Monday, May 16, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Valley of the Kings (1954) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The Warner Archive has recently released a number of films starring either Eleanor Parker or Robert Taylor, including Taylor's SONG OF RUSSIA (1943) and Parker's THE WOMAN IN WHITE (1948), which will each be reviewed here at a future date.

The Archive has also just released a film in which Parker and Taylor costarred, VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1954). This was the second of three films in which the pair costarred at MGM, falling in the middle of ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952) and MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (1955).

VALLEY OF THE KINGS was released on VHS back in 1998, but a DVD release has been a long time coming.

My understanding is this film needed quite a bit of work before it could be released. Even so, this isn't a perfect print, being quite grainy in some spots; that said, it looks better than I remember seeing on Turner Classic Movies, and I suspect this widescreen print is as good as it gets this side of a very expensive restoration.

While the picture may be variable and not "top of the line," it is perfectly acceptable, without jumps or major scratches, and the sound quality is excellent, showing off Miklos Rozsa's rousing score. I'm very glad that this film is now available on DVD along with Taylor and Parker's other films together.

VALLEY OF THE KINGS is an "explorer adventure" which features extensive location filming in Egypt. It may not be on a level with MGM's classic KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950), but it's nonetheless enjoyable entertainment. Fans of Taylor and Parker, in particular, should be pleased with it.

Parker plays Ann Mercedes, daughter of a deceased archaeologist. She seeks out Mark Brandon (Taylor), who knew her father, to continue her father's quest to find a tomb which will definitively prove that Joseph and other Old Testament events were real.

After snagging Mark's interest, not least because she's an attractive woman, Ann springs on Mark the fact she has a husband named Philip (Carlos Thompson). Mark and Philip don't like each other much, but off the trio go on the quest for the tomb. Eventually Philip disappears during a sandstorm; Mark and Ann are rescued by a tribe whose chief is played by Victor Jory. Accepting Philip is likely dead, Mark and Ann continue their search.

This was a time in the career of both Taylor and Parker when they were making their share of epics and adventures; Taylor's previous film was KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE (1953), and Parker had just starred in the adventure classic THE NAKED JUNGLE (1954), complete with killer ants! They are well suited to the story, with Parker convincing as an elegant woman who is also at home climbing around desert ruins, and Taylor authoritative as an archaeologist.

Some say that in the early '50s Taylor and Parker had an offscreen romance; whether or not that's true, they certainly sell it onscreen, including a notably passionate love scene.

The movie runs a well-paced 86 minutes, mixing romance, adventure, and a climactic battle to the death between two characters which will give those afraid of heights the shivers. It may not be Taylor and Parker's best movie together -- that honor goes to ABOVE AND BEYOND -- but it's quite fun.

VALLEY OF THE KINGS was directed by Robert Pirosh and filmed in Technicolor by Robert Surtees.

The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger KC said...

I also really enjoyed this film. The print was a bit of a disappointment to me, though I did keep in mind that I'm spoiled by all the great restorations being released these days! I need to check out more of those Parker/Taylor pairings. I soooo love Parker.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you'll enjoy their other films! I especially recommend ABOVE AND BEYOND.

Best wishes,

1:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I cannot believe how Laura was totally fooled by this phony "widescreen" release. This DVD is a fraud. The movie was originally shot in Cinamascope and should look spectacular. All releases to date have been in a "pan and scan" format. That is, they chopped off the sides of the wide screen original. That throws away about 1/3 of the whole image. This fake travesty pretends to be the original "widescreen," i.e., Cinemascope release. What these butcher, fakers did was to further chop off the top and bottom of the previously butchered releases. This means you barely see HALF of the original image. I have never seen such a totally butchered film in my life!

10:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hello, Michael,

I'm sorry you were disappointed in the DVD and am always happy to chat about such things, although I'd like to suggest it's possible to do so a little more...calmly? ;)

Although I don't have time tonight to pull the DVD out of storage and check the opening credits for the CinemaScope designation, a September 2016 review by Cinema Sentries indicates that while some sources say the film was CinemaScope, it was actually filmed open matte, with exhibitors framing the film. Other examples of "widescreen" films which weren't actually shot in widescreen early in the widescreen era include TENNESSEE'S PARTNER, SHANE, and THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW. It's led to disputes over the years about the ratio the films should be shown in and what should be cropped, since they aren't actual widescreen negatives.

Cinema Sentries goes into some detail about the sides being cropped on the VALLEY OF THE KINGS DVD and also discusses previous airings/DVDs being in Academy ratio. It's not apparent to that reviewer why the decisions were made in each case, and I would certainly be interested to learn more about the decision-making process on the formats.

That said, as I indicated in my review, while not a perfect DVD, with a variable picture and too much graininess at times, this print looks better than I've ever seen the movie, and I appreciated it as such.

Best wishes,

10:59 PM  

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