”It was a great idea but Faulkner, Harry Kurnits, Harold Jack Bloom and myself could never figure out how an Eygyptian should talk.” - Howard Hawks on Land of the Pharaohs
Land of The Pharaohs - Trailer (1955)
Land Of The Pharaohs - 1955 (Original Poster)
As Hollywood struggled against the increasing popularity of television in the 1950s, spectacular widescreen historical epics began to emerge. Intended to present tales on a scale that the small, black and white television screens of that era could not hope to duplicate, the studios hoped to draw people out of their living rooms and back into the movie houses.
In 1954, Warner Brothers Studios hired Howard Hawks to produce and direct what they thought would be a blockbuster contribution to this genre. Filmed using the new widescreen wonder of CinemaScope in Egypt and Rome, “Land of the Pharaohs” would feature script contributions by Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner, a cast of thousands, stunning cinematography, and a story laced with greed, gold, sex, and deception.
It seemed like a guaranteed box office bonanza. In reality, it was a box office disaster.
Howard Hawks spent close to three million dollars making “Land of the Pharaohs.” When box office receipts were tallied, it is estimated that the picture only made half of that money back.
There are many theories that attempt to explain why “Land of the Pharaohs” failed to tempt people to abandon their living rooms to line up for tickets.
In his later years, Hawks himself would blame two factors for the film’s dismal showing. The first fault he’d mention is the lack of a sympathetic character. “I should have had somebody in there that you were rooting for,” he’d say, “Everybody was a son of a bitch.”
The second fault Hawks acknowledged, and the one most noted by movie critics, is the dialogue. Joan Collins, who at the tender age of 23 starred as the villainous Princess Nellifer, commented that it was “a hokey script with some impossible dialogue.” Jack Hawkins, who played the Pharaoh Khufu also felt that “some of the lines we were expected to speak were unspeakable.” Hawks would later admit in an interview with Peter Bogdanovitch that part of the problem rested in the fact that “we didn’t know how a Pharaoh talked” and dismissed the whole picture as “a mess.”
Others, however, have taken a liking to this much maligned epic. Director Martin Scorsese has said that when he first saw it as a kid, “Land of the Pharaohs” became his favorite movie and he still lists it as one of his guilty pleasures. Cinematheque film critic Kevyn Knox has called it “one of the finest bad movies this critic has ever seen.
”If you can make your way past Joan Collins’s unusual makeup and the sometimes awkward acting, “Land of the Pharaohs” has many rewards. The massive scenes detailing the building of the pyramid using almost 10,000 extras in an age before CGI effects are stunning as are most of the Egyptian exteriors. The muted colors and sense of scale create the feel of an ancient land. Best of all, the intricate sequence involving the closing of the pyramid, remains a masterpiece of filmmaking from a director who was originally trained as an engineer.
Although it was a box office bomb in its time, “Land of the Pharaohs” remains an entertaining and interesting picture.
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Howard Hawks Screenplay: Howard Hawks, Harry Kurnitz and Harold Jack Bloom Music: Dmitri Tiomkin
Cinematography: Lee Garmes and Russell Harlan Editors: Vladimir Sagovsky
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.