Eighty-six minute movies are not supposed to be boring. Eighty-six minute sound films anyway. Valley of the Kings manages to be boring in the first twelve minutes. Even those twelve minutes are boring. It takes the film until just over the halfway point to actually get moving. Not interesting, not good, but moving. There are three action scenes back-to-back–a sandstorm, a Bedouin duel, and a fist-fight atop a giant Egyptian statue. The film tries to start with action too–a buggy chase within the first six minutes, but chases are hard enough to do in cars, much less buggies.
Valley of the Kings was filmed on location in Egypt, so I imagine those visuals were much of the prospective appeal, but the writing’s bad–in multiple ways–and the director doesn’t know how to make the visuals work for the film. They’re background instead of attraction and the film still tries to replace content with them. At eighty-six minutes, it’s hard for a film to take much responsibility–and Valley of the Kings tells the story of the archeological proof of Joseph in Egypt (something archeology has yet to prove), and it’s a deep subject. A lot has to go on… and nothing goes on in Valley of the Kings. It tries to be a few films–one about this search for evidence, another about adulterous relationship, and yet another (action-filled one) of grave-robbing intrigue. In the end, it doesn’t any of these subjects seriously and there’s little to hold together….
…except, of course, the locations–which are excellent in the second half–and Robert Taylor. Valley of the Kings is Taylor and Eleanor Parker’s second of three films together (for MGM). Their first, Above and Beyond, was great. This one manages to waste Parker by changing her character in the third act (she becomes positively unlovable in the last three scenes, then the film expects the audience to embrace her). She has a cuckold, played by Carlos Thompson (who I’ve never seen in anything else, much to my glee)… but the opening credits tell us the film stars Taylor and Parker. Taylor is getting the girl, so there aren’t many surprises once it gets going. Taylor is great in the film and would have been even better had to been serious film about archeology or adulterous affairs.
The film has a lot respect for the Muslim characters it portrays, much more respect then they get today in films–even in culturally sensitive films. It’s a reasonably important footnote in the history of American perspective of Muslims (Islamic fundamentalism hadn’t come around yet) and they’re treated with more respect then the European character, who’s a big shithead.
Valley of the Kings isn’t terrible thanks to the second half, but Robert Pirosh is a bad writer and a bad director. Of the two problems, the writing hurts the film most. With a good script and another twenty minutes, Valley of the Kings would… still not be as good as Above and Beyond, but it wouldn’t be so middling.
Directed by Robert Pirosh; screenplay by Pirosh and Karl Tunberg, from a book by C.W. Ceram; director of photography, Robert Surtees; edited by Harold F. Kress; music by Miklos Rozsa; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Starring Robert Taylor (Mark Brandon), Eleanor Parker (Ann Barclay Mercedes), Carlos Thompson (Philip Mercedes), Kurt Kasznar (Hamed Backhour), Victor Jory (Taureg Chief), Leon Askin (Valentine Arko, Antique Dealer) and Aldo Silvani (Father Anthimos).