Monday, August 04, 2014

King Solomon's Mines (1985)/Allan Quatermain And The Lost City Of Gold

Richard Chamberlain, then fifty and riding high as the Miniseries King after starring roles in CENTENNIAL, SHOGUN, and THE THORN BIRDS, seems like an odd choice to headline KING SOLOMON'S MINES, a low-budget Cannon ripoff of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK lensed in Zimbabwe.

The former Dr. Kildare appears to be having a helluva time cutting up as wisecracking, shotgun-wielding soldier of fortune Allan Quatermain--a type of role he’d never played before. Director J. Lee Thompson, who once upon a time helmed THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, but spent the 1980s slumming in a series of Charles Bronson actioners, keeps the pace moving right along. It ain’t RAIDERS, but it is a reasonable enough Cannon facsimile.

A remake of the 1950 film starring Stewart Granger as Quatermain (both films were, of course, based on H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel), KING SOLOMON’S MINES actually bears more resemblance to RAIDERS. The villains are Germans, John Rhys-Davies is in it (as a sadistic Turk), Quatermain is dragged behind a train (not a truck), and Jerry Goldsmith composes a score that’s more Williams than Goldsmith. Unfortunately, the character played by Sharon Stone (who apparently got the part that Cannon heads Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus wanted Kathleen Turner for) seems modeled on Kate Capshaw on INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, as she’s a blond, bumbling, annoying twit.

Plot by Gene Quintano (COMIN’ AT YA) and James R. Silke (REVENGE OF THE NINJA) sends Quatermain and Jessie Huston (Stone) to early-1900s Africa to find Jessie’s father, a professor of archeology who claims to have a map to the legendary mines of King Solomon. It’s a race to the treasure with Quatermain and Jessie on one team and Dogati (Rhys-Davies) and German colonel Bockner (Herbert Lom) on another. Among the obstacles standing between Quatermain and untold riches are an out-of-control biplane, a pride of hungry lions, a fat gay German rapist, killer crocs, silent tree people who live in soft focus, lots of explosions, and a thousand cannibals who plan to make soup out of him and Jessie in a giant cauldron with vegetables floating in it, just like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

A lot of this material is dumb and a little of it is tasteless (it wouldn’t be a Cannon film otherwise), but none of it is dull. Thompson doesn’t allow much time between action setpieces, and only some occasionally shoddy production values (the process photography is especially inept) keeps them from working to full success. Cannon shot this film at the same time as the sequel, much as it did with the first two MISSING IN ACTION films, but ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD was not even the modest hit KING SOLOMON’S MINES was.

What happened behind the scenes of the sequel is surely more interesting than what’s on the screen, as ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD is a boring mess. Much of the exciting footage seen in the trailer is missing from the final release, which was so bad that BLOODSPORT director Newt Arnold replaced credited helmer Gary Nelson (FREAKY FRIDAY) to do reshoots in Culver City long after the production returned from Zimbabwe.

Not to blame Arnold, but his desperate attempt to turn the sludge Nelson left him into mudpies failed. Cannon dumped ALLAN QUATERMAIN into theaters in January 1987, barely a year after KING SOLOMON’S MINES opened in first place, to terrible box office and reviews. Chamberlain and Stone, 24 years apart in age and not burning with chemistry in the first film, are even less convincing this time around, thanks to writer Gene Quintano’s decision to make their characters play house together. Which is not the film’s worst decision by far.

It starts with bad romantic comedy--Quatermain (Chamberlain) arguing he has to explore the jungle in search of his brother, who disappeared while looking for a legendary city of gold, and fiance Jessie (Stone) whining hey, we’re supposed to go to America and get married. For all its faults, KING SOLOMON’S MINES was already on its third big action scene by the time we get past all the humdrum domestic squabbline.

Finally, the couple heads out for adventure. Along for the ride are Umslopogaas, a badass battleaxe-swinging warrior played for some reason by James Earl Jones, and Swarma, a campy, cowardly comic-relief Indian played by Robert Donner and somehow not by Kevin J. O’Connor in a Stephen Sommers movie. What the party finds, once they get past the phoniest special effects in any film theatrically released in 1987, are a bunch of pacifists, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson in a non-speaking role), Robeson Quatermain (Chamberlain’s non-acting boyfriend), and a fright-wigged Henry Silva as a superstitious high priest and white slaver.

Considering all the blondes in the lost city, it’s a cinch those scenes were done in L.A. As well, the opening chase looks like it was filmed in the L.A. County Arboretum, rather than Africa. Arnold landed an “Additional Scenes Directed By” credit, indicating his work was substantial. Considering how good some of the deleted footage in the trailer looked, the surrounding footage must have been awful if Cannon considered this film an improvement.

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