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Howard Hawks
Jack Hawkins, Joan Collins, James Robertson Justice
Writing Credits:
William Faulkner, Harry Kurnitz Harold, Jack Bloom

A captured architect designs an ingenious plan to ensure the impregnability of the tomb of a self-absorbed Pharaoh, obsessed with the security of his next life.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 7/18/2023

• Audio Commentary from Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich
• Trailer


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Land of the Pharaohs [Blu-Ray] (1955)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 10, 2023)

CinemaScope came into existence in 1953 and introduced a super-widescreen 2.55:1 image to dazzle moviegoers. For a relatively early example of this format, we go to 1955’s Land of the Pharaohs.

Pharaoh Khufu (Jack Hawkins) obtains as much gold as he can because he believes he can take it with him to the afterlife. This makes him terrified that someone will steal his riches after he dies.

To prevent that, Khufu enslaves architect Vashtar (James Robertson Justice) to build him a “burglar-proof” tomb. While this occurs, Khufu also takes Princess Nellifer (Joan Collins) as his second wife, and she seeks to take the Pharaoh’s wealth when he does kick the bucket.

In addition to the curiosity of a CinemaScope flick from the formative days of widescreen films, Land comes with a solid pedigree. The legendary Howard Hawks directed the film, and acclaimed novelist William Faulkner co-wrote the screenplay.

Alas, these talents don’t mean much in the end. Land suffers from Big Epic Disease, as it feels more interested in spectacle than story or characters.

Land opens with a long procession in which Khufu returns from battle. I suspect the filmmakers would argue the movie needed this sequence to show the enormity of Khufu’s domain and power.

Sure, maybe. However, this sequence feels more like it exists to demonstrate the flick’s ample budget.

Through much of Land, we find too many scenes with little real dramatic value. Instead, they run on and on as they do little more than ample to impress us with the hundreds of extras and all the spectacle that comes along for the ride.

This makes Land awfully tedious too much of the time. Yes, I understand that we need some of this footage to accurately demonstrate everything involved with the efforts, but Hawks simply allows these scenes to fill far too much of the film’s length.

Even when Land attempts drama or character moments, it flops – well, usually. Collins does manage to bring some sly personality to her role, even if we find her buried under awkward and clumsy “brownface” makeup.

Richardson reminds us of a less eccentric Peter Ustinov and also manages to give his role reasonable depth. The usually-reliable Hawkins fails to add a lot to our lead, but he also doesn’t damage the film.

On the other hand, Dewey Martin as the adult representation of Vashtar’s son Senta provides work so wooden that trees take insult at the comparison. Though the film posits him as a heroic lead, Martin demonstrates such a flat, uninspired turn that he scuttles any scene in which he appears.

Not that the cast could do much to hurt – or help – this tiresome effort. Land comes with an oddly directionless story that only sporadically threatens to show life.

Oh, Land throws out occasional signs of intrigue – virtually all of which relate to Collins - but it soon reverts to its standard inert status. Even when Hawks doesn’t inundate us unending scenes of spectacle, he can’t find a beating heart here.

This leaves us with a movie long on fine production values but short on drama. Land forms a slow 104 minutes.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C

Land of the Pharaohs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.55:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. We got a fine presentation.

Overall sharpness worked well. Some softness inevitably accompanied transitions, and a few shots of slaves at work became oddly “off”, but the majority of the film looked accurate and well-defined.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, and I saw no edge haloes. Grain felt natural and the image lacked print flaws.

Colors tended toward an amber vibe to suit the setting, but a good mix of other hues arose as well. These felt pretty full and rich, even with some occasionally dodgy skin tones that appeared to reflect the film stock in use.

Blacks seemed dark and dense, while low-light shots came across as clear and smooth. Expect appealing visuals here.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, the soundfield largely accentuated music. Effects and dialogue largely remained centered, with only occasional instances of those elements from other channels.

On the other hand, the mix boasted music from all five channels through much of the movie. This created a somewhat blobby soundscape that didn’t present great localization, but it added some involvement to the experience.

Audio quality seemed fine given the movie’s vintage. Dialogue suffered from some dodgy dubbing, but the lines remained intelligible and reasonably concise.

Effects lacked great range, but they nonetheless came across with decent accuracy and clarity. Music demonstrated above-average range for a nearly 70-year-old track and became a highlight. Even with an inconsistent soundfield, this nonetheless brought a pretty good track for its era.

The disc includes an audio commentary from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. It also includes excerpts of his interviews with director Howard Hawks.

During his running, screen-specific piece, Bogdanovich tells us about cast and crew, how Land fits into Hawks’ filmography, and his thoughts about it. Hawks gives us notes about his career as well as Land.

Veterans of prior Bogdanovich commentaries will expect a dull chat, as when the filmmaker discusses movies made by others, he fails to impart much of value. At times, Bogdanovich does bring us some decent notes, but these appear too infrequently.

The archival remarks from Hawks add value, but they don’t pop up often enough to save the track. I’ve heard less interesting commentaries from Bogdanovich, but this one nonetheless fails to become consistently useful.

We also find the film’s trailer. Though the disc’s case promises a 1955 Bugs Bunny short called Sahara Hare, it doesn’t appear.

Long on spectacle and short on compelling drama, Land of the Pharaohs becomes a dull tale. The film wastes talent behind the camera and becomes a sluggish and bland experience. The Blu-ray comes with positive picture and audio as well as a commentary. Little I’d call memorable arrives in this tedious movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.6 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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