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The Cannon Files: KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1985) and ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (1987)

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KING SOLOMON'S MINES
(US - 1985)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson. Written by Gene Quintano and James R. Silke. Cast: Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone, Herbert Lom, John Rhys Davies, Ken Gampu, Shai K. Ophir, June Bethulezi, Sam Williams, Bernard Archard. (PG-13, 100 mins)

Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus wanted Cannon to have its own Indiana Jones, and the answer came in the form of Allan Quartermain, the heroic adventurer and protagonist of H. Rider Haggard's 1885 novel King Solomon's Mines and a subsequent series of adventures. Cannon's KING SOLOMON'S MINES was released on November 22, 1985, in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the novel. It opened at #1 at the box office and stayed in the top ten for several weeks, proof that the public was still jonesing for some RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM-style adventure. It proved to be one of Cannon's bigger successes, despite almost across-the-board negative reviews that dismissed it as a RAIDERS knockoff.  Well, of course it was. That was the whole point.



What gave KING SOLOMON'S MINES a little more appeal to moviegoers was the presence of Richard Chamberlain as Quatermain. The 51-year-old actor had appeared in many critically-heralded and/or financially successful films over his career, ranging from PETULIA (1968), THE MUSIC LOVERS (1970), THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973), THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974), THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), THE LAST WAVE (1977), as well as the bad-movie classic THE SWARM (1978). However, with rare exception (THE MUSIC LOVERS, THE LAST WAVE), Chamberlain was usually part of an ensemble and not the lead in feature films and ended up enjoying his biggest successes on the small screen. He starred in the popular NBC series DR. KILDARE from 1961 to 1966, getting his breakout role after two other up-and-comers--William Shatner and James Franciscus--turned it down. After appearing in several big-screen movies, the success of the two MUSKETEERS films got Chamberlain two expensive TV adaptations of other Alexandre Dumas works for NBC:  THE COUNT OF MONTE-CRISTO (1975) and THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1977). In 1980, Chamberlain hit his career pinnacle with the gargantuan NBC mini-series SHOGUN, based on James Clavell's best-selling novel. SHOGUN captivated America and established Chamberlain as the king of the mini-series, the extended, multi-part format made popular by ROOTS (1977), JESUS OF NAZARETH (1977), and CENTENNIAL (1978), the latter featuring Chamberlain as part of its large cast. While it's difficult for those accustomed to today's technological conveniences and the internet and the ease of binge-watching to fathom a time when homes didn't have DVRs or even the ancient relic known as the VCR, America did indeed drop what it was doing and, for five consecutive nights in September 1980, orchestrated their lives around Richard Chamberlain and SHOGUN. Chamberlain was bigger than ever, and it led to ABC mini-series THE THORN BIRDS, another phenomenal success that had audiences glued to their TVs for four nights in March 1983.

Chamberlain would go on to other mini-series and prestige TV projects--1985's WALLENBERG: A HERO'S STORY for NBC, 1986's DREAM WEST for CBS, and 1987's CASANOVA for ABC--and in 1988, nearly a decade and a half before Matt Damon popularized the character, he would become the first Jason Bourne in the ABC mini-series adaptation of THE BOURNE IDENTITY but, while people tuned in, these later projects didn't pull in the ratings of SHOGUN and THE THORN BIRDS. Chamberlain starred in the one-season CBS series ISLAND SON in 1989 and his output slowed after that. He starred in CBS' TV-movie THE THORN BIRDS: THE MISSING YEARS in 1996, but for most of that decade, he focused on stage work. He occasionally popped up in a made-for-TV movie like ABC's remake of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1991) or a late-comer mini-series like CBS' TOO RICH: THE SECRET LIFE OF DORIS DUKE (1999), where he played the faithful butler and companion of the billionaire tobacco heiress, played by Lauren Bacall, but he generally stayed out of the limelight and gravitated to stage work, possibly due to offers dissipating with age as he entered his 60s, but probably more likely because of persistent rumors that the very private actor was gay. A 1989 People article more or less outed him, but Chamberlain never publicly confirmed it until his 2003 memoir Shattered Love. In the years since, the now-80-year-old Chamberlain has had small roles in a few indie films that didn't expand much beyond the festival circuit, guest spots on TV shows like WILL & GRACE, NIP/TUCK, and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, as well as recurring roles on CHUCK, BROTHERS & SISTERS, and LEVERAGE.


Chamberlain and director J. Lee Thompson
More than capable of holding his own in a Ken Russell film like THE MUSIC LOVERS or among the impressive cast of 1970's JULIUS CAESAR, Chamberlain was often dismissed by film snobs in his heyday as "a TV actor," but he's always been underrated, and his enthusiastic, affable interpretation of Allan Quatermain in KING SOLOMON'S MINES is quite enjoyable. Chamberlain hoped to take his SHOGUN and THORN BIRDS triumphs and jump-start his stagnant big-screen career and, even it was for one week, a Richard Chamberlain movie topped the box office as late as 1985. Chamberlain's days--all seven of them--as the nation's leading box office draw were brought to a swift end the next weekend when ROCKY IV opened, but KING SOLOMON'S MINES holds up nicely nearly 30 years later. Much of that is due to the directorial skills of veteran journeyman J. Lee Thompson (1914-2002), a guy who knew how to get in the can quickly and on budget, and though he was often slumming in his later years, he had experience with big, epic movies. Sure, he ended his career with the 1989 Charles Bronson sleazefest KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS, a film that opens with an enraged Bronson rescuing an underage hooker and jamming a dildo up a guy's ass, but Thompson also directed 1961's THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (earning him his lone Oscar nomination), 1962's TARAS BULBA, and 1963's KINGS OF THE SUN. While no one mistook Thompson for the second coming of David Lean, these big films were grand, majestic adventures with big budgets, big crews, and big spectacle (he also managed to fit the original CAPE FEAR into 1962). Though his Cannon contributions consisted mostly of working with his buddy Bronson in the '80s (10 TO MIDNIGHT, MURPHY'S LAW, DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN, MESSENGER OF DEATH, and KINJITE), Thompson became an in-house Cannon guy, also directing the THE AMBASSADOR (1985), the studio's first adaptation of Elmore Leonard's 52 Pick-Up before John Frankenheimer's more faithful second version a year later, as well as the Chuck Norris actioner FIREWALKER (1986). Thompson was already over 70 when he was given KING SOLOMON'S MINES, and though he was obviously working with some budget limitations and the film doesn't look quite as good as an INDIANA JONES movie, it is one of Cannon's more handsomely-mounted and well-shot productions. The aging workhorse cranked out at least a movie per year for Cannon until he retired after KINJITE, which was also Bronson's last Golan-Globus production. Thompson died in 2002 at the age of 88.


The other key player in KING SOLOMON'S MINES is Sharon Stone, several years before 1992's BASIC INSTINCT made her a worldwide phenomenon. Stone's success didn't happen overnight, and she was already in her 30s by the time BASIC INSTINCT happened. KING SOLOMON'S MINES marked her first major starring role in a feature after years of supporting roles in films like Wes Craven's DEADLY BLESSING (1981) and the "Drew Barrymore divorces her parents" comedy-drama IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES (1984) as well as TV work like the short-lived Michael Nouri sports series BAY CITY BLUES, cancelled by NBC after four episodes in 1983, and the Rock Hudson TV-movie THE VEGAS STRIP WAR (1984). Stone paid her dues for years before her breakout role in TOTAL RECALL (1990) got her the BASIC INSTINCT gig, even logging time as Steve Guttenberg's love interest in 1987's POLICE ACADEMY 4: CITIZENS ON PATROL and as Steven Seagal's wife in his 1988 debut ABOVE THE LAW. Stone is OK but doesn't do much more in KING SOLOMON'S MINES than play the damsel in distress and incredulously proclaim or frantically scream "Quatermain!" whether she's reacting to his antics or in need of rescue, and there's little indication of the fame (and, I suppose, infamy) that would come a few years later. In documentary filmmaker Mark Hartley's upcoming ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, a look at the history of The Cannon Group, Chamberlain reportedly shares a story about Stone's casting in KING SOLOMON'S MINES being accidental: Golan wanted "that Stone woman," and his casting associates signed Sharon Stone. According to Chamberlain, Golan meant Kathleen Turner, whose ROMANCING THE STONE had just been a big hit and, with its lighthearted tone, an influence on KING SOLOMON'S MINES.


The plot of KING SOLOMON'S MINES is updated to WWI as soldier of fortune Quatermain is hired by Jessie Huston (Stone) to locate her missing professor father (Bernard Archard). The professor has been kidnapped by evil German Col. Bockner (Herbert Lom) and nefarious Turkish slave trader Dogati (John Rhys Davies) and forced to interpret what's reputed to be a map to the legendary King Solomon's Mines, allegedly housing wealth and treasure beyond imagination. Accompanied by Quatermain's faithful native companion Umbopo (Ken Gampu), Quatermain and Jessie encounter all manner of adventure that retains some elements of Haggard's novel but takes its share of wild liberties, including an encounter with a giant spider.  While Thompson succeeds in making a relatively inexpensive film look bigger than it is, Chamberlain's and Stone's stunt doubles are often distractingly obvious, but he keeps things moving at a frenetic pace in what's basically a series of chase scenes, all propelled along by Jerry Goldsmith's rousing score. The script by Gene Quintano (TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS) and James R. Silke (NINJA III: THE DOMINATION) has some amusing elements, like Bockner using the dead bodies of his officers as a bridge to cross quicksand or yelling at a drowning officer to "Stop sinking!  That's an order!" Lom and especially Rhys Davies are terrific as the villains, both chewing the scenery with comical gusto and seemingly having fun with the project, despite what was a sometimes arduous shoot on location in Zimbabwe. There's some pretty blatant racism in the script that comes across as rather cringe-inducing today, and it's not just the comic relief of the perpetually frightened Umbopo, who's too scared to ride in a car and stops just short of exclaiming "Feets don't fail me now!" Nor is it just the tribe of savage cannibals putting Quatermain and Jessie in a giant pot to boil.  It's Jessie calling untrustworthy merchant Kassam (Shai K. Ophir) a "cheap-suited camel jockey" and a "towel-headed freak." It's an unfortunate misstep in an otherwise immensely likable and highly entertaining film.



ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD
(US - 1987)

Directed by Gary Nelson and Newt Arnold. Written by Gene Quintano. Cast: Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone, James Earl Jones, Henry Silva, Robert Donner, Doghmi Larbi, Aileen Marson, Cassandra Peterson, Martin Rabbett, Alex Heyns. (PG, 100 mins)

KING SOLOMON'S MINES was successful enough to warrant a sequel, though that sequel was planned all along. Shot concurrently with the first film in 1985 by a different director and crew, ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD almost gets by on the easygoing charm of Chamberlain but is a vastly inferior film. It looks cheaper, moves slower, and lacks the playful revisionist goofiness of KING SOLOMON'S MINES. It was a troubled production that could've used J. Lee Thompson at the helm. The director was Gary Nelson, another journeyman who made some good films but lacked the expertise of a seen-and-done-it-all pro like Thompson. Nelson directed the Disney films FREAKY FRIDAY (1976) and THE BLACK HOLE (1979), as well as the Gary Coleman comedy JIMMY THE KID (1982).  He started directing NIGHTHAWKS (1981) before disagreements with star Sylvester Stallone resulted in Nelson getting fired and Bruce Malmuth stepping in, though many sources claim Stallone directed most of the film and Malmuth was merely present on the set and collecting a paycheck by being the guy yelling "Action!" to skirt around the DGA's "Eastwood Rule" that a fired director can't be replaced by the film's star, a rule created in 1976 when Philip Kaufman filed a grievance after Clint Eastwood fired him from THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES and took over as director himself.



Inactive since 2000, the now-80-year-old Nelson was primarily known in the industry as a TV director, working on everything from HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND and GOMER PYLE, USMC in the 1960s, KOJAK, MCMILLAN AND WIFE, and POLICE STORY in the 1970s, TV-movies like THE PRIDE OF JESSE HALLAM and NOBLE HOUSE in the 1980s to EARLY EDITION in the late 1990s. Nelson knew how to work on a tight schedule and his plethora of TV credits indicates that the networks saw him as a go-to guy for the small screen, but he seems in over his head on ALLAN QUATERMAIN.  That may not speak to his abilities or lack thereof as the guy calling the shots--after all, FREAKY FRIDAY and THE BLACK HOLE were successful--but more likely, the corner-cutting circumstances under which Golan & Globus had him working. Though shot simultaneously, it's obvious that the producers considered KING SOLOMON'S MINES the more important of the two films, as ALLAN QUATERMAIN looks like a disgruntled younger sibling forced to wear hand-me-downs. KING SOLOMON'S MINES needed to be successful to justify a sequel...which they were already shooting at the same time. It's obvious that it didn't matter to Golan & Globus if ALLAN QUATERMAIN was a piece of shit. At least some attempt was made to make it presentable:  after principal photography was finished, veteran second-unit director Newt Arnold (who would go on to direct BLOODSPORT) was given a crew for extensive reshoots in Los Angeles. It's never been said whether Nelson was fired or if he was just busy with another assignment or simply didn't want any further involvement in the film, but there is an "Additional scenes directed by Newt Arnold" credit. Some of these scenes stick out like a sore thumb: Chamberlain's beard and Stone's hairstyle change throughout, Chamberlain's hair has some clearly visible gray streaks in some scenes, and Henry Silva, who turns up an hour into the film as the villainous high priest Agon, has two noticeably different wigs that sometimes switch back and forth in various shots within the same scene. The theatrical trailer also has numerous shots--including Quatermain tangling with some Agon's warriors over a pit of melted gold--that don't appear in the released film.


This cheery publicity shot of the stars constitutes
the most convincing acting associated with ALLAN
QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD
But even before the obvious Arnold-directed reshoots, confined mostly to the film's second half, ALLAN QUATERMAIN is sloppy and carelessly executed. The visual effects and process screens are laughably crummy, no effort is made to hide the wires attached to the actors--one character is lifted by another and the "lifting" actor barely has his hands on the person as black wires yank him out of the shot, and though Goldsmith is uncredited, the score is almost completely recycled from the first film. Chamberlain gives it his best shot as Quatermain puts off his wedding to Jessie as the two search for his missing brother Robeson (played by Chamberlain's longtime partner Martin Rabbett), who's involved with a cult led by the loony Agon.  Silva doesn't appear until an hour into the film, but he hams it up mercilessly, as does Robert Donner (MORK & MINDY's Exidor), mugging shamelessly as the cowardly, comic relief mystic Swarma. One of ALLAN QUATERMAIN's biggest offenses is having James Earl Jones in the cast and giving him nothing to do with the role of warrior Umslopogaas, an old friend of Quatermain's who, with Donner's Swarma already fulfilling the comedy obligation, basically functions as a badass version of KING SOLOMON'S MINES' clownish Umbopo. A surprisingly lean Jones looks appropriately intimidating but he's far too vital a screen presence to be saddled with the noble savage sidekick role. In his memoir Voices and Silences, Jones completely dismissed the film as "a failure" and said he only did it because he'd never been to Zimbabwe and the production was paying for everything.



As far as the general public was concerned, once was enough for Chamberlain's pseudo-Indiana Jones act. ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD tanked badly, landing in seventh place with less than $2 million. It opened on January 30, 1987, the same day as the Bette Midler/Shelley Long comedy OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE, which took the #2 spot as everything fell victim to Orion's wide release expansion of Oliver Stone's landmark, headline-making PLATOON, the talk of the industry at the end of 1986 and the beginning of 1987. QUATERMAIN took a serious beating, grossing less in its opening weekend than STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME in its tenth week of release and even being beaten out by THE GOLDEN CHILD, Eddie Murphy's attempt at being Indiana Jones, in its eighth week out. In short, regardless of how much they may have enjoyed KING SOLOMON'S MINES 14 months earlier, moviegoers didn't give the slightest semblance of a shit about a second Allan Quatermain adventure, and it fell out of the top ten in its second weekend and was in second-run discount theaters in its third.



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