Back in the days of VHS, I taped tons of movies off of television. My mom, on the other hand, did not. There was one big exception, though. I remember her taping the miniseries The Thorn Birds. That thing took up like three tapes in our collection! To a teenage movie freak, that felt like wasted tape space. I needed those tapes to record stuff like Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. Now, the star of The Thorn Birds was Richard Chamberlain, who pretty much was the go-to guy for miniseries in the 80’s. There was an attempt, though, to turn him into a movie star, which brings us to our film today. It’s Cannon’s answer to Indiana Jones…1985’s King Solomon’s Mines.
The film follows adventurer Allan Quartermain (Chamberlain) who is working for a young archaeology student, Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone), as she tries to find her missing professor father. It seems that he has information regarding the whereabouts of the legendary diamond mines of King Solomon, which has led to him being kidnapped by a Turkish slave trader (John Rhys-Davies) and a German colonel (Herbert Lom). After being at the center of a chase through a busy market, our heroes track down dear old dad on a train full of German troops.
Unfortunately, the professor had to give up the location of the mines to the bad guys, so now it’s up to Quartermain and Jesse to beat the baddies to the loot. Along the way they encounter several tribes of natives, including some cannibals who try to boil them in a massive jug and some weirdos who like to hang around in trees upside down. Eventually, though, they make it inside the Temple-of-Doomish mines with all the baddies on their tail, plus a weird witch woman trying give Jesse a lava bath.
Back in the 80’s, I had pretty much written this one off as a cheap Indiana Jones ripoff. I had never seen it before. Make no mistake…it most certainly is an Indiana Jones ripoff. What’s more, it has very little to do with the 1885 novel it gets its inspiration from. To all that I say, “so what!?” This is a loony, roller coaster ride of a movie and I couldn’t resist it. Pretty much every jungle adventure trope is thrown into the mix here. There’s a chase through a busy marketplace, there’s a train sequence, there’s flying around in an out-of-control bi-plane, cannibals, witch doctors, crocodiles, attempted human sacrifices…it’s all here, campers. Well, except for maybe a story. What we really have here is a simple premise that gives us the opportunity to jump quickly from one set piece to another. Did I mind? Not at all. It’s a wild and fun ride!
Richard Chamberlain actually ends up being a real treat in this film. He very wisely is not trying to be Harrison Ford. His Quartermain can handle himself, but he’s also got a few moments of goofiness. Several sequences are played slightly tongue-in-cheek, but not quite to the extreme of say Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China. Still, there are some strange little touches that Chamberlain inserts into his performance that are weirdly delightful. Call me crude, but I can’t help but chuckle the first time Quartermain spots the twin mountains, the “breasts” of Sheba, and makes a gesture with his hands like he’s…shall we say, massaging them. Likewise, Sharon Stone is quite good, too. It may actually be one of my favorites of her performances. She’s not quite as tough as a Marion Ravenwood, but also not as helpless and annoying as Willie Scott. Stone navigates that middle ground between the two quite well. While we’re making comparisons to the Indiana Jones films…what a treat it is to have John Rhys-Davies as the villain! Good ole’ loveable Sallah is just plain nasty and blood-thirsty in this. His method for navigating across a pool of killer quicksand is brutal and not to be missed.
It is a bit surprising how brutal this film is. It’s a PG-13 movie and, though a bit tame alongside something like the Temple of Doom, it has a few shocking moments. I guess it’s not all that surprising when you realize that the director is J. Lee Thompson, who churned out several films for Cannon in the 80’s, most notably several over-the-top violent Charles Bronson flicks. I guess the cartoonish feel of the film softens the blow a bit when, for example, a guy is flattened against a door by a panel of spikes before the opening titles even run. I will say, though, that the action sequences are quite good. A few moments of cheesy rear-projection aside, the scenes are well staged and edited. They’re pretty exciting when all is said and done. The rousing Jerry Goldsmith score is just the icing on the cake.
Cannon had big plans for Allan Quartermain. In fact, a sequel, Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold, was well into production by the time this film was released. Though King Solomon’s Mines turned a respectable profit, it wouldn’t necessarily have warranted a sequel. Personally, I’m anxious to check out the follow-up film as this one was an awful lot of fun.
Note: King Solomon’s Mines was recently released on DVD and Blu Ray by Olive Films. Big thanks to them for letting us take a look!