December 1959
Production Date:
15 September 1958--late February 1959 in Madrid
Copyright Claimant:
Theme Pictures, S.A.
Copyright Date:
27 October 1959
Copyright Number:
LP14945
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Technirama
Duration(in mins):
139-141
Length(in reels):
14
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19310
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In ancient Israel, the sons of King David, Adonijah and Solomon, successfully repel an Egyptian invasion. Although Solomon believes in a peaceful future, Adonijah chafes at the restrictions decreed by their father to only defend against attacks by Israel’s enemies. David’s chancellor Hezrai finds the brothers to report that the elderly king lies near death in Jerusalem. While Solomon returns to the city, Adonijah, having learned that soldiers from the small independent kingdom of Sheba were part of the Egyptian forces, goes in search of them. Upon finding the queen of Sheba, Adonijah introduces himself as the king of Israel and proposes that they join forces to destroy Egypt. Scornful of Adonijah’s arrogance and presumption, Sheba refuses. In Jerusalem, Solomon is welcomed by the daughter of devoted tribal elder Ahab, Abishag, who has grown up in the palace. The ailing king reveals that he has had a vision and calls for a meeting with the tribal elders the next day. At the palace assembly, the king declares his greatest accomplishment in his forty-year reign is the unification of the twelve tribes that make up Israel. Adonijah then arrives at the gathering, where David stuns his eldest son by announcing that God has proclaimed Solomon as the next king. Furious, Adonijah accuses Solomon of turning David against him, but when Hezrai reveals that Adonijah pronounced himself king before Sheba, the elders and the king accuse him of breaking the law and being unworthy. Adonijah insists he will never give up his rightful claim and departs the court, shortly after which David crowns Solomon king. Later, on his ... +


In ancient Israel, the sons of King David, Adonijah and Solomon, successfully repel an Egyptian invasion. Although Solomon believes in a peaceful future, Adonijah chafes at the restrictions decreed by their father to only defend against attacks by Israel’s enemies. David’s chancellor Hezrai finds the brothers to report that the elderly king lies near death in Jerusalem. While Solomon returns to the city, Adonijah, having learned that soldiers from the small independent kingdom of Sheba were part of the Egyptian forces, goes in search of them. Upon finding the queen of Sheba, Adonijah introduces himself as the king of Israel and proposes that they join forces to destroy Egypt. Scornful of Adonijah’s arrogance and presumption, Sheba refuses. In Jerusalem, Solomon is welcomed by the daughter of devoted tribal elder Ahab, Abishag, who has grown up in the palace. The ailing king reveals that he has had a vision and calls for a meeting with the tribal elders the next day. At the palace assembly, the king declares his greatest accomplishment in his forty-year reign is the unification of the twelve tribes that make up Israel. Adonijah then arrives at the gathering, where David stuns his eldest son by announcing that God has proclaimed Solomon as the next king. Furious, Adonijah accuses Solomon of turning David against him, but when Hezrai reveals that Adonijah pronounced himself king before Sheba, the elders and the king accuse him of breaking the law and being unworthy. Adonijah insists he will never give up his rightful claim and departs the court, shortly after which David crowns Solomon king. Later, on his deathbed, David requests that Solomon build a great temple to honor God and house the covenant. After his father’s death, Solomon prays for guidance and God assures him that as long as he fulfills his pledge to David, Israel will flourish. Solomon orders construction of the temple and after several weeks visits Adonijah to ask him to return to Jerusalem and head Israel’s army. Although surprised, Adonijah agrees. The completion and consecration of the temple some years later finds Israel thriving and peaceful. In the land of Sheba, the queen receives notification that the Egyptian Pharaoh has called a conference of the Arab tribes out of concern over Israel’s growing army. Baltor, Sheba’s advisor, explains that in addition to this practical concern, the Pharaoh fears Solomon’s devotion to monotheism, which threatens their own polytheistic beliefs. At the conference, when Pharaoh demands to know what size army Sheba will supply, the queen declares she will save employing the numerous forces by ruining Solomon personally. Although hesitant, Pharaoh agrees to allow Sheba and her entourage to proceed to Jerusalem alone. Solomon and his court welcome Sheba’s visit, which she declares is a mission to learn from Solomon’s just and effective reign. The Israelites are taken aback by the blatant display of the visitors’ pagan idols, but Solomon treats the queen with great diffidence. When Adonijah visits Sheba to repeat his earlier proposal, the queen again refuses to assist him. After several days, Sheba grows frustrated at not being able to arrange time alone with Solomon, but is impressed by his judicious rulings in dealing with the daily difficulties of his people. Solomon gradually spends time with Sheba, but when the queen invites him for a private dinner, he avoids the engagement. Later that evening, however, Solomon challenges Sheba to explain the real reason for her presence in Jerusalem. Solomon dismisses Sheba’s claim to be spying for Pharaoh, so the queen confesses her plan to ruin him because of his irreproachable reputation, but confesses that she has fallen in love with him. Overcome by his long-denied attraction to Sheba, Solomon embraces her. Days later, Hezrai and a high priest visit Adonijah to express their dismay over Sheba moving into the royal palace. Meanwhile, Sheba summons Baltor to demand their immediate return to their country. When the queen admits she has truly fallen in love with Solomon, Baltor reminds her of her mission and duty to her people. Sheba reluctantly agrees and describes her plan to gain Solomon’s approval for a lavish religious celebration that will scandalize the elders and Israelite people. A few days later, Solomon proposes marriage to Sheba, but she indicates their religious differences make that impossible and announces her plan to return home. Stunned, Solomon demands an explanation and Sheba explains that as queen, she must oversee an annual religious tradition. Their discussion is disrupted by an assassination attempt by two men, one of whom Solomon discovers is Adonijah’s lieutenant, Joab. Outraged, Solomon confronts Adonijah, who declares that the people are angered by Solomon’s involvement with Sheba. The king angrily sends his brother into exile. Upon learning that Solomon has approved of Sheba’s pagan celebration, the high priests meet with the king, but he insists that he has acted only out of love. Dismayed, the court prophet Nathan announces that God will turn his hand against Israel for Solomon’s actions. The next evening, Sheba and her people conduct a sensuous ceremony that mesmerizes Solomon. Fearful of the prophecy, Abishag goes to the temple and pleads with God to spare Solomon, offering her life in exchange for his. At the height of the ceremony, a thunderstorm breaks out and both the pagan idol and the temple are struck by bolts of lightning. Stunned, Solomon later finds Abishag dead in the ruined temple and realizes the depth of his offense to God. The king then publicly apologizes to his priests and people, but the elders depart after declaring Israel’s unity ruptured. As foretold, the land soon returns to a desert. In Egypt, Adonijah meets with Pharaoh and vows to lead the kingdom’s armies against Solomon in exchange for Israel’s throne. Pharaoh agrees and demands the death of Sheba for remaining in Jerusalem. Solomon soon learns of the approaching Egyptian army and, mustering those who have remained faithful to him, leads his soldiers into the desert to meet the attack. The king is gratified when Ahab joins him, pledging his tribe’s support in memory of Abishag. Adonijah’s superior forces quickly surround the smaller Israelite army and after a vicious battle, Solomon sounds the retreat. Adonijah orders Solomon found, but his officers report the Israelites have faded away. Impatient, Adonijah takes a small group into Jerusalem, leaving his captain to finish off the Israelites. Up in the hills, an officer reports to the weary Solomon that the surviving Israelite troops have abandoned him. In Jerusalem, Baltor tells Sheba of Solomon’s defeat, but learning that the king remains alive, Sheba hastens to the temple ruins where she prays, vowing to return to her country to build a great tabernacle to honor God if he spares Solomon. The following morning, Solomon is astonished when his soldiers return to him and, abruptly inspired, he orders them to burnish their shields. As day breaks, the Egyptian captain orders the army into a final assault on the Israelites who wait on a distant hill. At the height of the charge, the Israelite soldiers turn their mirrored shields into the sun, blinding the approaching soldiers to a huge chasm lying just below the hill. After the Egyptian army has been destroyed by riding over the cliff, Solomon returns to Jerusalem in triumph. Meanwhile, Adonijah has declared himself king and ordered Sheba stoned. Infuriated by Solomon’s appearance, Adonijah attacks him and Solomon kills him. The king then takes the unconscious Sheba to the temple where she revives and praises God for sparing him and Jerusalem. Repeating her vow, Sheba is gratified when God heals her injuries and commends her love and loyalty to Solomon. Sheba then reveals to Solomon that she is pregnant with his child, but insists she must fulfill her promise to return to her country. Solomon agrees and gives thanks to God for his forgiveness. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.